Harmony. Christmas is about harmony. Harmony can only exist when there is hope. Christmas is about hope. Christmas is about light and guidance. Christmas is about a promise of a better life, a life in harmony. A life, where evil has been vanquished, where love triumphs over hate. When I look back at my life, I remember no time when I was as dispirited about humanity as now. The will to solve the urgent global problems in a spirit of benevolence and cooperation just seems to be a phrase, while real life is moving into the opposite direction.
I need hope. Everybody needs hope. I can find hope in beauty. And beauty I find in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Symphony No. 7 “Angel of Light”. The Finnish composer wrote it in 1994, at the age of 66. Rautavaara studied musicology at the University of Helsinki and composition at the Sibelius Academy in the 1950s. On Jean Sibelius’s recommendation he was awarded a a scholarship in 1955; he studied in the United States, Switzerland and in Germany. In 1966 he started to teach art at the Sibelius Academy, in 1976 he became professor of composition. On his 80th birthday, the label Ondine released a set with all of Rautavaara’s eight symphonies; Symphony No. 7 has been recorded by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rautavaara’s early works follow the neo-classicist tradition; in the 1950s he picked up certain ideas about serialism*. In a piece for Oxford Music Online, Mikko Heiniö notes the composer followed a “new romantic period (better termed ‘stylistic pluralism’)” from the late 1960s on, manifesting itself “in a preference for tonality and a striving to combine modern with traditional techniques”. This is what makes his Symphony No. 7 so interesting. Rautavaara blends a Romantic elements and composing methods with aesthetic concepts developed by contemporary composers. The piece combines “medieval Catholicism with the supernatural of the Kalevala [a Finnish mythic tale] in a work that makes use of elements ranging from Gregorian chant to serialism and aleatory webs.“
The music is dramatic and spiritual, it reaches out to all things cosmic and all things human, it puts man into the widest possible context: his existence on a tiny blue planet speeding through space without any apparent reason. The symphony invites to reflect the purpose we want to give our life, considering the absurdity of our existence. As for the angel-like element, the composer once said: “It is probably down to the spirit of the times, the Zeitgeist. […] I felt self-conscious about putting angels in the titles of my works in the 1970s, when my colleagues were giving their works matter-of-fact titles such as Structures for Strings.” And perhaps each of us can be an “Angel of Light” to make earth a better place. I wish you a merry Christmas!
© Charles Thibo