Finnissy Piano Works (7) and (8) – November 7th and 21st, Oxford

poster-for-oxford-finnissy-concerts

 

[NEW: There will now be a new world premiere in the concert on Monday, November 21st, of the newly-composed Kleine Fjeldmelodien, dedicated to Ian Pace and Nigel McBride]

The seventh and eight concerts in my ongoing series of the complete piano works of Michael Finnissy will take place on Monday, November 7th, and Monday, November 21st, in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. Both concerts will begin at 19:30. Tickets are £10, £5 concessions.

The first programme features a range of lesser-known works from the 1990s to the present day, including Finnissy’s unusual Machaut arrangement De toutes flours,of Francisco de Vidales’ villancico ‘Los que fueren de buen gusto’ in …desde que naçe, or his moving intimate tribute to soprano Tracey Chadwell, Tracey and Snowy in KölnThe much more extended Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) is a series of fantastical post-Busoniesque chorale preludes sharing common material, an exercise in both compositional and pianistic virtuosity. The second half contains the second ever complete performance of the Second Political Agenda, three c. 20′ pieces embodying Finnissy’s extremely individual take on the music of Erik Satie, Arnold Schoenberg and Aleksander Skryabin.

The second programme features further tributes, to Satie again,  to Oliver Messiaen in A solis ortus cardine, to Bulgarian composer Georghi Tutev, and the UK premiere of Finnissy’s Brahms-Lieder, not to mention his Beatles’ arrangement Two of Us, as well as some pieces written for children or elementary pianists in Wee Saw Footprints and Edward. The longer pieces in the programme include Enough, Finnissy’s response to Samuel Beckett’s short text Assezand the monumental recent work Beat Generation Ballads.

 

Monday, November 7th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (7)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

Elephant (1994)
Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1996)
The larger heart, the kindlier hand (1993)
…desde que naçe (1993)
De toutes flours (1990)
Cibavit eos (1991-92)
Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006)
Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003)
Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2012)

***

Second Political Agenda (2000-8)

  1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else;
  2. Mit Arnold Schoenberg ;
  3. SKRYABIN in itself.

 

machaut-de-toutes-flours

Guillaume de Machaut, De toutes flours

finnissy-de-toutes-flours

Finnissy, De toutes flours (1990)

 

Monday, November 21st, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (8)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

A solis ortus cardine (1992)
Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836
(1989-94)
Edward
(2002)
Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie)
(2001)
Z/K
(2012)
Brahms-Lieder (2015) (UK Premiere)
Enough
(2001)

***

Wee Saw Footprints (1986-90)
Kleine Fjeldmelodien 
(2016) (World Premiere)
Lylyly li (1988-89)
Pimmel (1988-89)
Two of Us (1990)
Georghi Tutev (1996, rev. 2002)

***

Beat Generation Ballads (2013)
Meeting is pleasure, parting a grief (1996)

finnissy-stanley-stokes

Finnissy, Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836 (1989-94)

 

finnissy-from-beat-generation-ballads

Finnissy, Beat Generation Ballads (2013)

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Musicological Observations 8: Essential listening from post-1945 New Music?

I was considering what I thought should be essential listening from the repertoire of post-1945 new music, to which anyone doing a music degree course which has a Western art music focus should be exposed during the course of their study. I want to be uncompromising and avoid easy populist, ‘democratic’, patronising choices (but look to major, difficult works for which exposure and explication at a university level might really make a difference. So here are six suggestions – I am looking for some others (I have lots of ideas, naturally, but am interested in those of others) that might make this up to ten suggestions. Please do post below. I am aware that there all the below choices are men, so would welcome various views on which works of women composers might also be included, according to the criteria I lay out.

Pierre Boulez, Pli selon pli (1957-62, rev. 1989-90)

 

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kontakte (1958-60)

 

Luigi Nono, La fabbrica illuminata (1964)

 

Morton Feldman, Violin and Orchestra (1979) (only an excerpt is included above)

 

Brian Ferneyhough, Second String Quartet (1980)

 

 

Helmut Lachenmann, Allegro sostenuto (1987-88, rev. 1989-91).


