23 January 2017

Veljo Tormis (1930-2017)

Veljo Tormis (1930-2017) photo by Tonu Tormis
The death of a composer is always a poignantly sad moment, as a person who gave life to such a creative expanse will no longer produce again. The passing is made all the more significant when the composer in question was such a vital figure for their nation and for music internationally. 

This is definitively true of Veljo Tormis. Throughout his life, Veljo Tormis's music has been distinctive, unique, and Estonian to its core. A pupil of Visarion Sheblain in the Moscow Conservatoire, Tormis's early works were preoccupied with neoclassicism, his Overture No. 2, which was performed in the Warsaw Autumn Festival 1961, is a perfect example of this. 

Tormis's music gained its unique twist after he began to drawn on the Estonian folk tradition of regilaul which shaped the composer into building a musical language which drew upon ancient constructive ideals and fusing them with modern techniques. The result, is simply powerful. His large works like Eesti Ballaardid (1980) is like a kaleidoscope of rituals and reflections, blurring together producing a hypnotic and beautiful musical display. Other works like Raua Needmine (1985) is raw, and intensive (Stravinsky would have killed to make a choir sound this ritualistic and potent). The work is simply for two male soloists, choir, and drum, which feels like we have excavated a lost tribe enacting a ritual. 

His works, were not solely defined by Estonian traditions, he often drew upon other cultures or on other musical traditions from pre-Christian eras; including Livonian, Setus, Finns, Ingrians, and Bulgarians, to name a few. The approach and result, never turned into mere exoticism or fetishism, but through principled composing and an elegant sincerity led to the production of truly original works. 

A composer who will be sorely missed, both for his wonderful music and for his impact on the Baltic as a whole. As I never had the priviledge to meet him, all I can do is rave about how wonderful his music is, so here are some more wonderful examples of works by the great and dearly departed Veljo Tormis.

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