Tauno Marttinen: Composer of a thousand pieces

One of the dangers run by prolific composers is that even your supporters – publishers, if you are lucky enough, writers, recording companies and the like – find it difficult to keep up with what you are doing. The really productive creative spirits – men like Julius Röntgen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alan Hovhaness, Vagn Holmboe – end up being heard in a handful of works representing a body of work which is largely unknown.

That, too, was the fate of the prodigiously industrious Finn Tauno Marttinen: his output approaches 400 works with opus numbers, almost as many without, and a further quantity either rejected or lost along the way – probably close on a thousand pieces in all. Marttinen barely slowed down in old age, and lived to see his 95th birthday in September last year, celebrated with a mini-festival of his music. His tally of compositions includes 10 symphonies; four piano concertos, two for flute and for cello, as well as concertos for violin, clarinet, bassoon and kantele, the Finnish folk zither; works for voices and orchestra; two dozen or so operas; some 40 chamber works including four string quartets and, unusually, four nonets for wind quintet, string trio and double-bass; a raft of piano music and songs and much more.

Marttinen's long career began with lessons at the Music Institute in Viipuri (now Vyborg in Russia) in 1920-25, when his talent for the piano was pronounced enough to take him to Ilmari Hannikainen at the Helsinki Conservatoire, first in the late 1920s and again from 1935 to 1937. Hannikainen was sometimes nicknamed "Finland's Rachmaninov"; the country's other outstanding virtuoso pianist was Selim Palmgren, and during this period Marttinen also took private composition lessons with him.

Although Marttinen had intended to make his name as a concert pianist, the pull of composition was to prove too strong. His début as a composer came with an orchestral work, Night Sounds on the Plains, in Viipuri in 1935. In this and other early concerts, his late Romantic music was well received – but two concerts in Helsinki in spring 1945 earned a critical hammering: the long night of intolerant modernism had already set in.

Marttinen was by now making his living as the conductor of a light orchestra and, on a visit to Hämeenlinna, he was asked to step in to conduct the City Orchestra – and remained as its principal conductor from 1949 until 1958. Hämeenlinna now became his home, and he invigorated music-making there. He founded the Hämeenlinna Music Institute in 1950 and was its principal until 1975. He wrote reviews for the local newspaper from 1950 onwards, and conducted the Hämeenlinna Workers' Association Mixed Choir.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Marttinen had been growing dissatisfied with his initial late-Romanticism and was contemplating a change of direction. Acquaintance with Martti Vuorenjuuri, the music editor of the Helsingin Sanomat, Finland's leading daily paper, and a leading advocate of the avant-garde, aroused his interest in dodecaphonic techniques and in 1956 Marttinen both renounced all his previous works and produced the colourful Eagle, Bird of the Air for mezzo soprano and orchestra. Winning a prize in a competition organised by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, this new Op. 1 went on to become one of his most widely performed works. It also initiated a series of scores based on the Kalevala, the Finnish national folk-epic.

In 1958 Tauno Marttinen made the journey to Ascona, in Switzerland, to hone his 12-tone armoury with Vladimir Vogel, ushering in a five-year period of dodecaphonic composition. Its main fruits were the first three symphonies, the Violin Concerto, a powerful set of orchestral variations called The Milky Way and the 1963 opera The Cloak.

But for a composer like Marttinen who relied on the primacy of inspiration, the rigours of dodecaphony were never going to be an easy option, and he grew dissatisfied with what he was producing: "I ended up in a blind alley, experimenting according to safe old premises". The answer came in a return to a free tonality, an increased emphasis on mysticism and the influence of nature and, with time, an element of neo-classicality. The epic quality inherent, though not directly expressed, in his earlier works, was now more explicitly realised; his use of woodwind coloration in particular helped Marttinen's music to sound audibly Finnish.

His many operas – usually to his own libretti – run from small-scale chamber comedies under an hour in duration to the innovative three-act psychological drama Burnt Orange of 1968, first written for television. The subjects of his stage-works (he also wrote a number of ballets) range from ancient Egypt via absurdist plots to the ugly duckling, his sources encompassing the Bible and the Kalevala, Dante, Chekhov, Andersen, Wilde and Henry Miller. The comic operas are especially highly esteemed by the few who know them, but since most of Marttinen's operas received provincial productions – indeed, Song of the Great River (1980) is in The Guinness Book of Records as having had the most northerly of all operatic premieres, in Kemi – they have remained on the fringes of the repertoire, even in Finland.

A scattering of recordings of smaller Marttinen pieces appeared on small Finnish labels over the years, but it was not until 1994 that a CD of the First and Eighth Symphonies (1958 and 1983) and the Violin Concerto (1962) from the Swedish company BIS brought his larger-scale inspirations to an international public. By then he was 82.

As a mystical streak in his music and venerable old age combined, Marttinen came to be known affectionately as "the Hämeenlinna shaman". For the deeply spiritual composer, who wrote that "music is also an exercise in faith – a faith which has neither name nor form", the label was appropriate.

Composing for him was as natural a process as breathing: "The notes just flow with a natural force, almost in ready sketches," he said, explaining that he followed a piece of advice given to him by his teacher Selim Palmgren: "Just let the music come, and then erase some of it". Even then, there was still plenty left.

Martin Anderson

Tauno Marttinen, composer: born Helsinki 27 September 1912; married 1944 Ilmi Tuomisto (two sons, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Janakkala, Finland 18 July 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas