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Leevi Madetoja

Leevi Antti Madetoja
Born February 17, 1887, Oulu. Died October 6, 1947, Helsinki

Bachelor of arts 1910, Master of Arts 1914, Imperial Alexander University
Graduated from the Helsinki Music Institute 1910, further studies in Paris, Vienna and Berlin 1910–12

Music teacher 1926–39, University of Helsinki
State composer’s pension 1919
Music critic 1916–32, Helsingin Sanomat
Teacher of the theory and history of music 1916–39, Helsinki Music Institute, Helsinki Conservatory, Sibelius Academy
Orchestra conductor 1941–16, Viipurin Musiikinystäväin orkesteri (‘Orchestra of the Vyborg friends of music’)
Assistant conductor 1912–14, Helsinki Philharmonic Society

Board member of the Finnish composers’ Copyright Society 1928–47, chairman 1937–47
Secretary of the national expert committee for composing 1918–28, member 1928–47, chairman 1936–47
Founding member of the Society of Finnish Composers 1917, board member 1917–47, chairman 1933–36
Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music


Honorary member of the Society of Finnish Composers 1947
Honorary award of the Finnish Cultural Foundation 1947
Title of Professor 1937
Kalevalan reimuvuosi bursary 1936

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

The Ostrobothnians' success continues to this day

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As a young composer, Leevi Madetoja had already attracted attention in his student days with the work Pianotrio (1909). Along with his study mate Toivo Kuula, he was the first significant Finnish composer to draw inspiration from French music.

Earlier, Germany had been the preferred destination for post-graduate studies among students of composing. After all, the likes of Jean Sibelius, Madetoja’s teacher, drew his most important inspiration from the German-speaking world. In contrast, Madetoja successfully combined Finnish folk ingredients with modern French elements to form his own balanced style. Indeed, folk melodies were so naturally intertwined with his compositions that they were sometimes thought to be folk music.

Madetoja’s First Symphony was completed in 1916 and enjoyed an enthusiastic reception in musical circles. His more dramatic and monumental Second Symphony achieved considerably more popularity upon its completion in 1918. Madetoja’s experiences in the Finnish Civil, during which both his brother and his friend Kuula died, had a central effect on its style.

Madetoja’s Third Symphony, considered his most mature work, was completed in the Parisian suburbs in 1926. It presents a lighter more extroverted side of the composer, who is often remembered as a meditative introvert. Madetoja’s most daring musical experiment is probably the Japanese themed Ballet d’ action Okon Fuoko, which was performed for the first time in 1930. It failed to enjoy particular success on the stage, but the orchestral series that resulted from it has received acclaim.

Madetoja reached the pinnacle of his career with the opera The Ostrobothnians, which premiered in 1924. It immediately became part of the permanent programme of the Finnish National Opera. In Madetoja’s lifetime the opera was also performed abroad, and it remains on the programme of the Finnish National Opera to this day. It has even been described as the most successful Finnish opera of all time.

One reason for the success of the opera could be its nationalistic themes, which emphasised the honesty and sense of justice of Ostrobothnian peasants. Madetoja’s second opera, Juha, is, according to Erkki Salmenhaara, more mature and profound, but it failed to enjoy the popularity of its predecessor. The external factors present in The Ostrobothnians were lacking.

The third focus of Madetoja’s works is vocal music, both choral and solo pieces. He collaborated in particular with Heikki Klemetti. Klemetti conducted, among others, the YL Male Voice Choir, which has later recorded and released all of Madetoja’s pieces for male voice choirs.

Among the best of his vocal music is Elegia, which is set to a poem by Eino Leino, while one of his best known pieces is the Christmas carol Arkihuolesi kaikki heitä (‘Cast away your everyday worries’). Due to the quality and breadth of his work, Leevi Madetoja can be considered one of the most influential figures in Finnish choral music. He was also the most important symphonist of the post-Sibelius generation.




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