in Reviews

A solid basic treatise on Einojuhani Rautavaara

by Kimmo Korhonen

"As an all-round survey, Tiikkaja’s biography earns its place as a solid basic treatise on the life and music of Einojuhani Rautavaara."

Samuli Tiikkaja: Tulisaarna. Einojuhani Rautavaaran elämä ja teokset.

(In Finnish; The Fire Sermon. The Life and Works of Einojuhani Rautavaara)

Teos 2014, 684 pp.


Few Finnish composers have documented their career and life as exhaustively as Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) in his numerous books, and most widely in his wonderful autobiography (Omakuva/Self-portrait, 1989). He has likewise succeeded more profoundly than other composers in fashioning his image as a composer, even in something approaching a self-mythologising spirit.

Rautavaara’s life is now revealed from a different angle in the weighty new biography, Tulisaarna, by journalist-musicologist Samuli Tiikkaja. The title alludes to the name of Rautavaara’s second piano sonata, and in the book’s motto quotation Rautavaara sees the chaotic cluster at the end of the sonata opening out into a pure D-major chord as symbolising the chaoses in his life transfigured as happiness. Where Rautavaara, in his own writings, burns with passion and mystifies, Tiikkaja tempers the picture with his own objective scholarly attitude, thereby significantly filling out the picture of this composer.

Tiikkaja’s tome, running to nearly 700 pages, is the product of vast research, as proved by the long bibliography, and it abounds in new information. Rautavaara is a rewarding subject for a biography, because there is plenty to say about him: his pitiful childhood, the exciting years studying abroad, his first marriage that turned into a nightmarish family inferno, his new – unconventional – second marriage to a woman nearly thirty years his junior, the international acclaim that began in the 1990s, and the dramatic illness – an aortic dissection – of 2004 and his return to the land of the living from the gates of death.

Tiikkaja’s approach is resolutely chronological, and résumés of Rautavaara’s works are smoothly incorporated into the narrative. He presents a clear account of the elements of Rautavaara’s style and expression in each period. His attitude to Rautavaara’s music is warmly benevolent but not uncritical. He points out the degree to which Rautavaara has drawn on material from earlier works, and the many projects that were never finished. In particular the reader is made aware of Rautavaara’s unceasing and outright manic creative drive. Life has, for him, been above all composing.

The text operates mainly on the surface level of events. Now and then Tiikkaja does nevertheless – presumably inspired by Rautavaara’s own testimony –call on Jung’s theories in his analyses. He focuses strongly on Rautavaara and only occasionally branches out into more general analysis of a musical situation. This perhaps corresponds to Rautavaara’s own concept of himself as an artist working in isolation; but in the eyes of the outsider, Rautavaara has been a dominant figure in Finnish music since World War II, at times the primus mover, at others in a polemic relationship with his environment. It would have been interesting to read more about Rautavaara’s work as a teacher of composition, and a list of works would have been useful, even though it would have meant adding dozens more pages to the book.

As an all-round survey, Tiikkaja’s biography earns its place as a solid basic treatise on the life and music of Einojuhani Rautavaara.

Translation: Susan Sinisalo