Rautavaara's Fifth

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Monday, May 14, 2018

On today's date in 1986, the Finnish Radio Symphony gave the premiere performance of the Symphony No. 5 of the Finnish composer, Einojuhanni Rautavaara.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company had come up with the idea of commissioning a whole evening’s worth of orchestral pieces by Rautavaara, which, when taken together, would form a conventional concert program of overture, concerto and symphony. These three works have come to be called the “Angel Trilogy,” since each of the pieces has a title with the word “Angel” in it.

Rautavaara’s Fifth Symphony, with the working title “Monologue with Angels,” was originally to be the symphonic conclusion of this triple commission. But Rautavaara dropped the title, and his Symphony No. 7, subtitled “Angel of Light,” ended up being the third part of the “Angel Trilogy,” alongside an overture entitled “Angels and Visitations” and a double-bass concerto entitled “Angel of Dusk.”

Now, if you asked the mystical Rautavaara why he changed his mind, he would probably say it really wasn’t his idea at all. It’s just the way the music came to him from the realm of those very same angels. Rautavaara considers that his compositions already exist in ‘another reality.’ His job, he says, is to bring a composition into OUR world in one piece. "I firmly believe that compositions have a will of their own, though some people smile at the concept.”