Jyrki Linjama in Profile
by Erkki Huovinen :: 1998
Jyrki Linjama (b. 1962) is a conscientious craftsman-composer who shuns being associated with any particular stylistic camp. He is modern but not a modernist, and greatly aware of tradition without being a traditionalist. Composing is for him the search for his own identity in the day-to-day round of hard work, the sustained effort to find an answer, an attempt at synthesis, to become part of a solid cultural tradition. He avoids taking the easy way out but nevertheless expects even exacting music to ring true. Music must be personally experienced, personally internalised. Music is part of humanity: at its best it can be “ethical, profound, serious, opening up vast perspectives on eternity”. Linjama is not ashamed to aim at something great and noble in his music, and listening to his polished works, in which every tiny detail has been attended to, it is easy to believe his sincerity.
Linjama is very much a European composer who values a critical atmosphere yet at the same time tolerance and pluralism. This is reflected not only in his versatile output drawing on different musical and ideological traditions but also in his study history. In addition to graduating from the Sibelius Academy, where he learnt from Einojuhani Rautavaara and Paavo Heininen in 1979–1989, he has also studied at the Hague Conservatoire, spent two years after graduating in Budapest and received yet further tuition from Witold Szalonek in Berlin. His work as lecturer in musicology at the University of Turku since 1992 has established a deeper relationship with the Western serious music tradition that has led him to address some of the basic aesthetical issues and helped him to make bolder use of historical musical material in his own compositions. His attitude to tradition has nevertheless remained critical: “The more familiar you are with various traditions, the less likely you are to be cheated.”
The instrumental works by Linjama have tended to be scored for one or two instruments or for orchestra. Among his major works are two violin concertos in which his natural handling of the instrument (his own main instrument is the violin) is combined with highly-polished orchestration. The first violin concerto (1989) is a work of great subtlety with a solo part marked by both richness of melody and virtuosic display. The Paganiniana section at the end of the first movement, in which the solo violin dances in double stops, flageolet notes and pizzicatos over a steady, meditative and clearly profiled rhythmic pulse, and the Blumenstück beginning the second movement, in which he comes closest to traditional serialism, represent two opposite extremes. Linjama’s thorough approach to his work is illustrated by the fact that he spent four months just honing the twelve-note row on which the work is based. This row has subsequently served as the basis for many of his works.
The second violin concerto (1991) could, in the composer’s own words, be called an ‘Adagio for Violin and Orchestra’. It is indeed dramatic music rugged in tone in which the leading roles are given to the concentrated harmony and the selective orchestration flavoured with electric drums and a synthesizer. The contrasts within the work arise not so much from the alternation of opposing musical characters, as in the first violin concerto, as from the contrasting of the soloist’s expanded timbre palette and the orchestral harmonies. The different musical gestures tend to feature simultaneously rather than successively, and the result is a work of great consistency.
The only purely orchestral work in Linjama’s œuvre to date is the light and playful pas de deux (1994), which unfolds a world of timbre even richer than ever. The work is proof of his ideal of using the orchestra as one great ‘super instrument’ in which the little details supplied by the individual instruments merge to become part of a sound texture that is rich in colour and in which the musical figures conveyed to the listener are made up of numerous carefully-weighed, interweaving gestures. Here, as in many other works by Linjama, the starting point is nevertheless the harmony: the composition of pas de deux was preceded by a broad mapping of useful harmonic material, and in this sense, too, it is a superabundant work.
The larger-scale works for instrumental ensembles also include Elegia (1987) for fifteen strings written while Linjama was still a student. This forms an interesting contrast as regards its scoring to the timbre fireworks of the pas de deux. The extensive use of flageolet notes and the absence of double basses from the string orchestra give this work a glass-like sheen.
Among the finest of Linjama’s solo works are Omaggio (1992) for violin and the Sonatina (1995) for piano, both the form and the material of which are extremely controlled. Both also make use of medieval melody: in Omaggio the Gregorian antiphonal melody is embedded in a post-serial world of sound, in the Sonatina the Kyrie melody and BACH motif in a piano text evocative of Messiaen. Dedicated to a Polish priest who died in Auschwitz, Omaggio well epitomises the nature of Linjama the composer. For in it music that is uncompromisingly modern both reflects the history of music while expressing a stand on extra-musical reality.
Linjama always tries in his music to make maximum allowance for the inherent character of each of his instruments, and the stylistic range has in the past few years accordingly been widened by taking in some of the less common ones. The bittersweet Consolation (1997) for accordion combines the brilliant runs typical of the instrument with Linjama’s own harmonic idiom, while the Introduction, Variations and Lullaby (1997) for kantele comes close to minimalism by Linjama’s standards with its mild arpeggios and clear rhythmic pulse. Clearer, sharper rhythms are also a feature of the Partita (1996) for guitar and string quartet, in which he effectively weaves neoclassical nuances and even primitivistic rhythms into his music. The last movement of the work, for example, entitled Danza rusticale, is a wild grape harvest dance. Stylistically it is rather far removed from, say, the early chamber work Music for flute and harpsichord (1984), in which the instruments go dashing ahead in jubilant spurts in the very best new music spirit. Linjama’s stylistic latitude in fact seems to be greatly a consequence of his desire to learn, which prevents him from setting himself any musical taboos.
Linjama has also composed some choral works, the most weightiest of them for the church. His Easter Motet (1995) for mixed choir and organ represents his boldest use of the cantus firmus technique. This seven-movement set of variations is based on a hymn very dear to the Finns and a Gregorian chant. Again this work, with its virtuosic organ part, illustrates his tendency to write challenging and complex music, but also his equally important liking for pure, strong and simple melodies. Another important work for the church is the Jubilee Cantata for choir, soloists and organ composed for the 80th anniversary of independent Finland. In composing church music in keeping with the traditional genre, Linjama recognises the effect of the Christian cultural inheritance on many of the inherent features of Western art music. On the other hand he has, with his uncompromising music, refused to drift towards the periphery nowadays occupied, it would seem, by the church in the development of music. Jyrki Linjama is a serious composer in the best sense of the word.
Translation © Susan Sinisalo