Rautavaara: Piano Concerto No. 1 Op 45

Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928)
[pronounced: Eye-know-joo-ha-nee Row (rhymes with now)-tah-VAH-rah]

Piano Concerto No.1 Op. 45 (1969)
Con grandezza
Molto Vivace

Like most composers who have been afforded the luxury of sixty plus years in which to refine their craft, Einojuhani Rautavaara has gone through a complex stylistic development over the course of his career. As Sibelius’ natural successor, Rautavaara is universally considered to be Finland’s most important composer. The connection with Sibelius is something the elder composer endorsed and it was he that made it possible for Rautavaara study for a year in America with Vincent Persichetti at Julliard as well as Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood in the summer of 1955.

Rautavaara’s early works were neo-classical in style, which then evolved into a period of intense work with twelve-tone writing that culminated in a series of serial experiments. In the 1960s, his style set off in the direction of a freely-tonal, richly Neo-Romantic idiom. It was during this time, that one of his most popular pieces, Cantus Arcticus for orchestra and taped Arctic birdsong, was composed.

Synthesis became the main focus of his work in the late 1970s and most of his works since that time are a combination of various stylistic elements under an overarching banner of Neo-Romanticism. Rautavaara describes this evolution in style by paraphrasing Churchill, “If an artist is not a Modernist when he is young, he has no heart. And if he is a Modernist when he is old, he has no brain.”

Rautavaara is, like Messiaen, keenly interested in the mystical, once stating “I firmly believe that compositions have a will of their own, though some people smile at the concept.” For Rautavaara, compositions already exist in some spiritual realm. His job is to simply transfer them, as intact as possible, to the planet Earth.

From the very first moment, the piano concerto is a struggle for consonance. Running figures that would not be out of place in any of the high Romantic piano concerti bubble underneath tone clusters that have replaced the customary soaring melody. The mood mellows somewhat as the orchestra enters but not for long, as the piano soon rears its strident head. Dissonances abound but they are warm and on the whole, pleasing rather than distressing. An outburst of angular chords leads to a livelier tempo although the reflective mood doesn’t last for long before the soloist is off again in a dissonant WORD.

The second movement, Andante, allows the Jekyllian side of the soloist a chance to be heard although the sustained pedal note in the violins reminds us that Hyde is loitering with intent behind the scenes and it is only a matter of time before he bursts onto centre stage. He makes a feeble attempt at an appearance after a tam-tam topped crescendo but is kept under control until the cadenza.

Brushes on the snare drum, jazzy cymbal work and piano lines that are more about texture and colour than tune give the third movement a feel that is not unlike Gershwin’s American in Paris. Spanning just three minutes, it is over almost before it starts and gives the concerto a real toe-tapper of an ending.

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