Thursday, August 11, 2016

Einojuhani Rautavaara

I was driving back to my apartment one dreary, overcast day during my lunch hour about ten years ago. The highway was abandoned, Apocalypse-empty, and my foot may have been a little heavy on the accelerator. Such a gray, dismal day, uneventful, uninspiring, drab. My hand reached out for the radio and flicked it on as I swerved about the curving road.

Overwhelmed was I at the mournful, baleful sounds emanating from the speakers all about me. Immediately. A rarity to be taken so mercilessly by such melodies, yet not unknown. All through my life I have been susceptible to particular strains of music, strains which defy catalogue or encyclopedic taxonomy. It is what it is, or they are what they are, but certain notes in certain keys in certain orders overwhelm me.

Such was the case at this moment. At first, I thought it was a joke. Is that a goose – gaggles of geese! – honking? I double-checked the preset, set to the local classical music station. Then the forlorn, woeful wistful melodies, intertwined and interwoven in a slow mazelike dance, rising from the lower registers, instantly had me hooked. I had to know what this piece of music was, and had to make it part of my musical collection.

That piece is the third and final movement from Cantus Arcticus: Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, written in 1972 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. Yes, you read that right: Concerto for Birds and Orchestra. Sounds crazy, presumptuous, stupid maybe, but to my ears, it works. Rautavaara died half a month ago at the long-lived age of 87, and I’ve had it in the back of my mind to write something about it since.

What does it say about my musical tastes that two Finns, Rautavaara and the similarly long-lived Jean Sibelius, are among my top favorite composers?

Here is a more contemporary performance of the selection I heard (probably around the 2 minute mark):

PS. I have no idea how to pronounce his name, especially the first. He’s known in my mind as ROW (rhymes with “cow”) – tuh – VAIR – uh.

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