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Kalevi Aho (Composer)

Born: March 9, 1949 - Forssa, (southern) Finland.

The Finnish composer, Kalevi Aho, studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Einojuhani Rautavaara and in West Berlin in Boris Blacher’s composition class.

From 1974 to 1988, Kalevi Aho was a lecturer in musicology at Helsinki University; from 1988 until 1993 he was professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy and since the autumn of 1993 he has been a freelance composer.

In the works which marked his breakthrough (the First Symphony, 1969, and Third String Quartet, 1971) Kalevi Aho continues in the tradition of Dmitri Shostakovich; even in these pieces, however, he arrived at a very original formal/dramatic decision. Thus, in the four-movement First Symphony, we are gradually drawn ever further away from the “existing reality” of the beginning, ultimately reaching the third movement’s strange, pseudo-baroque style, and finally, in the last movement, we can meet the problems of the “true reality” head on. The structural starting-point for the single-movement Second Symphony (1970/1995) is a triple fugue. In the four-movement Third Symphony (1971-1973) the dramatic tension is different; it is a conflict between an individual (a solo violin) and the sound blocks of the orchestra; there is a similar conflict in the pessimistic Cello Concerto (1983-1984). The culmination of Aho’s first period (approx. 1969-1974) is the three-movement Fourth Symphony (1972-1973) with videly varied emotional contrasts.

The Fifth Symphony (1975-1976) marks a turning point in Aho’s output. From a structural point of view this massive work is extremely complicated; in this multi-layered symphony, instead of polyphony between various individual instrumental voices, we hear a polyphony of different, independent musical strands. The virtuoso and colourful Sixth Symphony (1979-1980) concludes a sequential line of development in Aho’s symphonic work; after this, the composer concentrated for a while on concertos and operas.

Kalevi Aho’s first opera, Avain (The Key, 1978, with a libretto by Juha Mannerkorpi) tells of the paranoid alienation of an inhabitant of a big modern city in the estranging social climate of today. In 1982 and 1984 The Key was also performed by the Hamburg State Opera. In the years 1985-1987 Aho wrote his sharply satirical second opera Hyönteiselämää (Insect Life), which combines elements both of comedy and of tragedy (the libretto, by the composer himself, is based on a play of the same name by Josef and Karel Čapek) and contains numerous stylistic parodies as well as pointed social criticism. The work was premiered with great success by the Finnish National Opera on September 27, 1996. Drawing on material from the Insect Life, Aho composed his Seventh Symphony in 1988: a six-movement, cheerful work, the “Insect Symphony” has been described as a post-modern, tragicomic anti-symphony. Two years later Aho composed Pergamon for four narrators, four orchestral groups and organ; the text, which is in four languages, is based on Peter Weiss’s novel Die Ästhetik des Widerstands. In the intense Chamber Symphony No. 2 for strings (1991-1992) we hear, in a sense, the music of the composer’s inner voices.

In 1992 the Lahti Symphony Orchestra appointed Kalevi Aho as its composer in residence, and he has written all of his more recent orchestral works for these musicians. The bright, single-movement Symphony No. 8 (1993) for organ and orchestra is Aho’s most expansive instrumental work; this musically wide-ranging piece is one of the fundamental cornerstones of Aho’s entire output. The lighter Symphony No. 9 (1993-1994) is also a concertante symphony: in this work, which contains many different time strata, the solo instrument is the trombone. The large-scale, dramatic Tenth Symphony (1996) is like a tribute to the great Romantic tradition of symphonic music, and is quite different from the Eleventh Symphony for six percussionists and orchestra (1997-1998), which is dominated by strong, hypnotic rhythms and by subtle tonal colours.

The song cycle Kiinalaisia lauluja (Chinese Songs, 1997) for soprano and orchestra is a setting of ancient Chinese love poetry. Soloistic virtuosity is a hallmark of Aho’s large-scale, symphonic concertos for Violin (1981), Cello (1983-84) and Piano (1989), of his three chamber symphonies (in the last of these the solo instrument is the alto saxophone) and of many chamber pieces (e.g. the Oboe Quintet, Bassoon Quintet, Oboe Sonata, Quintet for Alto Saxophone, Bassoon, Viola, Cello and Double Bass, Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, Epilogue for trombone and organ, Seven Inventions and Postlude for oboe and cello and Quintet for Flute, Violin, Two Violas and Cello).

Kalevi Aho’s operas include the one-act Salaisuuksien kirja (The Book of Secrets, 1998) to a libretto by Paavo Rintala and the two-act Ennen kuin me kaikki olemme hukkuneet (Before We All Have Drowned, 1995/1999), the libretto of which is based on a radio play by Juha Mannerkorpi. Latest symphonies include the large-scale Symphony No. 12, “Luosto” (2002-03), designed for outdoor purposes, and the Symphony No. 13 subtitled “Symphonic Characterizations” (2003).

Among Kalevi Aho’s concertos are the Flute Concerto written for Sharon Bezaly in 2002, the Concerto No. 2 for Piano and String Orchestra and the Concerto for Two Violoncelli and Orchestra commissioned by the BBC and premiered in Manchester in 2004. Kalevi Aho has also written concertos for bassoon and double bass in 2004-2005. His most recent concertos are the Contrabassoon Concerto commissioned by Lewis Lipnick for a performance in February 2006 in Norway, and the Clarinet Concerto written for Martin Fröst and premiered in April 2006 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London.