The Piano Music of Michael Finnissy – Forthcoming Concerts 2016-2017

The following is a list of my forthcoming concerts in London and Oxford of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, in celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday. The next concert is next Tuesday, September 27th, 2016, at 18:00 and 19:30 – I hope many will be able to come along to this (see here for reserving places).

finnissy-piano-concerto-no-4-part

From Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996)

 

Tuesday September 27th, 2016, 18:00 and 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

 

Thursday October 27th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (6) – Part of the Royal Holloway Department of Music Finnissy at 70 series
Picture Gallery, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham Hill, Egham.

Kemp’s Morris (1978)
William Billings (1990-91)
Cassandra Miller and Michael Finnissy, Sinner don’t let this Harvest pass (2016)
Beethoven’s Robin Adair (2015)
Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989)

***

Vieux Noël Op. 59 No. 2 (1958)
Romance (with Intermezzo) (1960)
Short but…(1979)
Reels (1980-81)
Australian Sea Shanties Set 2 (1983)
White Rain (1981)
Free Setting (1981, rev. 1995)

 

Monday, November 7th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (7)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

Elephant (1994)
Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1996)
The larger heart, the kindlier hand (1993)
…desde que naçe (1993)
De toutes flours (1990)
Cibavit eos (1991-92)
Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006)
Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003)
Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2012)

***

Second Political Agenda (2000-8)

  1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else;
  2. Mit Arnold Schoenberg ;
  3. SKRYABIN in itself.

 

Monday, November 21st, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (8)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

A solis ortus cardine (1992)
Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836
(1989-94)
Edward
(2002)
Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie)
(2001)
Z/K
(2012)
Brahms-Lieder (2015) (UK Premiere)
Enough
(2001)

***

Wee Saw Footprints (1986-90)
Kleine Feldmelodie
(1999)
Lylyly li (1988-89)
Pimmel (1988-89)
Two of Us (1990)
Georghi Tutev (1996, rev. 2002)

***

Beat Generation Ballads (2013)
Meeting is pleasure, parting a grief (1996)

 

Thursday, December 1st, 2016, 18:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (9)
Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmith’s College, New Cross Road, SE14 6AF

Verdi Transcriptions Books 1-4 (complete) (1972-2005)

 

Friday, January 20th, 2017, times tbc
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (10), as part of a wider mini-conference (January 19th-20th) on Finnissy
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

The History of Photography in Sound (complete) (1995-2000)

This will consist of three concerts during the course of the day and evening, together with talks and other associated events.

I will also be playing works of Finnissy in forthcoming concerts in Leuven (Beethoven’s Robin Adair), Prague (Five Yvaroperas, all.fall.down) and Lisbon (Jazz) during this autumn, and will post further details about these presently.

The earlier concerts this year have been as follows:

 

Tuesday February 16th, 2016, 19:00 (with pre-concert interview of Michael Finnissy by Aaron Einbond at 18:30)
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (1)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Romeo and Juliet are Drowning (1967)
Snowdrift (1972)
My love is like a red red rose (1990)
There never were such hard times before (1991)
French Piano (1991)
New Perspectives on Old Complexity (1990, rev. 1992)
First Political Agenda (1989-2006)

  1. Wrong place. Wrong Time;
  2. Is there any future for new music?;
  3. You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made.

***

English Country Tunes (1977, rev. 1982-85)

 

Tuesday May 10th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (2)
Hollywell Music Room, Hollywell Street OX1 3SD

Song 5 (1966-67)
Song 6 (1968, rev. 1996)
Song 7 (1968-69)
Song 8 (1967)
Song 9 (1968)
Nine Romantics (1992)

***

Ives-Grainger-Nancarrow (1974, 1979, 1979-80) 
Liz (1980-81)
B.S.-G.F.H. (1985-86)
Ethel Smyth (1995)
Joh. Seb. Bach (2003)
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sind (1992)
Rossini (1991)
What the meadow-flowers tell me (1993)
Preambule zu “Carnaval”, gefolgt von der ersten und zweiten symphonischen Etüde nach Schumann (2009-10) [World Premiere of Preambule]
One Minute W… (2006)

 

