"The First Elegy" by Einojuhani Rautavaara

The last work of the first half for Leap of Faith is Die Erste Elegie by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. While Einojuhani Rautavaara may not be as familiar a name as other contemporary choral composers such as Eric Whitacre, Bob Chilcott or Morten Lauridsen, he is well known In choral circles. Rautavaara's Die Erste Elegie is based on the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a Bohemian-Austrian, who the Poetry Foundation regards as 'one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets'. Make sure you reserve your tickets to hear Luminous Voices tackle this gorgeous work!

 Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)

Einojuhani Rautavaara
(1928-2016)

About Einojuhani Rautavaara

Einojuhani Rautavaara was born in Helsinki in 1928. His father was an opera singer and cantor, and his mother was a doctor. Both of his parents died before he reached his 16th birthday, and he went to live with his aunt in a Helsinki suburb.

Rautavaara studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Aarre Merikanto from 1948 to 1952. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson Contest for his composition A Requiem in Our Time in 1954; the work prompted Jean Sibelius to recommend him for a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School in New York City. At Juilliard, he was taught by Vincent Persichetti, and he also took lessons from Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He graduated from the Sibelius Academy in 1957.

Rautavaara composed prolifically. His compositional output includes eight symphonies, 14 concertos, sonata for various instruments, string quartets and other chamber music, biographical operas, and numerous choral works. He wrote in a variety of forms of styles. Many of his works reflect his fascination with metaphysical and religious subjects and texts, including his Die Erste Elegie.

 Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Rainer Maria Rilke
(1875-1926)

Rautavaara on Die Erste Elegie

Program notes translated into English by Andrew Bentley

My youthful encounter with the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke turned out to be quite a discovery, not only in literary terms but also for the development of my world view. I still associate it strongly with the mysticism surrounding the ruins of post-war Vienna. It was there that I composed my Fünf Sonette an Orpheus, and two years later in Cologne I started writing the song cycle Die Liebenden to Rilke's texts. From that time onwards, I continued to carry with me - both mentally and in my suitcase - the Duino Elegies, Rilke's seminal work. Over the years I would take it out, finding myself particularly drawn to the first elegy, whose angel figure took on the role of a personal 'animus'. My orchestral works Angels and VisitationsAngel of Dusk and Playgrounds for Angels are all musical personifications of this figure.

Only as recently as 1993, however, when the international choral body 'Europa Cantat' wanted to commission a large-scale choral work from me, did I feel that the time had come to set of angel elegy. It had evidently matured in my subconscious in the interim, since the process of composing the work was swift, eager and fluently self-assured. The basic pitch material is derived from four triads which together form a twelve-note row. The way this material is applied, however, stands in considerable contrast to methods usually used for atonal music. In consequence, the tone of the work is mellow even at its most dramatic; poetic, yet expressive.

An Analysis by Timothy Shantz

How would you describe the compositional language of Einojuhani Rautavaara? What makes his Die Erste Elegie so interesting to program in a concert?

Timothy Shantz: Rautavaara's music is full of mysticism. He really knows how to write for the voice. His love of Rilke poems reveals his own existential questions.

The musical style of Die Erste Elegie sits somewhere between late Romanticism and the Serialism of Schoenberg. The music will be heard in a tonal way with plenty of pedal notes to provide harmonic context. Having sung this work many times I can say that the dramatic ascent of the final pages is unforgettable for both performer and audience!