Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
He was born in Helsinki and studied at the Sibelius Academy there (where he later taught himself) under Aarre Merikanto from 1948 to 1952 before Jean Sibelius recommended him for a scholarship to study in New York City at the Juilliard School. There he was taught by Vincent Persichetti, and also took lessons from Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson prize in American for his A Requiem in Our Time in 1954.
Rautavaara is a prolific composer, and has written in a variety of forms and styles. His work is relatively accessible and has proved to be quite popular. He experimented with serial techniques in his early career, though left this behind in the 1960s, and even his serial works are not obviously so - the third symphony, for example, uses such techniques, but sounds more like Anton Bruckner than it does a "difficult" serialist such as Pierre Boulez. His later works often have a mystical element (such as in several works with titles making reference to angels).
His compositions include eight symphonies, several concertos, choral works (several for unaccompanied choir, including Vigilia (1971-72)), sonatas for various instruments, string quartets and other chamber music, and a number of operas including Vincent (1986-87, based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh) and Aleksis Kivi (1995-96). A number of his works have parts for magnetic tape, including Cantus Arcticus (1972, also known as Concerto for Birds & Orchestra) for taped bird song and orchestra, and True and False Unicorn (1971, second version 1974, revised 2001-02), the final version of which is for three reciters, choir, orchestra and tape.
Many of Rautavaara's works have been recorded, with a performance of his seventh symphony, Angel of Light (1995), by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam on the Ondine label, being a particular critical and popular success - it was nominated for several awards, including a Grammy.
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