Friday May 27th, 2016, 18:00 and 19:15
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (3)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1, 18:00
Svatovac (1973-74)
Three Dukes Went A-Riding (1977, rev. 1996)
To & Fro (1978, rev. 1995)
We’ll get there someday (1978)
Terrekeme (1981, rev. 1990)
Taja (1986)
Hikkai (1982-83)
Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992)
John Cage (1992)
Five Yvaroperas (1993-95)
Tell-dirais (1996)
Vanèn (1991)
all.fall.down (1977)

Concert 2, 19:15
Folklore I-IV (1993-94)

 

Thursday July 7th, 2016, 18:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (4)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Third Political Agenda (2016) [World premiere]

  1. Corruption, Deceit, Ignorance, Intolerance
  2. Hier kommt ‘U K Ichbezogen Populismus’
  3. My country has betrayed me

Polskie Tance Op. 32 (1955-62)
Four Mazurkas Op. 142 (1957)
Two Pasodobles (1959)
Autumnall (1968-71)
Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980)
23 Tangos  (1968-99) [World Premiere]

***

Honky Blues (1996)
How dear to me (1991)
Willow Willow (1991)
Poor Stuff (1991, rev. 1996)
Sometimes I… (1990, rev. 1997)
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1990)
Boogie-Woogie (1980, rev. 1981)
Jazz (1976)
Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978-79)


The Gershwin songs that inspired Finnissy

Those who have seen my last blog post will know that on Tuesday, September 27th 2016, beginning at 18:00, at the Performance Space, College Building, City University, I will be playing all of Michael Finnissy’s arrangements of Gershwin, as well as his Piano Concertos 4 and 6. The twenty-three pieces in question (plus a few early versions) are all derived from different Gershwin songs, generally from the musical comedies and revues for which he wrote some or all of the music, and also for various films.

Whilst Gershwin’s original melodies (and some derivative of other aspects of the harmony, figuration, vocal styles of particular performers) are clearly present and generally recognisable (certainly in comparison to the much more oblique Verdi Transcriptions), albeit heavily mediated, nonetheless not all of the originals are amongst Gershwin’s most famous songs, and some are relatively, though undeservedly obscure. Finnissy avoided setting any of the songs which Gershwin had himself transcribed for piano, or which had been transcribed by Percy Grainger. Here are the two sets of arrangements with the origins of each song:

MICHAEL FINNISSY, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-1988)

  1. How long has this been going on? (from the musical comedy Rosalie (1928))
  2. Things are looking up (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  3. A foggy day in London town (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  4. Love is here to stay (from the film The Goldwyn Follies (1938))
  5. They can’t take that away from me (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  6. Shall we dance? (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  7. They’re writing songs of love, but not for me (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  8. Fidgety feet (from the musical comedy Oh, Kay! (1926))
  9. Embraceable you (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  10. Waiting for the sun to come out (from the musical comedy The Sweetheart Shop (1920), book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, most music by Hugo Felix)
  11. Innocent ingénue baby (from the musical comedy Our Nell (1922))
  12. Blah, blah, blah (from the film Delicious (1931))
  13. Boy wanted (from the musical comedy A Dangerous Maid (1921))

 

MICHAEL FINNISSY, More Gershwin (1989-1990)

  1. Limehouse Nights (from the revue Morris Gest’s Midnight Whirl (1919))
  2. Wait a bit, Susie (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  3. I’d Rather Charleston (for 1926 London production of musical comedy Lady, be Good! (1924))
  4. Isn’t it Wonderful! (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  5. Nobody but You (from the musical comedy La, la Lucille (1919))
  6. Swanee (from Demi Tasse Revue, part of Capitol Revue (1919), show produced and choreographed by Ned Wayburn)
  7. Dixie Rose (song from 1921)
  8. Someone Believes in You (from the musical comedy Sweet Little Devil (1924))
  9. Nashville Nightingale (from the revue Nifties of 1923, produced by Charles B. Dillingham)

 

There was also a further arrangement composed in 1998, called Please pay some attention to me, derived from a very little-known song, ‘Pay Some Attention to Me’ (1937) which George and Ira Gershwin had originally written for the film A Damsel in Distress, but abandoned it incomplete. Finnissy obtained the manuscript for this from the late composer Richard Rodney Bennett, and first made a version for soprano and piano duet which was performed at Steyning Music Club, then transformed this into a solo piano work in which Gershwin-derived material is alternated with a type of imaginary dodecaphonic music, as an evocation of the tennis games which Gershwin played with Schoenberg at the former’s Hollywood mansion during the last year of his life.

