Osmo Tapio Räihälä
by Tanja Tiekso :: 2010
"Don’t try to understand – just listen and feel it!" wrote Osmo Tapio Räihälä (b. 15 January 1964, Suomussalmi) in the programme notes for the premiere of his chamber orchestra work Suprematisse (2009). This captures the essence of his musical conception: for him, music is a personal experience that cannot be explained in words. He also does not consider it feasible to analyse or theoretically describe the technical details of compositions. He prefers to think that he creates musical moments which “each listener can interpret in his or her very own way,” as he wrote in the programme notes for his chamber music work Freefoot (2006).
Räihälä himself experiences music as images: colours, shapes, lines, lights, shadows... These visual associations may be experienced in his music for instance in the shifting of styles, the contrasts between motifs and the clear-cut melodic sequences. The overall impression is one of layered, overlapping images. Indeed, Räihälä’s music is not just visual but at times even cinematic, as in Suprematisse and the orchestral work Rautasade (Iron Rain, 2008). But programmatic content is never his intent, except in the unusual work for viola and orchestra entitled Håkan Belgiassa (Håkan in Belgium, 2002), whose movement titles illustrate how the narrative progresses: Håkan hortoilee ja tekee päätöksen (Håkan fools around and makes up his mind), Håkan päättää lähteä Belgiaan (Håkan decides to leave to Belgium), Håkanin krapula (Håkan in hangover), Håkan päättää feidata (Håkan decides to bugger off).
Although Räihälä prefers not to link his compositions to ‘extra-musical’ features, they often stem from some mundane human experience. We should note, though, that the concept of experience and taking an open view of the emotions prompted by music is a relatively new thing in his musical thinking. As recently as in the 1990s, he wrote what he described as “intellectual Modernist” works, because he “wanted to do what everyone else was doing”. His works from that time include Spinozan verkko (Spinoza’s Web, 1996) for clarinet, horn and violin; in writing it, his aim was to eliminate randomness completely.
But Räihälä’s composer personality was ultimately not comfortable with the intellectual approach that sought to exclude intuition. He decided to change course and write music about things that he loved – such as his favourite football team, Everton. The football theme found its supreme expression in his orchestral work Barlinnie Nine (1999/2005), which is a sort of portrait of football player Duncan Ferguson, whose unpredictable behaviour earned him a prison sentence.
Räihälä has drawn on other personally important themes besides football. The chamber orchestra work Värikallio (Rock Painting, 2003) was named after the Stone Age rock paintings of Hossa in Suomussalmi, Räihälä’s birthplace. When those paintings were created, the area that is now the composer’s home city, Helsinki, was at the bottom of the sea. In Värikallio, he contemplates the presence of historical layers in the present by introducing his entire personal musical history into the piece: there is a section with allusions to progressive rock and improvised sections which he describes as being “in the spirit of rock music”.
Räihälä’s musical expression stems from throwing oneself to the mercy of musical associations and the conveying to the listener of his personal world of musical experience. Now that contemporary music has in itself become one style among many, offering the listener recognisable stylistic anchor points is a way of breaking up the smug self-referential nature of contemporary music. Räihälä’s compositions are collage-like textures with no attempt at organic growth; instead, they play on contrasts, surprises and the play of free association. He writes music intuitively and hopes that his listeners will have the courage to plunge into the maelstrom of images that it prompts.
Translation © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Osmo Tapio Räihälä
© Saara Vuorjoki / Fimic