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Väinö Raitio

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Väinö Raitio (April 15, 1891 – September 10, 1945) is one of the pioneer composers of Finnish music Modernism in the early 20th century. He studied composition at the Helsinki Music Institute (later re-named Sibelius Academy) in 1911–1915 under Erkki Melartin and Erik Furuhjelm. Raitio's thorough and versatile studies culminated in his first composition concert in 1916, where Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Robert Kajanus performed some of his major works. In addition to his studies, Raitio spent half a year in Moscow, Russia in 1917, studying counterpoint and listening to concerts conducted by the famous Serge Koussewitzky. Later Raitio made two other educational trips, in 1920 to Berlin, Germany, and in 1925–26 to Paris, France – though presumably he didn't compose or take lessons during these trips.

Between his visits to Berlin and Paris, Raitio lived in Helsinki and worked intensively. Many of his most important orchestral works date back to the early 1920's. After the Paris trip in 1926 Raitio moved to Vyborg and worked as a composition and music theory teacher until the year 1932. After that he moved back to Helsinki and for the rest of his life worked as a free composer, his livelihood secured by grants he received from Kordelin fund, the state retirement pension for composers – and by the earnings of his wife, who was a dentist. As a second job Raitio also wrote as a music critic in two theatre music magazines, Aika (1932–1933), and Naamio (1934–39). Raitio died of cancer in 1945 in Helsinki.

Väinö Raitio divided his works into three parts. The first part includes his works composed as a student that, by their style and form, could still be described as very traditional. These works are the Violin Sonata Op. 2 (1914), Piano Concerto Op. 6 (1914), String Quartet Op. 10 (1917) and Symphony Op. 13 (1918–1919) among others. Raitio's early works were described by his contemporary critics as individual but not very innovative. Raitio's orchestration skills and use of tonal colors were of particular interest to these critics. These works are often said to have been influenced by Rachmaninoff, Glazunov, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Raitio's second period of works consists primarily of tone color focused orchestral works written in 1920's. These works include The Swans Op. 15 (1919), Nocturne Op. 17 (1920), Piano Quintet Op. 16 (1919–1921), Fantasia estatica Op. 21 (1921), Antigone Op. 23 (1921–22), Moonlight on Jupiter Op. 24 (1922–23), Fantasia poetica Op. 25 (1923), Pyramid Op. 27 (1924–25), and The Avenue Op. 29 (1926). The latter two contain vocal parts: Pyramid (poem by Väinö Siikaniemi) is written for a mixed choir and orchestra, and The Avenue (poem by Elina Vaara) for soprano and orchestra. Raitio's second period of works are usually described as having been influenced both by the coloristic expressionism of Alexandr Scriabin and French impressionism.

Raitio's third period of works divides into two categories: stage works and small commissioned orchestral works for the newly founded Finnish Radio Orchestra. Most significant of the Radio Orchestra commissions are a six-movement suite Summer Pictures from Häme (1935), Maidens on the Headlands (1935) and Scherzo (also with the name Felis domestica, 1935). Besides the commissioned works, Raitio continued his modernistic style in his stage works, which are his first opera Daughter of Jephta Op. (1929), "a ballet intermezzo in two acts" Waterspout (1930), operas Princess Cecilia (1933) and Two Queens (1937–40), and two miniature operas in one act: The King of Lydia (1937) and Väinämöinen's Proposal (probably 1934–36).

Besides operas and orchestral works Raitio also composed a lot of piano music and solo songs with piano accompaniment. The most significant of his piano works is Four Colour Poems Op. 22 (1923), which belongs to his second, tone color focused phase of compositions. Raitio has also written some works for solo instrument (most typically violin or cello) with orchestra accompaniment, chamber and choral music, music for organ and also music for stage plays.

Väinö Raitio got very good feedback for his early works both from music critics and the audience. He was seen as a talented and modern composer, whose orchestration skills were particularly advanced. In 1920's, mainly because of the crashing reviews of his expressionistic tone poem Antigone, Raitio received a reputation as too modernistic and abstruse, and his 1920's works gradually were left out of the concert repertoire. Raitio's position as an outsider was also fueled by his introverted character and poor health. After his death, the compositions were almost completely forgotten, until the 1990's, when a new interest towards Raitio arose.

© Hanna Isolammi, 2011