Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)

Leading Finnish composer dies at the age of 87

Einojuhani Rautavaara (Credit: Getty)

The leading Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has died at the age of 87.


One of the most frequently performed of all Finnish composers, Rautavaara was seen as the heir to Sibelius, who in 1955 recommended him for the Koussevitzky Scholarship to study in America. Rautavaara jumped to international fame with his Seventh Symphony, 'Angel of Light', in 1994, which went on to win a Grammy. He also enjoyed popular success with his 1972 Cantus arcticus (below), an atmospheric, colourful concerto for (taped) birds and orchestra.

His music was rooted in a love of literature and the natural world, and a strong sense of spirituality. From his early explorations of 12-tone serialism and avant-garde constructivism his languaged evolved to become lushly Romantic and mystical.

'It is my belief that music is great if, at some moment, the listener catches "a glimpse of eternity through the window of time",' he once said. 'This, to my mind, is the only true justification for art. All else is of secondary importance.'

Born in Helsinki in 1928, Rautavaara lost both of his parents by the time he was 14. He took up the piano at the age of 17, studied with Aare Merikanto at the Helsinki Academy and then headed off to the USA for studies with Vincent Persichetti, Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland. His 1955 A Requiem in Our Time made an impression and won the Thor Johnson Composer's Competition in Cincinnati.

After his stint in America, Rautavaara returned to Finland. He taught at the Sibelius Academy from 1976-1991, all the while composing prolifically. In 2004 he suffered an enlarged aorta, which, confounding  doctors' expectations, he survived. He continued to compose, and as recently as last year discussed plans for a chamber opera based on a Greek story about a shipwreck.

Rautavaara wrote eight symphonies and seven operas as well as countless works for voices, chamber groups and solo instrumentalists. Published by Boosey & Hawkes and recorded by Ondine, his music reached audiences across the world. Orpheus singt, an a cappella choral work, was the last work to be premiered in his lifetime, on 25 June this year, according to his publisher.

Read more:

• Rautavaara: Angel of the North


• Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara