Born in Helsinki in 1928, Einojuhani Rautavaara studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki from 1948 to 1952 before he was recommended a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School in New York City where he was taught by Vincent Persichetti, and he also took lessons from Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson Contest for his composition "A Requiem in Our Time" in 1954.
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.
OPUS DISSONUS - What was your first contact with the art of composing? What motivated you to start?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - My contact with music was delayed by the war, which was a very chaotic time for me; I was seventeen before I started to play the piano and study music theory. I was motivated to become a composer by a quotation I read, by Richard Strauss: that a composer has the possibility to create a private world of beauty for himself in his music.
OPUS DISSONUS - How does your compositional process works?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - The impact for a composition often comes from a text with a strong atmosphere. The text can be only a couple of words, like “fire sermon” or “angel of light” etc. Those words keep repeating in my mind like a mantra until they become music – why? Because I am a composer.
The second step is to choose the sound material that I think will be right for the atmosphere (modal scales, 12-tone rows, symmetric harmonies etc.).
The third step is to follow my intuition while using the chosen material, to listen to the music being born and let the music, and the work, emerge.
OPUS DISSONUS - Which ones of your works may, in your own view, be regarded as "introductory" or "obligatory" for those who want to know more about your compositions?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - The eight symphonies, as a series, are a kind of autobiography. The two last symphonies, number 7 and 8, represent the “ripe” composer. Similarly, the 12 concertos for various solo instruments form a series of my work.
OPUS DISSONUS - How would you describe your own style of composing?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - I will leave that to the musicologists to define.
OPUS DISSONUS - Who are the composers who have had the greatest influence on your work, from the earliest compositions to the present?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - My early influences were many: Debussy, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Bartók and many others. Today I am not conscious of any influences.
OPUS DISSONUS - I read on your CV you had classes with Vincent Persichetti, Sessions and Copland. How was your contact with these people?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - Vincent Persichetti, my teacher at the Juilliard School, was important as a teacher of technique. (He was then writing his famous book “Twentieth Century Harmony”.) Sessions and Copland taught at the Tanglewood Music Center. They taught at the summer course, so the contact did not last very long. However, Copland, in spite of his “americanism” made an impression as a member of the long line of European composer-teachers: Copland – Nadia Boulanger – Gabriel Fauré – Saint-Saens – Liszt etc. Sessions taught me the importance of narration and drama in a large work.
OPUS DISSONUS - Your Symphony No.8 "The Journey" was recorded 4 times, and this is something amazing and rare in the contemporary symphonic music. Is there any plans for a 9th Symphony?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - Of course the success of eight and seventh symphonies has been amazing. For me, symphony is not a “form” (with expositions, developments etc.) but as Milan Kundera says “Symphony is a musical epic”. Perhaps I will come to be in an epical mood again...
OPUS DISSONUS - It's possible to see the influence of the religion even in your piano works like "Icons Op.6" or in your 2 piano sonatas "Christus und die Fischer Op.50" and "The Fire Sermon Op.64". Can you tell us something about your contact and experiences with this theme (the religion)?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - I could agree with Friedrich Schleiermacher when he says: “Religiosity is interest in and inclination to the infinite”. My relationship with religion is mainly esthetic: I can as well be inspired by the orthodox Vigil, or roman-catholic Mass, as by Buddhist “Nirvana Dharma”.
OPUS DISSONUS - Your Lorca Suite is going to be played in Brazil very soon, and I heard you are working in a great Opera based on Garcia Lorca's texts too.So we assume you love literature, right? Can you tell us about your experiences with this art?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - I have written the libretti for 7 of my operas myself. “Canción de nuestro tiempo” is another choral suite set to texts by Lorca. Literature really is as important for me as music.
OPUS DISSONUS - What are your impressions of the youngest generation of composers? Do you know them?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - After leaving my job as professor of composition at the Sibelius-Academy I can no longer follow the work of young colleagues. But in Finland there are at least a couple of very promising young talents.
OPUS DISSONUS - In your opinion, what can we expect for the future of classical music?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - Art music composers will belong to a subculture. They almost belong to it today – and that of course is a most positive, romantic and attractive situation. The composers should feel like being, as T.S. Eliot says, “individual talents (who) reorder tradition”.
OPUS DISSONUS - There is long debate about copyrights and the free dissemination of compositions over the Internet. What's your opinion on this?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - A composer should be able to live on his composing.
OPUS DISSONUS - What words would you say to an aspiring composer?
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - You should compose all the time, fanatically and too much – because the best teacher is the composer himself. Also remember the most important instruments: an eraser or delete switch and the waste-paper basket.