> Luxembourg Phil Touring in Estonia
Music as Cornerstone for the Sense of Nationhood
Rémy Franck

In this month of May, the Luxembourg Philharmonic is touring in Estonia. Therefore, let's have a look on the Estonian musical life with a special focus on orchestral music.

Over the centuries, Estonia has been kicked back and forth between Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Germany. A brief flowering of independence after 1918 ended with the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, when Estonia became a Soviet Socialist Republic (albeit overrun by the Nazis during the war). Yet seven centuries of occupation failed to extinguish a sense of nationhood, and in 1991 Estonia abandoned Soviet status in favour of independence.

A cornerstone of that sense of nationhood has been a thriving musical culture, symbolised by the longstanding tradition of national song festivals in which up to 30.000 singers perform before crowds numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Not for nothing was the transition from Soviet rule dubbed 'The Singing Revolution'. Music continues to play a vital part in forming Estonian culture, even though many Estonian musicians emigrated to escape the straitjacket of Soviet musical policy, or the horrors of Nazism.

Professional music in Estonia is a little more than 100 years old. It developed at the turn of the 20th century, amid influences from Russian and German cultures, during an era of romanticism in crisis and emerging modernism.

The first Estonian orchestral works were penned by Rudolf Tobias (1873-1918), the first Estonian to study under Rimsky-Korsakov and one of the founders of Estonian concert life. At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of future major figures on the orchestral music scene graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory: Artur Kapp (1878-1952), Mihkel Lüdig (1880-1958), Artur Lemba (1885-1963), Heino Eller (1887-1970) and others.

In 1919, the first music high schools in Estonia were established: the Tallinn Higher School of Music (since 1993 the Estonian Academy of Music) and the Tartu Higher School of Music. One of the leading composers of this period was Artur Kapp. His five symphonies (1924-1951), concertos and short symphonic works are characterized by monumentality and dramaticism, touches of Russian romanticism and rigorous contrapuntal technique. Kapp's dramatic style was further developed by his students Eugen Kapp, Evald Aav and others.

Predominant in the more modern-sounding music of Heino Eller were a lyrical, intimate mode of expression as well as influence of impressionism and expressionism. Aside from his three symphonies and the first Estonian violin concerto (1934/1964), his symphonic poems, pictures and suites introduced a new quality into Estonian orchestral music. Among Eller's many students were the future premier symphonist Eduard Tubin (1905-1982), and the outstanding composers of the post-war 'new wave': Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) and Jaan Rääts (b. 1932) and the later innovator Lepo Sumera (1950-2000).

Eduard Tubin, the father figure of Estonian symphonic music, in exile in Sweden from the end of the Second World War, was the author of ten finished symphonies (1934-1973), two violin concertos (1942, 1945), a piano concertino (1945) and the first Estonian double bass concerto (1948). Tubin's early work is characterized by romantic pathos. Later modernistic features became more marked: a focus on rhythm, tonal ambiguity, linear voicing.

Post-war Estonian music was governed by Stalinist cultural policy: songlike paeans and the naively programmatic were required elements. In the second half of the 1950ies, during the Khrushchev era a new wave of Estonian music began, its common denominators being an increased prominence of orchestral music genres, an energetic rhythmic pulse and free tonality.

The most outstanding purveyor of neo-classicist styling was and continues to be Jaan Rääts (b.1932), the composer of numerous symphonies, concertos and shorter works. His orchestral works are characterized primarily by active rhythm, a mosaic texture and playful stylistic contrasts.

The oeuvre of Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) brought modernist constructivism and sound dramaturgy into Estonian music and has influenced it since today. Pärt's Necrology (1960) for symphony orchestra was the first dodecaphonic work in Estonian music. In the 1960ies, he finished the dramatic stylistic collages Collage on the theme BACH (1964), Symphony No. 2 and the Cello Concerto (1966). The pervasively melodic Symphony No. 3 (1971) presaged the tintinnabuli style, the first examples of which were Tabula rasa (1977) and Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten (1977). Pärt's orchestral music of today synthesizes the music of different cultures and eras in the framework of the tintinnabuli style.

In the 1970ies, the rhythm-centred neo classicist direction continued in Estonian music. A large number of instrumental concertos were penned, with the concerto mode of expression even felt in other genres. The young composer Raimo Kangro (1949-2001) entered in Estonian music, mixing neo-classicist motorics with the rhythms of pop and early music. He wrote many concertos, including three for two pianos.

Minimalist development technique was a new feature in the orchestral music of the 1980ies. Composers looked for ways to unite traditional symphonic development with statics of archaic styles.

Lepo Sumera (1950-2000) brought a new quality into Estonian symphonic music, uniting in his first symphonies (1981, 1984) minimalist structures and traditional, tension-driven dramaturgy.

Erkki-Sven Tüür (b. 1959), Estonia's outstanding orchestral composer of today, also rose to prominence in the 1980ies. He is the author of five symphonies, concertos and shorter symphonic works. Tüür's conscious aim as a composer is to unite in his work various composition techniques from rock and classical music to modernist music. His earlier work was ruled by a neo-classicist rhythmic pulse, in his later orchestral work the minimalist and sonoristic expression are connected by strong compositional logic. Tüür is today a composer who is in high demand and held in high regard throughout the entire world.

The most profound trend in today's Estonian orchestral music is represented by the composers of metaphysical or religious orientation (Toivo Tulev, Tonu Korvits, Helena Tulve, Galina Grigorjeva, Märt-Matis Lill), who, each in their own way, have focused on the phenomena of time and sound in music. Evi Arujärv


Eduard Tubin
Erkki-Sven Tüür

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