Friday, August 11, 2017

Erkki-Sven Tüür

I just ran across an interesting article on a composer new to me: Erkki-Sven Tüür. How the heck do you pronounce two successive umlauts, anyway?
Lately, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Tüür, the only composer of classical music I can think of who got his start in a progressive rock band. That was in the 1970s, when he was a teenager imbibing the likes of King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and Genesis. Within a decade, having come under the spell of Arvo Pärt, György Ligeti, and the American minimalists, Tüür was turning to symphonies, concertos, and works of chamber music, well on his way to assembling a visionary body of work as impressive as that of any composer alive today.
Hey, wait a minute, I got my start in a rock band. Not a progressive one, mind you. We were more of a barely competent garage blues band. But Tüür sounds like a really interesting composer. Unfortunately, the article describes his music with metaphor instead of musical details, so it doesn't give you much to hang on to:
Tüür seems beholden to no particular camp or ideology. His music is a kind of fusion, but with him, the various styles come together so seamlessly that this fusion loses all sense of artifice. It ceases to be a conscious act. When Tüür speaks about his music, he invokes vivid pictorial images: spirals, curves, chains. He also uses metaphors from the natural world. In explaining his Violin Concerto (1999), for example, he describes a system of musical development in which “the material will change completely but in a thoroughly organic way. Like trees grow: if we see a tiny plant we don’t yet know which form it will ultimately take, but on seeing it with its full panoply of leaves and twigs and branches we can only wonder at how logical every curve and movement and detail of it seems to be. That’s an ideal for me, in terms of treating a musical shape.”
Luckily the Violin Concerto is available on YouTube, so we can give it a listen:

Sounds pretty interesting. Why is it that such a small and not very populated part of the world, Finland and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Lithuania and Lavia, are such musical superpowers while places like Canada tend to be musical lightweights? You got me. Here is his Symphony No. 6, "Strata" from 2007:

Well, we've got some listening to do, it seems!


Anonymous said...

Tuuuuur is a cool name. How do you pronounce it? Easy. Begin the sound Tuuuu and don't let go. While you hold that tone, listen to the entire Ring Cycle; then when it's done, just say "uurrr." There you have it. It's not hard if you practice.

Bryan Townsend said...


Marc Puckett said...

Listened also to his 'Prophecy for Accordion and Orchestra' (20:31); beyond admitting that I wasn't put off by the solo accordion, I'm not willing to commit myself after the one listen. There is an opera, Wallenberg, that's recorded on DVD; it seems, from the few minutes available on YouTube, not very Ponchielli-like-- but the Estonian National Opera at Tallinn performed it for a least three seasons running so there must be some non-negligible amount of appreciation for it.

Bryan Townsend said...

Good for you, Marc! I haven't gotten too far into the clips myself. As you say, it is hard to make much of a judgment after one listen, but there does seem to be something there.