The Symphonic Dances (Hommage à Uuno Klami) was composed in 2001 as the third act of Uuno Klami’s ballet Pyörteitä (Whirls) and the recent recording by BIS has scored great international success. Among Kalevi Aho’s numerous arrangements are Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death for bass and orchestra and the first act of Klami’s ballet Whirls. In 1995 Aho composed the lost second violin parts of all six string quartets by the first Finnish composer of importance, Erik Tulindberg (1761-1814), and in 1997 he completed Sibelius’s complete Karelia score in preparation both for performance and for recording (BIS label). Foremost among Aho’s many writings are the treatises Finnish Music and the Kalevala and Einojuhani Rautavaara as a Symphonist, the collection of essays The Tasks of an Artist in a Post-Modern Society, Art and Reality as well as the books Music of Finland (in collaboration with E. Salmenhaara, P. Jalkanen and K. Virtamo) and Uuno Klami - Life and Works (in collaboration with Marjo Valkonen, 2000).


The Key (1978-1979)
Insect Life (1985-1987)
Before We Are All Drowned (1995/1999)
The Book of Secrets (1998)

Symphony No. 1 (1969)
Symphony No. 2 (1970/1995)
Symphony No. 3, for violin and orchestra (1971-1973)
Symphony No. 4 (1972-1973)
Symphony No. 5 (1975-1976)
Symphony No. 6 (1979-1980)
Symphony No. 7 Insect Symphony (1988)
Symphony No. 8, for organ and orchestra (1993)
Symphony No. 9, for trombone and orchestra (1993-1994)
Symphony No. 10 (1996)
Symphony No. 11, for six percussionists and orchestra (1997-1998)
Symphony No. 12 Luosto, for two orchestras (2002-2003)
Symphony No. 13 Symphonic Characterizations (2003)
Symphony No. 14 Rituals, for darabuka, djembe, gongs and chamber orchestra (2007)
Symphony No. 15 (2009-2010)

Chamber Symphony No. 1 for 20 strings (1976)
Chamber Symphony No. 2 for 20 strings (1991-1992)
Chamber Symphony No. 3, for alto saxophone and 20 strings (1995-1996)
Silence (1982)
Paloheimo Fanfare (1989)
Pergamon for 4 reciters, 4 orchestral groups and organ (1990)
The Rejoicing of the Deep Waters (1995)
Tristia. Fantasy for wind orchestra (1999)
Symphonic Dances (2001)
Louhi (2003)
Lamu. Music in the space for young brass players (2008)
Minea. Concertante Music for Orchestra (2008)

Violin Concerto (1981)
Cello Concerto (1983-1984)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1988–1989)
Tuba Concerto (2000-2001)
Piano Concerto No. 2, for piano and 20 strings (2001-2002)
Flute Concerto (2002)
Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra (2003)
Bassoon Concerto (2004)
Contrabassoon Concerto (2004–2005)
Clarinet Concerto (2005)
Double-Bass Concerto (2005)
Viola Concerto (2006)
Oboe Concerto (2007)
The Bells. Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (2008)
Trombone Concerto (2010)
Percussion Concerto (2010)
Trumpet Concerto (2011)
Horn Concerto (2011)

Solo I for Violin (1975), II for Piano (1985), III for Flute (1990-91), IV for Cello (1997), V for Bassoon (1999), VI for Double-Bass (1999), VII for Trumpet (2000), VIII for Baritone Horn (2003), IX for Oboe (2010), X for Horn (2010)
In memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren for Violin Solo (2009)
Sonata for Violin Solo (1973)
Piano Sonata (1980)
Sonata No. 1 for Accordion (1989)
Sonata No. 2 Black Birds for Accordion (1990)
Ludus Solemnis for Organ (1978)
In Memoriam for Organ (1980)
Three Interludes for Organ (1993)
Alles Vergängliche. Symphony for Organ (2007)
Oboe Sonata (1985)
Sonata for 2 Accordions (1989)
Epilogue for Trombone and Organ (1998)
Lamento for 2 Violins or 2 Violas (2001)
Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano (2006)
HAHE for 4 Cellos (2008)
String Quartet No. 1 (1967)
String Quartet No. 2 (1970)
String Quartet No. 3 (1971)
Kimasen lento [Kimanen's Flight] for String Quartet (1998)
Three Tangos for Violin, Accordion, Guitar, Piano and Double-Bass (1999)
Quartet for Flute, Saxophone, Guitar, and Percussion (1982)
Oboe Quintet (1973)
Bassoon Quintet (1977)
Quintet for Flute, Oboe, and String Trio (1977)
Quintet for Saxophone, Bassoon, Viola, Cello, and Double-Bass (1994)
Clarinet Quintet (1998)
Quintet for Flute, Violin, Two Violas, and Cello (2000)
Wind Quintet (2006)
String Quintet Hommage à Schubert (2009)

Source: Fennica Gertman Website; Wikipedia Website (June 2011)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2011)

Kalevi Aho: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Kalevi Aho (Fennica Gehrman)
The Music of Kalevi Aho (MusicWeb)
Kalevi Aho (Wikipedia)

Kalevi Aho - Bio (Naxos)
Kalevi Aho (Bossey & Hawkes)
Kalevi Aho (FIMIC)


Kimmo Korhonen: Kalevi Aho in Profile - Finnish Music Information Centre (1999)
Ilkka Oramo: "Aho, Kalevi." at Grove Music Online (Retrieved September 21, 2006)

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