Finnish wind band music and the composers
by Kari Laitinen :: 2009
When the Finnish Defence Forces organized a composition competition for music for wind band in 2006, its purpose was to find new Finnish music for day-to-day use by military bands. The results were surprising. Instead of marches and popular concert music, the entries were almost exclusively contemporary classical compositions. For Finnish wind bands, this posed no problem: over the preceding years, both military and amateur wind bands had already become accustomed to performing new, ambitious concert music.
Finnish wind band music did not always have it so well, however. Wind band music was for long considered background music or occasional music, and only major concerts featured works originally written for wind band, most of them of foreign origin. New music written for wind band consisted mainly of marches for military bands or fantasies and medleys on folk tunes or national themes for park concerts and similar occasions.
In the 1970s however, the range of wind band music began to expand, as a number of classical composers began to write for the ensemble.
Concert music for wind band
Leonid Bashmakov (b. 1927), known for his symphonies and concertos, was one of the first Finnish classical composers to write concert music for wind band. This was not such a great departure, since wind instruments feature prominently in his orchestral music too. His musical style has been described as expressive, free-tonal and melodic.
Most of Bashmakov’s works for wind band are commissioned works from the turn of the 1970s. Etappeja (Stages, 1967), overture 1971 (1971), Prelude and Scherzo (1973) and Crescendo (1974) were quite unusual in the Finnish wind band repertoire at the time.
Tauno Marttinen (1912–2008) is an exceptional figure in the history of Finnish music. He was one of the most prolific Finnish composers of all time, and his catalogue of nearly 1,000 works covers practically all genres and ensembles of classical music, wind band not excepted. Marttinen typically drew on the natural environment and Finnish mythology for inspiration.
Marttinen’s works for wind band attracted attention in their day because they were so very different from run-of-the-mill wind band music. His best-known works in this genre include Pohjola (The North, 1971), Yö linnakkeessa (A Night in a Fortress, 1978), Sirius (1980), Juhlasoitto (Festive music, 1982) and Concerto for Wind Band, 1984. His most frequently performed wind band work, however, is an arrangement of his early festive orchestral piece Triumfi (1956).
Some of Finland’s most distinguished composers have written individual pieces for wind band by way of experimentation. Celebrated symphonic and opera composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) made his international breakthrough in 1954 when he won the Thor Johnson composition competition in the USA with A Requiem in our Time (1953), which has become a classic in the Finnish brass band repertoire. Rautavaara’s Sotilasmessu (A Soldier’s Mass, 1968) for wind band is from his post-dodecaphonic free-tonal period. Annunciations (1976–1977) combines an organ, a brass quintet as a concertino group and a large symphonic wind band.
Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) is also best known for his orchestral works and operas. Chorali (1970), written for the wind sections of a symphony orchestra, dates from a period when he had turned away from his early Modernism and adopted an expressive free-tonal style which he maintains to this day. Being an opera composer, Sallinen has a strong sense of drama, which is also apparent in Palace Rhapsody (1996) for wind band, adapted from material from his opera Palatsi (The Palace).
Kalevi Aho (b. 1949) has principally written monumental symphonies and operas. His poetic wind band fantasy Tristia (1999) was written for amateur wind band but is nevertheless technically challenging and musically substantial. Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958) has also written for winds only in his orchestral works Zungenstimmen (1994) and Gran Duo (2000), although these are not wind band works in the strict sense of the term.
In recent years, works for wind band have begun to crop up in the catalogues of various young Finnish composers due to commissions and competitions; we may mention Ilmarisen pajassa (In Ilmarinen’s smithy, 2006) by Uljas Pulkkis (b. 1975); Music for “Old Europe” (2003) by Olli Virtaperko (b. 1973); and Sight (2001) by Sampo Haapamäki (b. 1979). In the K. H. Pentti composition competition in 2007, the roster of prize-winners included not only composers writing for wind band in a traditional vein but also contemporary composers known for their Modernist idiom, such as Riikka Talvitie (b. 1970) with Surunkellot (Mourning bells, 2006), Lotta Wennäkoski (b. 1970) with puha (2007) and Pasi Lyytikäinen (b. 1975) with Sirena (2006).
A shift in wind band culture
Finnish wind band music went through a major shift in the early 1990s. Thanks to advances in music teaching, the technical abilities of Finnish amateur wind bands increased rapidly, and many wind bands began to expand and develop their repertoire towards symphonic wind band music. Marches and arrangements of popular music were no longer enough even for amateurs; wind bands began to search for original music of high quality.
Finnish composers are increasingly aware of the potential of the wind band and have begun to write new occasional pieces and concert music for the ensemble. Some have actually become principally known as wind band composers, even though they continue to write music in other genres too.
Lasse Eerola (1945–2000) was one of the first Finnish composers to specialize in writing for winds. Being a clarinet teacher himself, his background is evident in the music he wrote for his own instrument and for various wind ensembles. His finest achievements are perhaps in his works for wind band, such as the popular Variations for wind band (1975/1988), the Fantasy for clarinet and wind band (1988) and the dynamic Ceremonial fanfares. His more extensive works in the genre include the Suite for wind band (1992) and Music for brass quintet and wind band, 1998. Eerola aimed to bring a modern compositional style to the wind band repertoire in an accessible way, avoiding the newest trends and greatest freedoms. His music is characterized by traditional thematic processing, rhythmic changes and a broad palette of tonal colour.
The music of Harri Wessman (b. 1949), one of Finland’s Neo-romantic composers, is typically flexible in its rhythm and lyrical in its expression. In his works for wind instruments, these go hand in hand with a practical, hands-on approach. Kälviä (1995) and Kuopio (2000) were specifically written for youth wind bands, and others are also frequently performed by youth and amateur wind bands. Prelude and toccata (2001) for euphonium and wind band is a more demanding concert piece.
Herbert Lindholm (b. 1946), a flute teacher and composer of flute music, has recently taken an interest in writing for wind band. His concert pieces Finnish Overture (2005), Woodland (2006/2008) and In the courtyard (2008), are written in a melodic, free-tonal idiom with a romantic and mystical mood.
Born in Uruguay, composer and conductor Luis Pasquet (b. 1917) has lived in Finland since the 1970s. His music is an intriguing mix of Impressionism, expressionism and jazz spiced with South American flavours. Of his wind band works, Kolme punaista tangoa (Three red tangos) is an impression of an Argentinean-Uruguayan tango, while Laulu appelsiinitarhoille (Song to the orange groves), Laakson kukat (The flowers in the valley) and Vanha karnevaali (The old carneval) were inspired by South American dance rhythms.
Composer and conductor Atso Almila (b. 1953) has mainly written music for the stage, but he has also written a fair amount of instrumental music, with wind instruments often playing important roles. He has written several concertos for wind instruments and chamber music for a variety of wind ensembles. His first wind band pieces date from the 1980s and were obviously written with amateurs in mind, but around the turn of the millennium he began to branch out into symphonic wind band music.
Almila’s music is firmly rooted in tradition, and because of his practical experience as a conductor it is very idiomatically written. In addition to the tonally oriented wind band suite Visions from the North (1997) and Eposimo (2003) for amateur wind band, he has used a wind band instead of an orchestra in his more modern-oriented free-tonal works, Symphony no. 2 (2003), Tuba Concerto no. 2 (2004) and the Concerto for Oboe and Winds (2009).
Jukka Linkola (b. 1955) is one of Finland’s most versatile composers, equally at home with both jazz and classical music. Like Almila, he has written a lot of music for the stage, dextrously combining influences from different genres. He is one of the most prolific composers of music for wind instruments in Finland, as witness his several wind concertos and chamber music works.
Linkola’s music is moderately free-tonal and is characterized by energetic rhythms and a romantic melodic vein. Thanks to his vivacious idiom, his works enjoy a fair measure of popularity with both amateur and professional wind bands. Among those performed the most frequently are the playfully punchy Tango Tarantella (1995) for trumpet and wind band and the majestic suite Wedding Music (1998). His other wind band works – Sisu (1999), the Saxophone Concerto (1999) with its technically challenging solo part, and the three-movement Fortuna (2007) – have established themselves in the Finnish wind band concert repertoire.
Harri Ahmas (b. 1957) plays solo bassoon with Sinfonia Lahti and has also become known as a composer. Wind instruments, principally of course the bassoon, play a prominent role in his output, which consists mostly of chamber music. He began writing for wind band in the early 2000s, inspired by the wind band of Lahti Conservatory. He has written challenging concert pieces for both professional and amateur wind bands.
Hic et nunc (2000) and the Sinfonietta (2002) are both substantial wind band works characterized by Ahmas’s melodically rich idiom and an energetic Neo-Classical rhythmic drive. Balladi Ihantalasta (Ballad from Ihantala, 2003) for reciter and wind band and Kolme legendaa (Three legends, 2009), the latter inspired by ancient Egyptian history, are among the more programmatic of his works. Ahmas also successfully brought together a solo string instrument and a wind band in the concerto-like Three Movements for Violin and Wind Band (2005).