I thought I would post links to recordings of each of the songs in the two sets as a point of reference, in the same order. Whilst most of the Finnissy works were essentially composed as a free response to the scores (including all of the second set), a few were also inspired by particular performances, including Judy Garland’s ‘But not for me’ and some of the Fred Astaire classics. The particular choices posted here are naturally a little restricted by online availability.

Sarah Vaughan singing ‘How long has this been going on?’ in a 1957 recording with Hal Mooney and his orchestra.

 

‘Things are looking up’ as sung by Fred Astaire to Joan Fontaine in the sequence in A Damsel in Distress (1937).

 

‘A foggy day in London Town’ sung by Fred Astaire in the same film.

 

Kenny Baker singing ‘Love is here to stay’ in The Goldwyn Follies (1938).

 

Fred Astaire singing ‘They can’t take that away from me’ to Ginger Rogers, from the film Shall We Dance (1937).

 

More Astaire and Ginger Rogers: the title track ‘Shall We Dance?’ from the film.

 

The timeless performance by Judy Garland of ‘But not for me’, from Girl Crazy (1943).

 

‘Fidgety Feet’ as played by the Savoy Ophreans, recorded in 1927.

 

Billie Holiday singing ‘Embraceable You’, recorded in 1944.

 

http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7583/

Lambert Murphy singing ‘Waiting for the sun to come out’ (1920 recording) (click on the above to go to the site to play it)

 

A more recent performance of ‘Innocent ingenue baby’ (the only version I could find online)

 

The full film Delicious (1931) – ‘Blah blah blah’ is at around 1h 16’50”.

 

And Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Boy Wanted’.

 

Gershwin’s own piano-roll of ‘Limehouse Nights’, made in 1920.

 

‘Wait a bit, Susie’, played by the Savoy Havana Band in 1924.

 

Fred and Adele Astaire singing ‘I’d rather Charleston’, with Gershwin at the piano, recorded in London in 1926.

 

Steven Blier and Judy Kaye singing ‘Isn’t It Wonderful?’ (requires log-in to Spotify).

 

Gershwin’s 1919 piano roll of ‘Nobody but you’.

 

Al Jolson’s 1920 recording of ‘Swanee’.

 

Rick Rogers sings ‘Dixie Rose’.

I was unable to find a linkable performance of ‘Someone believes in you’, but the track can be bought as an MP3 here as part of the first recording of Sweet Little Devil.

 

‘Nashville Nightingale’, recorded in 1927 by the Piccadilly Revels Dance Band.

 

And Lena Jansson singing ‘Pay some attention to me’ (needs Spotify log-in).


Fifth Concert of Finnissy Piano Music – Piano Concertos, Gershwins – and Lecture on Experimental Music

On Tuesday September 27th, 2016, at City University, beginning at 18:00, I will be giving the fifth concert in my series of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday. This will contain Finnissy’s two piano concertos for solo piano, nos. 4 and 6, and both books of his Gershwin Arrangements (about which more can be found on this separate blog post, including links for all of the original Gershwin songs). The concert will be in two parts, an early evening concert at 18:00, and a main concert at 19:30. Places can be reserved here. The programmes are as follows:

 

Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 6

(From Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980-81))

Finnissy - from Fidgety Feet

(from ‘Fidgety feet’, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88))

 

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 4

(from Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996))

The Piano Concerto No. 4 is by some measure Finnissy’s most manically virtuosic piece, and this is a rare opportunity to hear it live. I gave the world premiere of the revised version in my 1996 series of the piano work and have since performed it many times and recorded it (as I have the Piano Concerto No. 6 and all of the Gershwin Arrangements).

