Updated: Mar 8
Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on March 20th 2020. Soloists of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra. Buy tickets here.
Forgotten gems from the Swedish and Finnish musical treasure troves.
The second chamber concert of the Spring 2020 season takes a fresh look at the rarities of the Finnish and Swedish musical heritages, and includes works by several female composers that, in spite of their success, have been unfairly sidelined in music history. Amanda Maier-Röntgen was the first female graduate in music direction ever from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and she led a highly active though short life in the music world, befriending Johannes Brahms, Edward Grieg and Joseph Joachim, among many other influential musicians of the time. The Einar Englund piano quintet is heavily influenced by the Winter War and Englund's own participation in it. The aging Sibelius was highly favorable about the work and told the young composer that he should always remember it as the first milestone in your career.
Hermann Berens (1826-1880): Viertes Gesellschafts-Quartett, Op. 80
Amanda Maier-Röntgen (1853-1894): Piano quartet
Helvi Leiviskä (1902-1982): Larghetto con anima from Violin sonata, Op. 21
Einar Englund (1916-1999): Piano quintet (1941)
Hermann Berens: Viertes Gesellschafts-Quartett, Op. 80
Finland and Sweden benefited greatly from the influx of musicians and composers from other countries during the 1800s; in Finland, such figures as Fredrik Pacius and Ferruccio Busoni had an enormous influence on the local musical life. Hermann Berens was among the German-born composers that made Sweden his home, and apart from composing, he held the position as director of the Royal Opera and professor of composition and instrumentation at the Royal Conservatory of Music. His "Gesellschafts-quartett" series, which translates to "companionship quartets", gives us an idea of what the purpose of much of chamber music making was during the 19th century: creating a gathering point to both socialize and make music together. The unusual setting of these quartets - four hand piano, violin and cello - creates an intimate atmosphere, and the final quartet is possibly the most extroverted and joyful of the four.
Amanda Maier-Röntgen: Piano quartet Carolina Amanda Erika Maier (Maier-Röntgen by marriage) was born on 20 February 1853 in Landskrona and died on 15 July 1894 in Amsterdam, where she lived following her marriage in 1880 to the pianist-composer Julius Röntgen (1854−1932). She moved to Stockholm at the age of 16 to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music - where the aforementioned Hermann Berens was teaching - where she not only studied her main instrument, the violin, but also piano, organ, cello, composition, and harmony. She also became the first woman to graduate as a music director. She continued her studies in Leipzig with Carl Reinecke, and she would soon become friends with such figures as Johannes Brahms, Edvard & Nina Grieg, Ethel Smyth, Joseph Joachim and others. Although Julius Röntgen was a highly supportive partner in her creative endeavors, her musical activities lessened following their marriage, and she contracted tuberculosis in the late 1880s. Her piano quartet, a work of epic proportions, is her last finished work, written on her last trip to Norway in 1891, where she visited Edvard and Nina Grieg.
Helvi Leiviskä: Larghetto con anima from Violin sonata, Op. 21
The name of Helvi Leiviskä has returned to the public attention after a period of relative neglect - her second symphony was recently given its US premiere, and her third symphony was performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra on Finland's Independence Day 2016. Born in 1902, she became Finland's first female composer of renown, with an oeuvre that apart from the three symphonies also includes a piano concerto, many chamber compositions, songs and more. In her daily life, she worked as a librarian at the Sibelius Academy and wrote reviews for Ilta-Sanomat. Her violin sonata is an important contribution to the genre, and the slow movement is particularly noteworthy.
Einar Englund: Piano quintet Rarely has Finland seen a composer as prodigious as Einar Englund. When he went to study with Aaron Copland in the US, Copland is said to have told him: "well, there's nothing I can teach you!" His piano quintet remains perhaps the most significant Finnish work in the genre. The composer pointed out that he had a direct lineage to Caesar Franck through his composition teacher Bengt Carlsson, who had studied with the Franck pupil Vincent d'Indy. It is unsurprising therefore that Englund makes use of cyclic form and clever metamorphoses of musical material, which Franck had used to perfection in his own piano quintet. Written in the middle of World War 2, it is a work of its times in more ways than one.