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Probing the core of Magnus Lindberg’s orchestral oeuvre

by Lasse Lehtonen

Takemi Sosa completed a doctoral dissertation on the orchestral works of Magnus Lindberg at the University of Helsinki, uncovering the Aristotelian dramatic arc governing their structure. This is the first doctoral dissertation on Lindberg’s music completed in Europe.

How and why did a Japanese musicologist take such an interest in the orchestral works of Magnus Lindberg that he decided to dedicate his doctorate to them?

“Actually, there were two reasons for me to study Lindberg’s music.The first reason was that although the music seemed hard to understand, it made a profound impact on me. I wanted to find out why this was so, to discover what the music was all about. The other reason was that this was a topic that had not yet been subjected to scholarly study, and I wanted to understand why not,” says Takemi Sosa, who has been resident in Finland for a long time and speaks excellent Finnish.

Sosa’s dissertation, Magnus Lindberg – Musical Gesture and Dramaturgy in Aura and the Symphonic Triptych (Suomen Semiotiikan Seura, 2018) analyses the orchestral works Aura (1994), Feria (1997), Cantigas (1997–99) and Parada (2001).

Sosa became fascinated with Lindberg’s 1990s output in particular, as he realised that a shift had occurred in the composer’s style at that time.

“After the strict serialism of the 1980s, Lindberg’s music softened around the edges and migrated towards post-Romanticism,” says Sosa. “I suppose that his music has not been studied that much because it is difficult to analyse and requires the application of new theory. On the other hand, Lindberg himself is wonderfully friendly and helpful and is happy to tell you absolutely everything you want to know about his music, so at the end of the day there may not be all that much left for a scholar to discover.”

Sosa interviewed Lindberg himself but eventually decided to take a dramaturgical approach to analysing his music, borrowing on concepts from drama theory.

“The key finding in my study was that Lindberg’s works are ultimately rooted in Aristotelian dramaturgy. The musical events and harmonies sound complex on the surface, but deep down there is a dramaturgical progression familiar to all of us, with a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Fascination with Finnish culture

Sosa grew up in the city of Matsumoto in Japan, known as the birthplace of the Suzuki Method. Sosa was active in music from an early age, studying the piano as a child, the horn and conducting in high school and cello at university.

He was interested in the music of Sibelius too, of course. But surely that was not enough on its own to bring him to Finland to write a dissertation?

“I originally came to Finland in 1996, to study Finnish language and culture at the University of Turku,” Sosa recalls. “I had previously studied Nordic literature at university in Japan, and I was fascinated by the Finnish language and the Kalevala.

The programme in Turku lasted only one academic year. Yet Sosa was so taken with the friendliness of the Finns and felt so at home in the Finnish lifestyle that he decided to apply for a similar programme in Helsinki in order to be able to stay in Finland.

“It was in Helsinki that I ended up going to lectures in the semiotics of music given by Professor Eero Tarasti in my spare time. At first, I didn’t understand a thing,” Sosa says with amusement.

But something in there caught his attention. Sosa took up musicology as his main subject and completed his master’s degree with a thesis on Lindberg’s music. It seemed only natural to continue with the same subject for his doctorate.

And it proved to be a real academic achievement: the first doctoral dissertation on Lindberg’s music completed in Finland and in all of Europe. With Ph.D. in hand, Sosa is well placed to continue living in the Finnish lifestyle he loves and creating a career as a Lindberg expert.

Takemi Sosa’s dissertation Magnus Lindberg – Musical Gesture and Dramaturgy in Aura and the Symphonic Triptych has been published also online.

This article was first published in Rondo Classic magazine. 

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: Lasse Lehtonen