There will be further Finnissy concerts in London, Egham and Oxford in October, November and December, details of which I hope to confirm very soon, including a performance of the complete (four-book) Verdi Transcriptions , and the complete cycle The History of Photography in Sound, as part of a wider day at City University of events relating to Finnissy’s work.

 

Furthermore, on Wednesday October 12th, at 17:30 I will be giving a lecture postponed from earlier this year (due to industrial action).

Lecture:Ideological Constructions of ‘Experimental Music’ and Anglo-American Nationalism in the Historiography of post-1945 Music’
Room AG09, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Abstract: Since the publication of John Cage’s essay ‘Experimental Music: Doctrine’ of 1955, a dichotomy has informed a good deal of historiography of new music between ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ musics, especially following the publication of Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond in 1974. Nyman very clearly portrayed ‘experimental music’ as a fundamentally Anglo-American phenomenon, allowing almost no European composers into his pantheon. This opposition was itself foreshadowed in various writings of John Cage and Morton Feldman, and since the appearance of Nyman’s book has remained a prominent ideological construct, even feeding into other oppositions such as ‘high/low’ music, ‘uptown/downtown’ or ‘modern/postmodern’.

In this paper, I trace the history and development of the concept of ‘experimental’ music in several types of literature published in Europe and North America from the 1950s until the present day: general histories of music of this period, histories of American music, the writings of Cage, Feldman and Wolff, secondary literature on these figures, and other work dealing specifically with ‘experimental music’. I argue that from the late 1950s onwards, there was such a large amount of cross-fertilisation between composers on either side of the Atlantic that the opposition is unsustainable, but its perpetuation served an ideological and nationalistic purpose. Above all, by portraying a group of British and American composers as occupying an aesthetic space at an insurmountable remove from a (simplistic) picture of a European ‘avant-garde’, this facilitated special pleading on the part of the former for programming and other purposes. Even as some writers have grudgingly conceded that a small few continental European composers might also be considered ‘experimental’, they have constructed them as utterly on the margins of a perceived European mainstream to such an extent as to question their very ‘Europeanness’. Remarkably, this opposition has also been continued by various European writers, especially in Germany.

I also argue that the rhetoric of ‘experimental music’ has some roots in mythologies of the US frontier which have informed constructions of its canonical musicians. In place of this, I stress the strong European (as well as American and Asian) provenance of Cage’s thought and work (via that of Duchamp, futurism, Dada, the Bauhaus, Joyce, Satie, Varèse, Webern and Meister Eckhardt), and suggest that Feldman’s romantic, anti-rational individualism can be viewed not only in a clear lineage from nineteenth century European aesthetic thought (not least in Russia), but also in stark opposition to Cage’s anti-subjectivism. And finally I paraphrase Cage’s preface to Lecture on the Weather (1975) to argue that the music of the U.S.A. should be seen as just one part of the musical world, no more, no less.

 

I hope all with an interest in this subject will want to come along.


Video of debate ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’ and responses

The video of the full debate which took place at City University on June 1st, 2016 ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’, is now online for all to view.

Participants were Amanda Bayley (Bath Spa University), Tore Tvarnø Lind (Copenhagen University), Laudan Nooshin (City University), Ian Pace (City University) and Michael Spitzer (Liverpool University). The debate was chaired by Alexander Lingas (City University).

The following are some other important links: first, reports and responses to the debate by Rachel Cunniffe and Ben Smith

I have published my own position statement online here.

Nooshin’s position statement and slides can be found here.

And here is a further blog post of mine giving the full context of Paul Harper-Scott’s remarks cited during the debate, and some other reflections.

(A full response from me to Nooshin’s position statement will follow soon).

This debate has generated much discussion more widely, and hopefully will continue to do so. Many thanks to everyone for taking part.


Culture in the EU (8): Estonia

 

[Because of other commitments, it has not been possible to post more in this series for a little while, but I am endeavouring to complete as many as possible before the referendum on Thursday. For now, I will mostly give links and text without so much commentary, which may follow later]

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Estonia

[With profound thanks to Helen Harjak for various suggestions of Estonian culture to investigate]

A major figure in the post-war Estonian literary scene was the writer and poet Bernard Kangro (1910-1994), who founded the cultural journal Tulimuld, which ran from 1950 to 1993. A selection of his quasi-surrealist poems is available in English translation, called Earthbound.

