Selected Works for Orchestra by Uuno Klami
by Kimmo Korhonen :: 2000
Uuno Klami (September 20, 1900 - May 29, 1961) was the youngest of the leading Finnish modernists of the 1920s, and whereas Ernest Pingoud, Väinö Raitio and Aarre Merikanto reverted to a more traditional style in the 1930s, Klami was just reaching the height of his powers.
First and foremost an orchestral composer, Klami was influenced by Maurice Ravel and the Igor Stravinsky of the Russian period, and at more general level by Neoclassicism. He would, at times, also play with elements borrowed from, say, Spanish music or jazz.
Karjalainen rapsodia (Karelian Rhapsody) (1927)
The Karelian Rhapsody was Klami’s breakthrough work, and in it he handles a national Finnish theme in a way that draws on the modernism of Stravinsky. The beginning, shrouded in primeval mist, is evocative of the opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird and looks ahead to the start of Klami’s main orchestral work, the Kalevala Suite. Another striking feature of the Karelian Rhapsody is the boisterous folk dance rhythms, which are handled in the manner of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. The Rhapsody is also seasoned with earthy humour.
Symphonie enfantine (1928)
1. Poco agitato
2. Berceuse (Andante)
3. Molto vivo
Of all the Finnish modernists making their debut in the 1920s, Klami was influenced most by Neoclassicism, often filtered through the music of Ravel. The very subject of the Symphonie enfantine is evocative of Ravel, and especially the delicate Berceuse. This symphony is regarded as Klami’s first Neoclassical work, but the Neoclassicism is most evident in the dancing finale. The idiom of the other movements is more Romantic, though tinged with delicate Impressionistic nuances.
Klami spent his first year studying abroad in Paris (1924-1925), the second in Vienna (1928-1929). In terms of subject the Opernredoute (Opera Ball) for orchestra looks more to Vienna, but the musical influences come from Paris, and above all Ravel. Opernredoute is dance-like music, its closest model being Ravel’s La Valse.
Hommage à Haendel (1931)
2. Andante (Tempo di Gavotte)
3. Recitativo (Largo)
Hommage à Haendel is in Klami’s Neoclassical mode, and specifically that inspired by the Baroque; the very title of the work points to this. Baroque elements are, for example, to be found in the violin solo following the climax of the first movement, the parodic elements of the second, a gavotte, and the weighty sounds of the Largo. On the other hand, the slow movements also have a Romantic lushness to them. The regular beat characteristic of Neoclassicism dominates the brief finale. The work is scored for piano and strings without a double bass.
Merikuvia (Sea Pictures) (1930-1932)
1. Sumuinen aamu
2. Capitain Scrapuchinat
3. Hyljätty kolmimastoinen
4. Nocturno (Vahtimiehen laulu)
5. Scène de ballet
6. 3 Bf
The sea was a particularly close element of Klami’s life from the time he was a child. The orchestral suite Sea Pictures is the greatest manifestation by him of this tie and one of his most popular works. It is restrained and balanced, a harmonious entity ranging in mood from a foggy morning or a delicate Impressionistic sketch of a deserted three-master to the Spanish stylisation of Capitain Scrapuchinat and the friable romanticism of the Nocturno. The closing movement is an obvious reference to Ravel’s Bolero.
Kalevala-sarja (Kalevala Suite) (1933/1943)
1. Maan synty
2. Kevään oras
4. Kehtolaulu Lemminkäiselle
5. Sammon taonta
The Kalevala Suite is Klami’s main work for orchestra. He completed the first, four-movement version in 1933 but in 1943 placed an additional scherzo movement, Terhenniemi, in the middle. The Kalevala Suite is a combination of a national topic with an orchestral technique borrowed mainly from Stravinsky. The opening movement, The Creation of the Earth, growing from a mysterious whisper to a tremendous climax, and the closing movement telling of the Forging of the Sampo are evocative of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in their primitive ecstasy. Terhenniemi is a masterly, airy scherzo. The slow movements, Sprout of Spring and Cradle Song for Lemminkäinen, are more restful in mood and therefore possibly more traditional in style.
Lemminkäisen seikkailut saaressa (The Adventures of Lemminkäinen on the Island of Saari) (1934)
This work was originally intended as the middle movement of the Kalevala Suite, but it turned out to be too big and Klami therefore made it a work on its own. Rich in orchestral and rhythmic colour, it creates a lively picture of the Don Juan-like character from the Finnish national epic. The vivid patterns and fanfare motifs are at times evocative of the closing movement of Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite.
Nummisuutarit-alkusoitto (The Cobblers on the Heath, overture) (1936)
Humour was an integral element of Klami’s range of expression. One of the most piquant examples of this is his overture The Cobblers on the Heath, inspired by the best-known play by the great classic of 19th century Finnish literature, Aleksis Kivi. The music proceeds with a light, airy swing from the very first bars, and some have seen in it traces of both Richard Strauss and Rossini. The middle section in quieter, somewhat sombre mood adds contrast to the work.
Symphony no. 1 (1938)
1. Allegro non troppo
3. Andante molto
4. Allegro maestoso
Klami is felt to have been most at home in free-form orchestral music drawing on fantasy, but he also composed two symphonies. In the first he abandoned the richness of colour of his earlier works of the 1930s in favour of a more direct mode of expression more traditional in style, a kind of softer Neoclassicism. The overall impression of the work is one of light and optimism.
Suomenlinna-alkusoitto (Suomenlinna, overture) (1940)
The name of this overture, written during the Second World War, refers to the sea fortress built in the 18th century, while Finland was still part of Sweden, on a group of islands at the mouth of Helsinki harbour. Although the overture is not programmatic as such, it can easily be thought of as an expression of patriotism. This is further supported by the mood, which captures the tragic emotions aroused by the war. This overture reveals Klami in more traditional vein.
Sérénades espagnoles (1924/1944)
Klami was equally capable of absorbing the brilliant orchestral timbres of Ravel or Stravinsky, archaic primitivism, or the essence of Spain. Sérénades espagnoles is a set of four movements based on piano pieces partly composed while he was a student and orchestrated in 1944. The serenades are something of a kindred spirit to the works of Falla or the Rhapsodie espagnole by Ravel.
Kuningas Lear -alkusoitto (King Lear, overture) (1944?)
Klami was first introduced to King Lear in 1937 while composing some incidental music for this Shakespeare play. The overture was, however, written later and has nothing to do with the stage music. Although Neoclassicism was Klami’s main genre, the King Lear overture is somewhat in the nature of austere late Romanticism, the mood being sombre, gloomy and dramatic.
Symphony no. 2 (1945)
1. Moderato molto
2. Allegro con vivo
3. (En forme d'introduction) Misterioso e lugubre, tempo quasi adagio
4. Allegro assai
Klami had, in his first symphony (1938), already reverted to a more traditional mode of expression and the trend was even more marked in the second symphony composed while the devastating moods of the war years were still fresh in his mind. The Neoclassical strain common in his music has in this symphony been more or less replaced by a style akin to that of Sibelius, Madetoja and even Tchaikovsky. The war is reflected in a reference in the finale to a well-known Finnish military march.
Karjalainen tori (The Karelian Market Place) (1947)
Although The Karelian Market Place depicts a topic with a nationalist flavour, the piece does not (unlike the Karelian Rhapsody of 1927) contain any themes suggestive of folk music. The Karelian Market Place is dominated by a Neoclassic beat cleverly drawn with a light touch and constant movement. The attention is caught by the showy statements on the brass, for example. The work is not all light-hearted, however, and even the closing climax is defiant rather than cheerful.
Aurora borealis (1948?)
Aurora borealis is Klami’s biggest one-movement orchestral work and one of the finest he ever wrote. Although it is for the most part again in the Neoclassical style favoured by him, it has a sharper, more lucid sound than many of his earlier works and in this respect looks ahead to his unfinished ballet Whirls. Aurora borealis operates on the mysterious borders of silence, against which is cast a shimmering scherzo. Despite the photogenic subject, the orchestration is not picturesque, though it is indeed full of spirit and tone colour.
All’ouvertura was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) for its 25th anniversary and, possibly because of this, shows Klami in his more traditional light. The slow introduction features broad melodic spans interspersed with counterstatements by the winds. The quick main section is light and playful and evocative of Prokofiev. The introduction melody returns at the end, rounding the work off with an imposing outburst on the brass.
Pyörteitä (Whirls) (1957-1960?)
In the late 1950s Klami planned to write a three-act ballet, Whirls, on themes from the national epic, the Kalevala. According to one interview, he did in fact complete it, but only the first two acts have ever been found, and only one of these is the version orchestrated by him. The first act survived only as a piano score; this was orchestrated by Kalevi Aho in 1988. Even as a torso Whirls is one of Klami’s greatest works. To some extent it harks back to the pre-war works, but the idiom is more lucid, sharp-featured and dissonant. The first act, orchestrated by Aho, is compelling and striking, the second more restrained, its orchestration more airy.
Translation © Susan Sinisalo