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25 years of the FMQ

by Matti Huttunen

It all began when Ellen Urho, then Rector of the Sibelius Academy, hit on the idea of launching a musical counterpart to Form Function Finland and Books from Finland, devoted to design, architecture and literature...

An anniversary is a good moment to look back, open old issues and dive deep into their pages to find out what the Finnish Music Quarterly has been all about in the quarter century of its existence.

It all began when Ellen Urho, then Rector of the Sibelius Academy, hit on the idea of launching a musical counterpart to Form Function Finland and Books from Finland, devoted to design, architecture and literature. Thus Antero Karttunen, first Editor-in-Chief of the FMQ, recalled in a survey of the first 20 years he wrote in 2005 (For more see FMQ 3/2005 and 4/1994).

In autumn 1984 Urho’s proposal was discussed and quickly given the go-ahead. Two double issues were published in 1985, the first of which was dedicated to the Finnish National epic, the Kalevala and its place in Finnish music.

The 25-year history of he FMQ has seen articles on countless aspects of Finnish music, and its financial backers have changed. Though the language of the journal is English, special issues have been published in French (1990), Swedish (1992) and German (1994).The range of topics has been so wide that the articles I mention are primarily examples of ongoing trends – if an article is not quoted it is no reflection of its quality.

The Kalevala was very much in the news in 1985, celebrating the 150th anniversar of its first edition, as is the topic of the most recent issue, ecology, in 2009. The journal has not, however, confined itself solely to burning issues, for it has always given plenty of space to history, especially in the early years, building up a significant volume of information about Finnish music with the passing of the years.


The FMQ and the Finnish musical press tradition

The music journals of the early 20th century, such as Finsk musikrevy (The Finnish Music Revue), Suomen musiikkilehti (The Finnish Music Journal) and Musiikkitieto (Facts about Music) constitute an important, harmonious chapter in the history uf Finnish music. They were not just magazines, for many of their articles were founded on research. These were reports for a general readership on research topics of interest at the time and were in most cases about historical Finnish classical music or folk music. Not all the writers were established academics, for there were also easily accessible analyses by Finnish composers of things the considered important. There were also many essays on Finnish music and the latest international trends.

This tradition was severed in 1946 when both Musiikkitieto and Suomen musiikkilehti folded. The Finnish Music Yearbook published from 1959 to 1970 was no longer a magazine but a musicological annual. Its successors have included such scholarly tomes as Musiikki (Music), Etnomusikologian vuosikirja (The Ethnomusicogical Yearbook) and, between 1989 and 1994,
Musiikkitiede (Musicology). Rondo, hunched in 1963, was for a long time just as much the in-house journal of the Association of Finnish Music Teachers as a fund of general knowledge about music. Suosikki (Hit) and Rumba dealing with youth and popular music cannot be likened to the musical journal tradition.

The FMQ resurrected the musical press of the early 20th century. Some of its articles reported the findings of academic research. Some of its articles reported the findings of academic research. In addition to musicologists, composers and journalists also wrote for the magazine. In the very first issue of the FMQ Jouni Kaipainen analysed the symphonies of Leevi Madetoja, and he was soon followed by Harri Suilamo with an exhaustive monograph on Aarre Merikanto, The Battered Genius (1986). Such articles are documents not only on their subjects but also of their authors as composers. They also reveal a feature running right through the history of the FMQ; they are not just accounts of Finnish music for foreigners but also dialogues between Finns themselves and their music.

The line between a research report and an essay is indeed a nebulous one; hence many of the FMQ articles have been both general and sometimes distinctly philosophical accounts of Finnish music. Essays by Finnish composers have been published in sets, such as those by non-Finnish composers Veljo Tormis, Vinko Globokar, Witold Luroslawski and Karlheinz Stockhausen.


History and nationality

Throughout its 25-year history the FMQ has never ceased taking a stand on nationality and music. The shift in concepts and perspectives reflected in the journal has been in line with the change in Finnish music in general in a quarter of a century.

Dedicating the first issue to the Kalevala did not mean the exclusion of all other music, for the debut also included an article on rune singing by Heikki Laitinen and an article entitled The Folk Tradition in Finnish jazz and Light Music by Matti Konttinen. Naturally a new journal could not begin by radically questioning one of the pillars of the national identity – this would have been like setting off in reverse gear.

Instead, the FMQ had to wait a few years before it could decently take a fresh look at nationalism. Ilkka Oramo contributed an article to 3/1988 headed Music and Nationality: Who is a Finnish composer? in which he questioned the Finnishness of many a composer classified as Finnish. It did not provoke any immediate response, but the essay What is ‘Finnish’ in Finnish Music by Mikko Heiniö four years later (1/1992) and the piece by Pekka Jalkanen in issue 4/1992 about the ‘Finnishness’ of Finnish popular music continued the debate. The articles by Oramo, Heiniö and Jalkanen are among the most important records of the debate in Finland on nationalism in music in the early 1990s, a time when scholars were turning to Finland’s musical history with new zest and contemporary German musicology (especially that of Carl Dahlhaus) was very much the vogue among researchers. The international acclaim for such young musical comets as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg probably made the old national symbols look a little tatty.

Where did the debate about nationalism lead to? It is impossible to identify any cause-and-effect between the views put forward in about 1990 and the present decade, but attitudes to nationality have become more liberal.

One interesting sign of the dawn of a new era is issue 2/2007 dealing with songs and singing. The cover mentions the 90th anniversary of the independent Republic of Finland and the articles include one by Miska Rantanen on the political song movement of the 1970s and another by Pekka Gronow on songs censored by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). They delve deep into the national character of music as in the Kalevala issue or the debate in around 1990, but the concept of nationalism is new. In brief: nationalism in music has, in 25 years, travelled from the Kalevala via philosophical analysis to the present-day musical identity that does not look askance at humour any more than it does at commercialisation or left-wing sympathies.


Canonising Finnish music

Considering that the FMQ has been oriented so strongly towards nationality and history, has it merely repeatcd the views expressed for decades in Finnish books? A superficial glance at its back issues proves that this is not so. Portraits of many leading composers have appeared in the FMQ before any books were written – and in some cases still wait to be written – about them.

The article by Jouni Kaipainen about Madetoja’s symphonies in the very first issue of the FMQ appeared two years before the authoritative biography of Madetoja by Erkki Salmenhaara, and the same applies to other composers featured on the journal’s pages (eg. Selim Palmgren, Erkki Melartin, Armas Launis, Toivo Kuula and Oskar Merikanto).

The FMQ has created just as much Finnish musical canon as it has reflected what already existed. Canon – a frequent subject of debate in musicological literature in recent decades – should here be understood in its broad sense as a corpus of works, composers and facts that has taken root in concert programmes and concepts of history. Putting a date on the canonisation of a composer such as, say, Uuno Klami is no easy matter, but the FMQ’s articles about him (especially Salmenhaara’s analysis of the influence of the Kalevala on him in 1–2/1985 and the portrait by Helena Tyrväinen in 2/2000) probably made readers more aware of him and thus contributed to the canonisation process.

Sibelius enjoys a special status in Finnish music. Yet not a single “basic info package” about Sibelius and his music has appeared in the English issues of the FMQ. Instead, any articles have concentrated on details of his life or music. The French issue, by contrast, did carry a comprehensive critique by Veijo Murtomäki of Sibelius the symphonist. Even so, Sibelius undoubtedly enjoys a cult status in the FMQ, as in Finnish culture in general. The might of an individual composer can be maintained by microscopic studies of details of his life just as much as by sweeping surveys of his place in history.

Singling out one means ignoring another. The part played by the FMQ in the case of contemporary composers, soloists and ensemble will remain for future generations to decide. There has, it seems, been a tendency to bow to modernist trends, yet on the other hand the FMQ cannot be branded the exclusive mouthpiece of the original Korvat auki! (Ears Open) group represented by Saariaho or Lindberg. For the voice of Harri Wessman (1/1994 and 2/1999), for example, has also been heard, as have the voices of the younger composers, including those born in the 1970s (See Riikka Talvitie‘s article in 1/2002).

The FMQ has been more concerned with classical than with popular music, its coverage of the latter being marginal. The proportion of the journal devoted to pop and jazz has, however, grown since the mid-1990s. Issue 3/1995 was devoted to pop, and theme issues have been published this decade on pop and rock (3/2004), jazz (2/2005) and the very Finnish iskelmä (2/2009).

The history of pop can also become canonised: viewed broadly, the FMQ has told the story of rock in articles by Hannu Tolvanen (2/1988), Ilkka Mattila (1/1994), Pekka Gronow (3/2004) and others, and several eral items in the Noughties about the acclaim for Finnish rock on the international mainstream markets. To many Finns – both ordinary folk and academics – the history of Finnish rock looks very similar to that drawn by the FMQ. It begins with rumbling attempts
and songs in translation, continues wich the likes of the Hurriganes, Eppu Normaali and the Leningrad Cowboys and ends in the third millennium with international acclaim. Although the rock canon has been created in other forums, the FMQ has nevertheless played a part in the discovery – or writing – of the history of Finnish rock.


Society, education, ecology

Education in music, the Sibelius Academy, orchestras, music festivals, the Finnish National Opera, musical exporting, choirs, church music, libraries, the record industry, research, military bands, the music of Finland’s Swedish-speaking population, ecology – the list of social issues and musical institutions featured in the FMQ is almost endless.

We Finns like to speak of “the success story of Finnish music”. The daily press happily proclaims the Finnish “musical miracle” or cites the favourable reviews received by Finnish artists abroad. This tendency is not entirely alien to the FMQ. The reason for the success of Finnish music is often said to lie in our institutions: the Sibelius Academy, the music college system, the Finnish National Opera or the orchestras. But has the FMQ merely engaged in superficial advertising of Finnish music? The answer is: “No”.

The early issues of the FMQ – until about the mid-1990s – allotted considerable column space to such classical-music establishments as the Sibelius Academy, the symphony orchestras and the Finnish National Opera. The emphasis has gradually shifted, and novel topics have slowly made their appearance in the past ten years or so: exporting (4/2007), Music & Money (2/2006) or MIDEM 2006, when the focus was un Finnish music and issue 4/2005, was distributed to people
attending the fair. And the most recent issue, 3/2009, takes a broad look at the relationship between music and ecology. People are beginning to talk more openly about money, and about social responsibility.

Institutions, and aspects of society in general, are viewed in Western democracy as something in the nature of human contracts. The FMQ has been just as much a channel for social debate as a means of marketing. In other words, it has taken part in the contractual or negotiation processes involved in all social change and construction. Foreign readers have often been able to read these debates “in real time”, so it is wrong to speak ot mere superficial tourist marketing,



The topics quoted here form a line running from the first issue dealing with the Kalevala to basic national topics and finally pluralism, multiculturalism and music as an economic and commercial commodity. This reinforces the impression that the various genres of music have, all in all, become more equal in Finnish culture – a trend not all have been able to stomach. It has not taken place in a flash, but a significant qualitative change did occur in the mid-1990s.

Viewed in the light of the history of the FMQ, the 1980s and even the 1990s saw the construction of a basic corpus of knowledge about Finnish music. There were still rather few comprehensive and systematic treatises on classical, folk and popular music, and there was a demand for detailed knowledge in all branches of music. The FMQ’s increasingly pluralistic policy from the mid-1990s onwards has, as it were, been an immediate sequel to the era emphasising basic historical fact. At no point in its history has the journal engaged in, for example, the vain bolstering of monolithic classical music and established wisdom.

The image created by the FMQ is of a factual journal covering a wide range of topics in a manner that is not necessarily immediately accessible to the reader or exclusively aimed at foreigners. Though it has been a forum for sometimes even very informal discussion, it is also one of Finland’s official musical showcases. But rather than being filled with lifeless dummies, this showcase has shown an international readership Finnish writing and debate about music at its liveliest and most authentic. And as the latest issue devoted to ecology proves, this debate looks both at the present and to the future.

Matti Huttunen, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Research in Musical Performance at the Sibelius Academy.



Recording the facts

Judging from the FMQ, the 1990s were still very much a time for collecting basic information about Finnish music. An example of the influence of academic research on the FMQ is issue 4/1996 reporting the findings of the four-volume history of Finnish music (Suomen Musiikin historia, 1995–96) by Fabian Dahlström, Mikko Heiniö and Erkki Salmenhaara.

A slightly different approach was the illustrated history of music since 1971 published in issue 4/1992 in honour of the 75th anniversary og the independent Republic of Finland. The FMQ has frequently been a pioneer, covering topics about which comprehensive treatises have been written only later.


From the Kalevala to pluralism

It has always been FMQ policy to write about all kinds of music. The early issues were, however, rather strongly oriented towards classical and ”national” folk music; ”light music” – as it was called int hose days – occupied a minor role. Popular culture has gradually been given more prominence, and it is interesting to note that the musical genres have meanwhile both gone their own way and begun to cross over. For example, issue 3/2008 highlighting the kantele talked about both the instrument’s national heritage and new ways of playing it; and the article by Päivi Loponen about vocal ensembles in 3/2003 looked into virtually the full range of musical genres, from early music to jazz.

Translation: Susan Sinisalo

This article was first published in FMQ 4/2009.