Kangro - Earthbound

Here is Kangro’s poem, ‘Late Flowers, Wind, Sea, Sand and Fish’, translated Ivar Ivask.

Wind wilts
late flowers,
tiny blossoms
at edge of bay.

Don’t blame the breeze!
The sea’s there
thundering
upon the sand.

Wave above,
sand blow.
Fish laugh
and skip away.

Another poem can be read here.

Another surrealist Estonian writer was the poet and sound poet Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000), who lived in Sweden from 1944. Here is Laaban’s poem ‘Silence and Violence’, as translated by Richard Adang and Andres Ehin

Silence and Violence

Long ago on a windy hunt
a horrible happiness abruptly bloomed in me
and the landscape congealed only its pungent
blood rustling through my veins the gun smoked
incessantly the hound did not bark
as it gazed at the clouds tightening
into meat and skinning over with fur
streaming tangled by despair

Because on the horizon a stout tower appeared
which swayed slowly between emptiness
and the overflowing clamor of hideous joy
like a gigantic latrine
the sweaty sun mottled Earth and Welkin
until suddenly it was eclipsed by cold
ravens of freedom who carried my eyes
and fresh images like flags in their bills

At twilight which was only flashes
as the sea is but the triumph of the drowned
my hunting jacket was freed of its heavy
web of lust I simply ran forward
along the mute moor coming across
animals with shining coals for hearts
I shot them so many that the road home
was finally choked with grass

Long ago I seized the empty beaker
and faced its inflexible challenge
and ever since this endless draught rinses –
my gun-barrel mouth which sparkles
in the starry sky and when it sees
some too-warm nebula defiling cosmic night
it proclaims ponderously and clearly
I DENY DEATH BUT AFFIRM ICE

Here is Laaban’s sound-text composition Ciel Inamputable (1969)

 

Amongst the most renowned Estonian writers of the post-war era are Jann Kaplinski (b. 1941), who drew widely upon mythology and Asian thought, and Jaan Kross (1920-2007), who spent an eight-year period as a prisoner in Soviet labour camps. Here is an obituary of Kross in The Guardian. Kross’s novels often had historical settings, but served as allegories of the contemporary situation under Soviet communism. His four volume sequence of novels Kolme katku vahel/Between Three Plagues (1970-1976) told the story of the sixteenth-century chronicler Balthasar Russow, who wrote the chronicle of the Livovian War, detailing his experience of the effects upon the peasantry from which he came.

Kross - The Ropewalker

 

A sparse form of poetry, reflecting post-1968 disillusionment and disenchantment, can be found in the work of Paul-Eerik Rummo (b. 1942), who also went on to become an Estonian politician. A selection of his poems can be read in translation here; here is one, ‘Crooning’.

Crooning

I am so fleeting
sighed the girl to the sea
oh, what can I do
you are eternal

I am transparent like you
sighed the girl to the window
oh, what can I do
my heart’s in full view

I open like you
sighed the girl to the door
oh, what can I do
the sun steps in

I am so small
sighed the girl to the sun
oh, what can I do
you are so large

I am so foolish
sighed the girl to the wise man
oh, what can I do
everyone is so wise

More on Rummo can be read here.

Poet and author Tõnu Õnnepalu (b. 1962), who has also published under the names Emil Tode and Anton Nigov. His novel Piiririik/Border State (1993), a short novel about the overwhelming and sometimes destructive effect of Western culture upon a Baltic citizen, comes highly recommended; more can be read about it here.

Onnepalu - Border State

Also, do check out the poet, short story writer and librettist Maarja Kangro (b. 1973). Here is her poem ‘The Butterfly of No Return’, as translated by Ilmar Lehtpere. A further selection of poems, with various translations, can be read here.

THE BUTTERFLY OF NO RETURN

‘again’ is a big word.
slowly and quickly
again

again men rejoice on the radio
that they are on the right road
and talk of the cyclical nature of time

a proper road goes in circles, even I
recognize young skin on the beach and
”et si tu n’existais pas,” is sung loudly

men on the radio speak of the connection
of everything to everything else:  ringingly
one says butterfly effect – I lift my wings

a good sleep gives you cyclical time
for after such a sleep you think you’re revived
and again

I flutter my wing
the good men on the radio start coughing
I flap my wings more amply and a wind comes up

the men cough wheezing, the airwaves revolt
ships sink and swimmers drown, the final sleep
comes stormy and grey

let’s think of a word that never was before
was just now
and now isn’t anymore

***

There’s a whining and ringing in the air.
You talk of a lout.
I’m the very one.  Through me you’ll never
reach the deeper levels or the heights,
the flash of pure being that you believe
you see in the village drunkard
or the poet gone mad.
When he drinks, secrets come to light.
When I get legless, I attack.
Or I drift off, stinking.  My gaze is dark.
I give off my exhaust in your face.
I want lovely meat that won‘t shame me.  I’m afraid of losing.
Words anger me.  I bellow.
I watch the telly, don’t read, can’t write properly.
Rubbish is left behind me.
I am rubbish. I’m the one you’re talking about.
– Ah no, what are you going on about, it’s me.
– Ah no, it’s me.
– No, I’m the one.
– No, I am.  Forgive me.
The whole road is full of us, and our fragile souls
are ringing.  Listen, how quietly, dear girls and boys.

One of the first major groups of Estonian artists to look beyond Soviet orthodoxy was ANK-64, who were responsible for resurrecting cubist and constructivist work from earlier in the century. One of the leading figures in this movement was Jüri Arrak (b. 1936), whose work employs cartoon-like imagery and surrealist ideas; other important artists who were involved with this movement include Kristiina Kaasik (b. 1943) and Marju Musu (1941-1980)

Arrak - Lennuk 6-20

Jüri Arrak, Lennuk 6/20 (1972)

 

Kaasik - Vaade treppu

Kristiina Kaasik, Vaade trepilt (1974)

 

Mutsu - Early in the Morning

Marju Mutsu, Early in the Morning (1970)

In 1967, artist Kaljo Põllu (1934-2010) created another group called the Visarid, which disseminated much information on Western artistic movements and ideas, not least relating to pop art and graphic design.

Pollu - Mangutuba

Kaljo Põllu, Mängutuba (1967)

 

Pollu - Kullatja

Kaljo Põllu, Kuulataja (Vaikus) (1968)

 

Pollu - Keegi

Kaljo Põllu, Keegi (1987)

A starker type of art came from the SOUP-69 group, also inspired by pop art and other movements. Amongst the leading figures here were Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947) and Ando Keskküla (b. 1950).

 

Lapin - Woman Machine

Leonhard Lapin, Woman-Machine X (1974)

 

Keskkula - Finish

Ando Keskküla, Finish (1979).

Also part of this movement was the architect Vilen Künnapu (b. 1948), who would later engage with post-modern architectural ideas.

Künnapu - Office of the State Farm October

 

Kunnapu - Snail tower

Vilen Künnapu, Snail Tower, Tartu (2008)

 

Other notable modern Estonian architects include Raine Karp (b. 1939) and Riina Altmäe (b. 1949), whose best known work is the brutalist Tallinn City Concert Hall (Linnahall) (1976-1980), shown here from various angles.

 

The Estonian painter Raoul Kurvitz (b. 1961) formed a group called Rühm T in 1986, whose work (which included performance art as much as painting) was described by them as ‘Cold Expressionism’. Here is Kurvitz’s painting Chapelle (1999):

Kurvitz - Chapelle

And here is a picture of Kurvitz’s ‘Reconstructed Environment’ Maelstrom (1999/2013):

Kurvitz - Maelstrom

An interview with Kurvitz can be read here, while more information on his work can be read here.

One artist inhabiting the wilder realms of video and performance art is Jaan Toomik (b. 1961), some of whose work was inspired by the Viennese Actionists, and involves various types of degradation to the body, use of bodily fluids, and so on, but also clear political themes, as well as a recurrent concert with the nature of communication. An interview with Toomik can be read here, and here are some videos of his work.

 

 

 

Another is Ene-Liis Semper (b. 1969), whose work focuses on the body, and especially the mouth and tongue. More can be read on her work here, not least her notorious Licked Room (2000), in which she literally licked a room clean with her tongue.

Here are some samples of Semper’s work:

 

 

Semper also formed the theatre group NO99 together with Tiit Ojasoo. Here is a video about their work:

 

This is one of NO99’s best-known works, NO83 How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, inspired by Joseph Beuys.

 

Another important figure in radical contemporary Estonian theatre (about which more can be read here) is writer and director Mati Unt (b. 1944). Here is a video of his production Hot (2002).

 

Best-known of Estonian composers is undoubtedly Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), whose works such as Fratres (1977), Tabula Rasa (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and St John Passion (1982) appealed to certain Western ideals of ‘spiritualism’ and won world renown as a result. But not all of Pärt’s work is like this; the cello concerto Pro et contra (1966) is clearly indebted to aspects of a Western avant-garde language, including collage-like techniques, whilst in Credo (1968) for choir, piano and orchestra, Pärt distorts and defamiliarises Bach’s C major Prelude from Das wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1.

 

 

 

 

Here are two examples of Pärt’s later work:

 

 

 

Another composer of the same generation whose work Kuldar Sink (1942-1995), who began engaging with some modernist traditions, including the neo-classicism, the Second Viennese School, aleatoric composition, and even happenings (Sink, like Pärt, and ANK-64, was linked to an Estonian Fluxus movement in the late 1960s).

 

 

In later work, before his death in a house fire, Sink turned to Central Asian folk musics and drastic simplification.

 

 

 

A younger composer who also traversed a path from the avant-garde to modalism and postminimalism (from the early 1980s onwards) was Lepo Sumera (1950-2000)

Lepo Sumera, Pantomiim/Pantomime (1981)

 

Lepo Sumera, Senza metro (1986)

 

Lepo Sumera, Tähed / Stars for soprano and piano (2000)

In the  fascinating work of Jüri Reinvere (b. 1971), however, one finds a particular type of fusion or interplay of modernist, aleatoric, and romantic elements to varying degrees.

 

Jüri Reinvere, t.i.m.e. (2005)

 

Jüri Reinvere, Requiem (2009), excerpt.

Helena Tulve (b. 1972) combines modal elements with a wider musical language influenced in part by musique spectrale, and in some ways reminiscent of the work of Kaija Saariaho.

 

A much more pared-down music can be found in the work of composer and harpist Liis Viira (b. 1983), notorious for her Reverbeebi/Baby Symphony (2015), in which babies’ voices were combined with instruments.

 

The group Ensemble U have garnered attention through their creation of an ‘audience orchestra’ in which the audience members control much of the musical decision making.

 

Estonian cinema is generally thought to have come into its own in the 1960s. One of film which generated a fair degree of international interest was Arvo Kruusement’s Kevade/Spring (1969), based on a popular novel by Oskar Luts, a coming-of-age story set at the end of the 19th century. Here is a section of it, alas without subtitles, but which enables one to sample the visual qualities.

 

 

(the rest of the film can be viewed on the same YouTube channel)

Here is a film from the previous year, Kaljo Kiisk’s Hullumeelsus/Madness (1968)

 

And here is Leida Laius’s Kõrboja peremees (1979)

 

Of post-independence Estonian cinema, required viewing includes Hardi Volmer’s parody of the Russian Revolution, Minu Leninid/All My Lenins (1997), here available with English subtitles.

 

There is also an important tradition of Estonian animated film, in which the leading figure is Priit Pärn (b. 1946). Here is his  Ein murual/Breakfast on the Grass (1983, released 1986)

 

Here is a clip from Pärn’s 1992 film Hotel E:

Many other of Pärn’s animations can be viewed online.

An article on the evolution of Estonian contemporary dance post-independence can be read here. Here is a clip of the work of Fine 5 Dance Theatre, founded in 1992:

 

One can read about the United Dancers of Zuga here (unfortunately I have not found a good clip of their work).