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The Sound of Finnish Angels

Musical Signification in Five Instrumental Compositions by Einojuhani Rautavaara

Wojciech Stepien
September 15, 2011

284 pp.

2 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1576471715

Paperback 6x9in $54.00


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In music of the past, angels have generally been examined either in the context of musica coelestis or as actors in great vocal-instrumental scores. Instrumental compositions referring to angels were rare, limited mainly to some works by Tartini, Berg, Hindemith, Crumb, and Messiaen. The series of instrumental works with titles referring to angels created by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) therefore seems unique. Wojciech Stepien’s interdisciplinary study provides an in-depth analysis and cultural contextualization of five of Rautavaara’s instrumental works: the orchestral overture Angels and Visitations (1978), the Double Bass Concerto “Angel of Dusk” (1980), Playgrounds for Angels for brass ensemble (1981), the Seventh Symphony “Angel of Light” (1994), and the movement “Archangel Michael Fighting against Antichrist” from the piano suite Icons (1955) and its later orchestral elaboration in Before the Icons (2006). Stepien focuses on three central questions: On what means can a beholder rely to ascertain an angelic presence in an instrumental context? What markers does Rautavaara employ for his intended representation of angels? And what personal and perhaps idiosyncratic concept of “the angel” informs their musical incarnation in Rautavaara’s works? Stepien’s book is not only the first comprehensive study of the topic of “angels” in music but also the first to explore Rautavaara’s mystical aesthetics and philosophy.
Wojciech Stepien:

Born in Chorzow, Upper Silesia, Poland, is a musicologist, music theorist, and composer. He completed his M.A. degree in music theory summa cum laude at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, and his PhD in musicology at the University of Helsinki, under the direction of Prof Eero Tarasto. His M.A. thesis about the Polish contemporary composer Eugeniusz Knapik won the Grand Prix at the XIVth National Competition of Master's Thesis in Warsaw. His doctoral dissertation, entitled Signifying Angels. Analyses and Interpretations of Rautavaara's Instrumental Compositions, was published in the series Studia musicologica Universitatis Helsingiensis in 2010. Dr. Stepien is an active member of the International Music Signification project and of the Polish Composer's Union. Since 2011 he has been working as assistant professor at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice. His post-doctoral research builds on his earlier studies by focusing on different aspects in the relationship between music, religion, and psychology.