Einojuhani Rautavaara, arguably Finland’s most famous classical composer since the era of Jean Sibelius, died July 27 in Helsinki. He was 87.
The cause was complications from hip surgery, said Reijo Kiilanen, managing director of Ondine Records, which released most of his works.
“Rautavaara deservedly is the first Finnish composer after Sibelius to make an international breakthrough,” Kiilanen said. “Sibelius was great, but no other Finnish composer has made a similar breakthrough.”
Mr. Rautavaara produced eight symphonies, seven operas, 14 concertos and dozens of other orchestral and vocal compositions. He achieved international fame with his seventh symphony, “Angel of Light,” in 1994. Chicago Tribune classical music critic John von Rhein called the piece “no mindless ‘celestial’ exercise [but] music that eases and enriches the spirit, its ethereal chords climbing ever higher, like the tendrils of a plant reaching for the sun.”
Mr. Rautavaara was known for music that explored mystical and romantic themes, appreciated the mathematically precise application of 12-tone techniques, and employed innovative use of recorded bird song.
Mr. Rautavaara was born in Helsinki on Oct. 9, 1928. His father was an opera singer and his mother was a physician; both died while their son was in his early teens, and Mr. Rautavaara was raised partly by an aunt.
He studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and the Juilliard School in New York. He oversaw a new generation of composers from 1976 to 1990 as professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy, named after Finland’s nationally honored composer who died in 1957.
Mr. Rautavaara’s works have been widely performed abroad including by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which commissioned him to compose his eighth symphony, “The Journey,” for its 100th anniversary celebration. The pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy commissioned his third piano concerto, completed in 1998.
Mr. Rautavaara once told the Associated Press he was lucky to be a musician in Finland, which gives generous grants to composers. “Without grants, it would have been difficult for me to survive,” he said. “Luckily I can spend all day composing if I want to.”
His first marriage, to actress Mariaheidi Suovanen, ended in divorce. In 1984, he wed Sinikka Koivisto, who survives him along with three children from his first marriage.
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