Like Ahmas, Jukka-Pekka Lehto (b. 1958) is a professional orchestra musician who has also tried his hand at composing. He is best known for pieces for his own instrument, the flute, though his wind band works have received recognition even in international composition competitions. Lehto has written wind band music for young people, amateurs and advanced professional ensembles. His music is traditionally oriented and treads a fine line between tonality and free-tonality. He uses moderate modern musical means, for example free rhythm, in works intended for amateurs such as Kevätpuhallus (Spring breeze, 1996), Suita (1991), Vocatio Interna (2002), Un ballo degli alberi (2006) and Suita 3 (2008). By contrast, he writes in a more modern concert music idiom in his works for more advanced ensembles, such as Concertino (1995) for trombone and wind band, Fantasia concertante (1997) for flute and wind band, Sinfonietta (2001), Dance variations (2004) and Flux (2007).
Composers with jazz influences
Pertti Jalava (b. 1960) began his composing career in jazz but has recently moved increasingly into the field of classical music. He began writing for orchestra in earnest in the early 2000s and has since then achieved success for example in international composition competitions. Rhythm and melody play a key role in Jalava’s music, which is rich in emotion and narrative. He keeps his jazz and classical composer roles strictly separate but allows a certain cross-fertilization. For example, Tuulenpesä (Nest of Wind, 2000/2001) for two percussionists and wind band was originally written for chamber ensemble but is ultimately based on a progressive rock piece that Jalava wrote back in 1981.
Kirmo Lintinen (b. 1967), like Linkola and Jalava, began his career as a jazz composer and musician and later worked his way towards classical music. His classical compositions hark back to Neo-Classicism and draw on a richness of musical means. Offset (1992), originally written for big band and later adapted for wind band, is a piece with a strong jazz flavour and includes a demanding piano part which the composer wrote for himself. YTY (2000) for wind band and Concertino (2008) for horn and wind band represent the classical side of Lintinen’s output.
Arttu Takalo (b. 1971) made a reputation for himself as a jazz vibraphone player and is also known as a composer and arranger of orchestral and film music. He has written arrangements for both symphony orchestras and Finnish rock musicians. His own music is romantically tinted and very cinematic, and these features have brought him commissions from numerous sources, including wind bands. He combines cinematic effects and romantic tones in The Wastelands (2000) and Sci-Fi (2006), while the Neo-romantic Sinfonia (2005) and Music for Percussion and Concert Band (2005) are more serious orchestral music. Battle of Bengtskär (2007) and Program-music (2009) for brass quartet and wind band are, as the titles indicate, programmatic pieces and were written with amateur musicians in mind.
Antti Rissanen (b. 1975) is known as a jazz trombonist and big band composer. He scored for wind band in two solo pieces he wrote for himself, Suite Nostalgie for Wind Band and Jazz Trombone (1999) and Humoresque Festivo for Euphonium and Wind Band (2006).
Dedication to wind band music
The need for new wind band music prompted the emerging of a group of composers in the early 1990s who were wholly dedicated to wind band music and undertook to write new pieces for both beginners and advanced musicians alike. The aim was to gain new occasional and concert music of good quality for wind bands to augment the time-worn selection of wind band arrangements. These often incorporated influences from popular music, which appealed to young musicians.
Originally, this group of dedicated wind band composers consisted mainly of conductors of wind bands and military bands, but full-time composers soon joined their ranks.
Arthur Fuhrmann (b. 1930) and Juhani Leinonen (b. 1948) have both written a great many marches and other light occasional pieces for wind band, but also serious concert pieces. By way of examples, we may mention Fuhrmann’s classical-style Concertino for euphonium and wind band and Leinonen’s concert suites Ruukinmäkisarja (Ruukinmäki suite, 2001) and Joen varrella (By the river, 2005).
Petri Juutilainen (b. 1953) is a jazz trombonist and big band conductor and trainer who has also written a lot of wind band music in a popular vein for young people and amateurs. His most extensive wind band work to date, Tapahtuipa kerran Karjalassa (Once upon a time in Karelia, 1997) was inspired by and based on folk tunes collected in Karelia.
Esko Heikkinen (b. 1953) is an internationally acknowledged jazz trumpet player and also in high demand as a wind band trainer and composer. He is currently the full-time conductor of the Helsinki Police Band. His compositions, such as Maahisten tanssi (Dance of the Goblins), the concert tango Tango for Saxmen and the tricky concert schottische Letkujenkka (The Firetruck schottische) are occasional pieces easily learned by amateurs. He has also written numerous elementary wind band arrangements for young musicians.
Born in Estonia, Priit Raik (1948–2008) employed an international style with influences from both Russian and American wind band music. His Three pieces for wind band is an interesting example of combining traditional and modern compositional techniques and present performers with rhythmic challenges.
Timo Katila (b. 1956) writes sonorous and melodic music in the finest classical tradition, for example in his Symphony for wind band (1989) and Concertino for alto saxophone and winds (1990). In addition to concert pieces, he has written music for young people’s wind bands. His work Ankkuripuiston mestarilaulajaiset (The Master Singers of Anchor Park) allows even the youngest musicians to take part.
Raine Ampuja (b. 1958) is the conductor of the Guards Band in Helsinki and an active wind band enthusiast who has written both concert pieces and popular pieces for various ensembles. His major work to date is the mystical and rhythmic Magic (1998), written for a celebration of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. In recent years, he has contributed much to amateur music-making by young people as an organizer in wind music associations, as an instructor and as a composer.
Jyrki Koskinen (b. 1964) and PasiHeikki Mikkola (b. 1965) are also military conductors who have contributed to the repertoire of amateur wind bands with colourful compositions and arrangements.
Timo Forsström (b. 1961) is a military musician by profession and actively involved in various areas of the field of popular music as a composer and arranger. His knack for writing music that sounds good and interests amateurs has made him one of Finland’s most popular wind band composers, and some of his pieces have become hit numbers. His uptempo concert march Castle Park (1996) has been performed frequently both in Finland and abroad, and it has been recorded several times. His often-performed output also includes Waiting for Spring, Majakkasaari (Lighthouse Island, 1992) for euphonium and wind band, and the brisk and breezy Monark Avenue (2007).
Jukka Viitasaari (b. 1961) is a curious figure in Finnish wind band music. His rock music roots and his interest in Finnish folk music and modern concert wind band music merge in an unusual synthesis which he himself describes as ‘Finnish national world music’. His interest in musical heritage is apparent in that he has written a number of pieces for the traditional brass septet.
Viitasaari is best known for his works for youth wind band, and writing for young musicians is his self-declared cultural assignment. In this vein, he has written pieces like Mollipop (G Minor pop song) and Beatmarssi (Beat March), and a favourite among elementary wind bands, Höh! (Huh!), which is performable with just the five notes that learners are first taught on their respective instruments.
In recent years, he has broadened his horizons by writing symphonic wind band music for advanced amateurs, and this has earned him international recognition too. It is difficult to single out any individual pieces out of his extensive output for wind band, but the best-received of them tend to be those which were commissioned or which performed well in international composition competitions, such as Missing Season (2001), Arctic Games (2004), Light up the Sky (2006) and Epifyyttien tanssi (Dance of the epiphytes, 2007).
Markku Viitasaari (b. 1965) has also written rhythmic pieces that appeal particularly to young musicians. In addition to the uptempo youth wind band pieces Soulbeat (1987), Yksi teema (A Theme, 1994) and Proggis (1998), he has written a lot of occasional pieces and concert music for adult amateurs, such as Inconscius (1992) and Sabroso (2007).
Antti Nissilä (b. 1969) is a musical polymath, not only a composer but also a Lied and opera singer (baritone) and conductor of both an amateur wind band and a choir. His extensive output as a composer includes serious concert pieces for orchestra, instrument ensembles and voices as well as music for the stage and pop music. The majority of his output, however, is for wind band, particularly with young musicians in mind.
Nissilä’s idiosyncratic style is an intriguing combination of classical music and rhythms and tones from the realm of popular music, as in the mystic and primeval pieces Cave Dance and Wild. The festive overture Promise (2006), written for somewhat younger musicians, and the cinematic pieces Local Heroes and Total Rangers are among his most frequently performed works for youth wind band. His popular elementary wind band suite Me Örkendalit (The McOgres) is written with the very youngest musicians in mind.
Janne Ikonen (b. 1975) is active in the field of music in a number of capacities but is best known as a wind band composer. Ikonen comes from North Karelia in the eastern part of Finland, and his music often reflects Finnish moods and landscapes. The mysterious murmur of evergreen forests is present in From the Woods, and his output includes works such as the overture fanfare Kansallismaisema (National landscape) and the folk tune fantasy Kaikuja laulumailta (echoes from the song lands). His more energetic output for youth wind band includes Move! and Shake! which draw on soul music and the Orientalish Disco Istanbul. In recent years, he has written much elementary material for beginning wind players.
Juha Pisto (b. 1966) came to the attention of the wind band community when he won the K. H. Pentti composition competition in 2007. His winning entry, Leu'dd (2006), is based on a Sámi yoik and evokes a mystical shamanist mood. Pisto says that he draws on the Finnish tradition of wind band music and spices it up with ethnic flavours. His works for concert band also include Lux in Nocte (2007), Notturno (2007) and Suo (Bog). He has also composed and arranged occasional music in a lighter vein for youth wind band.
Composers of music for amateur and youth wind band emerging in the 200s include Marja Ikonen (b. 1978), Anita Lehto (b. 1970), Kimmo Kopra (b. 1975), Ilari Hylkilä (b. 1978) and Juuso Wallin (b. 1984).
The early years of the Finnish wind band
Horns and pipes have formed part of the musical culture in what is now Finland since time immemorial. In the Middle Ages, the piping of the common people began to assimilate foreign influences from merchants, soldiers and itinerant musicians. However, it was not until the 18th century that wind music began to gain more ground with the founding of Finland’s first military bands. At that time a new instrument – the clarinet – became popular among military musicians. Towards the end of the century, clarinets were joined by oboes, bassoons and horns, and Finnish military bands began to resemble European ‘Harmoniemusik’ ensembles.
At the beginning of the 19th century the eight-member wind ensembles were found to be inadequate and were augmented to more than 20 members with the addition of flutes, trumpets, trombones and drums. With improvements in brass instruments the military bands became increasingly brass-dominated, and by the end of the century they had become brass bands, with no woodwinds left at all.
In the 1880s, Adolf Leander, conductor of the Guards Band, revised the repertoire and training of Finnish military bands and raised the level of brass playing throughout the land. He is also credited with the creation of the Finnish brass septet and the popularization of brass music which it sparked. The brass septet – a cornet in E flat, two cornets in B flat, an alto horn, a tenor horn, a baritone horn and a tuba – also formed the core of Leander’s brass band lineup. Amateurs all around Finland took up brass instruments, and eventually the brass septet became as ubiquitous in Finland as the country’s thousands of lakes. Finland became independent in 1917, and in the 1920s a reform of the military bands of the young nation was begun. Brass bands were enlarged into wind bands, including woodwind, brass and percussion. However, woodwind instruments were slow to establish themselves in military music, and in practice most Finnish military bands remained brass bands until the Second World War.
It was not until the 1950s that Finnish military bands were permanently established as full-scale wind bands, including orchestral woodwind and brass and also saxophones and percussion. At the same time, a reform was begun to introduce international wind band concert music into the repertoire.
Finnish wind band music today
Today, Finland has 12 military bands. Only the Guards Band and Defence Forces’ Conscript Band are full-sized wind bands by international standards. The Guards Band is the premiere musical ensemble of the Finnish Defence Forces and is of high international calibre as a performer of challenging concert repertoire.
Following the development of military bands, amateur wind bands have also grown from brass septets into full-size wind bands. They attract thousands of amateur musicians, in some places having a better recruitment record than local music education institutions. At the same time, the need for systematic music studies has increased. In recent years, attention has been paid to elementary and youth wind bands, leading to a conspicuous improvement in the technical capacity of Finnish amateur wind players and allowing amateur wind bands to expand and embrace more ambitious repertoire.
Starting in the 1990s, the wind music scene in Finland has become more active and also better organized. Amateur musicians’ associations, wind bands and music institutes have combined forces to organize wind music events such as national wind music festivals and national championships for wind bands, which bring together thousands of amateurs and professionals in the field each year.
Cooperation is also increasing in the training of wind players and conductors. The basic instruction given at music institutes and the wide range of music camps available in summer have been joined by increasingly popular training events and projects. For example, the training orchestra Sisu offers an opportunity for students and amateurs to meet for an intense period a couple of times a year and make music under the direction of a professional conductor, tackling some of the most challenging classics in the wind band repertoire and new works commissioned from contemporary composers. The Ruskatrööttä event is popular with amateur wind players, who come from all over Finland for training and performance in an ensemble commensurate with their skill level.
With the new works being written by the generation of wind band composers that emerged in the 1990s, new publishers have also emerged to offer up-to-date repertoire to wind bands. The small publishers active in the field are all sworn wind band music enthusiasts that, instead of cut-throat competition, work together to promote the wider spreading of Finnish wind band music.
Translation © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi