Rautavaara wrote a great number of works spanning various styles. Having written early works using 12-tone serial techniques, his later music may be described as neo-romantic and mystical. Major works include Cantus Arcticus and Symphony No. 7 "Angel of Light".
Rautavaara was born in Helsinki in 1928. His father Eino was an opera singer and cantor, and his mother Elsa was a doctor. Both of his parents died before he reached his 16th birthday, and he went on to live with his aunt Hilja Teräskeli in a Helsinki suburb.
Rautavaara studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Aarre Merikanto from 1948 to 1952. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson Contest for his composition A Requiem for Our Time in 1954, and the work prompted Jean Sibelius to recommended him for a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School in New York City. There he was taught by Vincent Persichetti, and he also took lessons from Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He graduated at the Sibelius Academy in 1957.
Rautavaara served as a non-tenured teacher at the Sibelius Academy from 1957 to 1959, music archivist of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra from 1959 to 1961, rector of the Käpylä Music Institute in Helsinki from 1965 to 1966, tenured teacher at the Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1976, artist professor (appointed by the Arts Council of Finland) from 1971 to 1976, and professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy from 1976 to 1990.
Rautavaara was a prolific composer and wrote in a variety of forms and styles. He experimented with serial techniques in his early career but abandoned them in the 1960s. Even his serial works are not obviously serial. His third symphony, for example, uses such techniques, but sounds more like Anton Bruckner than more traditional serialists such as Pierre Boulez. His later works often have a mystical element (several of his works have titles which allude to angels). A characteristic 'Rautavaara sound' might be a rhapsodic string theme of austere beauty, with whirling flute lines, gently dissonant bells, and perhaps the suggestion of a pastoral horn.
His compositions include eight symphonies, 14 concertos, choral works (several for unaccompanied choir, including Vigilia (1971–1972)), sonatas for various instruments, string quartets and other chamber music, and a number of biographical operas including Vincent (1986–1987, based on the life of Vincent van Gogh), Aleksis Kivi (1995–1996) and Rasputin (2001–2003). A number of his works have parts for magnetic tape, including Cantus Arcticus (1972, also known as Concerto for Birds & Orchestra) for taped bird song and orchestra, and True and False Unicorn (1971, second version 1974, revised 2001–02), the final version of which is for three reciters, choir, orchestra and tape.
His later works include orchestral works Book of Visions (2003–2005), Manhattan Trilogy (2003–2005) and Before the Icons (2005) which is an expanded version of his early piano work Icons. In 2005 he finished a work for violin and piano called Lost Landscapes, commissioned by the violinist Midori Goto. A new orchestral work, A Tapestry of Life, was premiered by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in April 2008, directed by Pietari Inkinen.
Many of Rautavaara's works have been recorded, a performance of his 7th symphony, Angel of Light (1995), by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam on the Ondine label, being a particular critical and popular success - it was nominated for several awards, including a Grammy. Rautavaara's Symphony No. 8 has been recorded four times.
Almost all of Rautavaara's works have been recorded by Ondine. Some of his major works have also been recorded by Naxos. An album called "Rautavaara songs" was recorded by the Swedish label BIS Records.
In 2011 Rautavaara completed two larger-scale compositions: Missa a capella (premiered in the Netherlands, November 2011) and a work for string orchestra, Into the Heart of Light, which premiered in September 2012.
At the time of his death he was working on a large-scale opera based on texts by Federico García Lorca.
- Kennedy, Michael (2006): The Oxford Dictionary of Music. ISBN 0-19-861459-4
- Stępień, Wojciech (2010): Signifying Angels: Analyses and Interpretations of Rautavaara’s Instrumental Compositions. Ph.D. thesis. Studia musicologica Universitatis Helsingiensis, 20. Helsinki. ISBN 978-952-10-6399-2 ISSN 0787-4294 (Abstract.)
- Stępień, Wojciech (2011): The Sound of Finnish Angels: Musical Signification in Five Instrumental Compositions by Einojuhani Rautavaara. Pendragon Press. ISBN 978-1-57647-171-5
- Tiikkaja, Samuli (2014). Tulisaarna: Einojuhani Rautavaaran elämä ja teokset (in Finnish). Helsinki: Teos. ISBN 978-951-851-573-2.
- Rickards, Guy (28 July 2016). "Einojuhani Rautavaara obituary". Guardian.
- Huuhtanen, Matti (28 July 2016). "Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara dead at age 87". Washington Post.
- "Säveltäjä Einojuhani Rautavaara on kuollut". mtv.fi.
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