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Jouni Kaipainen

Born: 1956

Died: 2015

Nationality: Finnish

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Photo © Hannu Männynoksa

Like Lindberg, Jouni Kaipainen (b. 1956) has also progressed from his spiky Modernism of the 1980s to a clearer, harmonically and sonorously softer language. His musical roots are in a brand of Expressionism going back to Alban Berg; in his early output, his music had rather acerbic tones, paralleling the expression and Post-Serialism of such composers as Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio. In Kaipainen’s later output, he has introduced a Classical clarity into his Expressionist writing while also incorporating a French-style colourist element — which is scarcely surprising considering his professed admiration for Debussy, Ravel and Henri Dutilleux.

Kaipainen was one of the few Ears Open! composers to study only in Finland; his teachers were Aulis Sallinen and Paavo Heininen. He emerged as a composer of vocal works while still studying in the 1970s, and he was at first branded a lyricist. The most significant of these early works is Cinq poèmes de René Char (1978–80) for soprano and orchestra, a work of finely sculpted dodecaphonic melodies. At the same time, however, he was already writing works that showed a much more Modernist approach. Ladders to Fire (1979) for two pianos is a multi-faceted pyrotechnical and dramatic piece that incorporates colourist elements such as playing the piano directly on the strings and includes a concluding movement experimenting with open form and aleatorics. 

The colourist element became even stronger in Trois morceaux de l’aube (1981) for cello and piano, elegantly taking in quotes from Mahler’s song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in its first movement. Kaipainen never used quotes again, though, and his use of electronics is likewise restricted to a single work, Altaforte (1982) for electric trumpet and tape. Kaipainen’s output in the 1980s was predominantly chamber music. In addition to works with descriptive titles — Far from Home (1981), Parcours (1983), Piping Down the Valleys Wild (1984), Tombeau de Rabelais (1987/95/98) and Remours (1990) — he also wrote works of ‘absolute music’ in traditional genres, most significantly the dramatic and technically demanding Third String Quartet (1984) and Trio III (1987) for piano trio, a symmetrical five-movement work with an impressive pivotal Marcia funebre. 

One of Kaipainen’s principal early works is the First Symphony (1980–85). Its characteristics include sharp transitions and incisive textures, with extensive sound fields, Xenakis-like glissandos and translucency almost in the manner of chamber music. The work is played without a break and is intentionally ambiguous in form; according to the composer, it can be construed to have either one, two or three movements, depending on the viewpoint. 

The Clarinet Concerto Carpe diem! (1990) represents a turn towards a new kind of expression. It is a sort of mediator between Kaipainen’s 1980s output and his 1990s output. The Concerto is a fleeting and energetic work with virtuoso writing, described by the composer as an antithesis to the ‘Weltschmerz’ and ‘Angst’ that dominates much of contemporary art. The stylistic transition continued in Kaipainen’s following works, and he himself spoke of a ‘Classicalization’ of his style in several interviews at the time. A statement recorded in 1993 summarizes his new attitude: “It used to be the case that the less a composer was understood, the better. Things have changed, and elitism for its own sake is no longer a relevant value. I do pay attention to the surface level of the music and try to make it more attractive.” 

The Second Symphony (1994) is one of the most impressive works of Kaipainen’s new period. It is a soaring and coherent work with an arching dramaturgy and a clearly defined form, reminiscent of composers such as Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Henri Dutilleux or even Joonas Kokkonen. It is completely different from the First Symphony, highlighting the extent of the transition in Kaipainen’s output. Following the line of absolute music in his new period are the relatively restrained Fourth String Quartet (1994), the Sextet (1997), cast in three movements but played without a break, and the Clarinet Quintet (2000), which at 40 minutes is exceptionally extensive but firmly controlled. 

Although Kaipainen has described his stylistic development as ‘Classicalization’, his style cannot be described as Neo-Classicism; it is more like a synthesis of Expressionism and Classicism. The well-balanced Oboe Concerto (1994) is perhaps the most Neo-Classical of Kaipainen’s later works. His use of the sonata form could also be cited as a classical feature, most particularly in the first movement of the Piano Concerto (1997), which features a Prokofievian vivacious main subject and an almost Rakhmaninovlike second subject, and the traditional cadenza at the end of the movement. Carpe diem! foreshadowed not only a stylistic change but a shift of focus to concertos. 

In addition to Carpe diem! and the Oboe and Piano Concertos mentioned above, Kaipainen has written a concerto for saxophone quartet, Vernal Concerto, From Equinox to Solstice (1996), a Viola Concerto (1997) and a Horn Concerto (2001). Accende lumen sensibus (1996) is a concerto for chamber orchestra that falls somewhere between concertante and symphonic writing; its overall form and to some extent its Expressionist idiom recall the First Chamber Symphony of Schönberg. 

Vocal music is also an important category in Kaipainen’s output. Stjärnenatten (Starry Night, 1989), a fascinating and somewhat mysterious work for the curious ensemble of soprano, piano, percussion, six cellos and four double basses, is one of his finest vocal works. Other significant works in this category are Runopolku (Rune Walk, 1995) for soprano and piano and Glühende Blumen des Leichtsinns (1995) for soprano and string quartet. The German text and ensemble of the latter, echoing Schönberg’s Second String Quartet, add to the Expressionist dimension. Kaipainen has been working on an opera, Konstanzin ihme (The Miracle at Constance) since the late 1980s; to date, he has released three arias from the opera (1987–1997). He has also written numerous choral works: Lacrimosa (1989), Antiphona SATB (1992), Jauchzet! (1993), Matkalla (On the Road, 1995) and Des Flusses Stimme (1996). 

from Kimmo Korhonen: Inventing Finnish Music - Contemporary Composers from Medieval to Modern Finnish Music Information Centre (Fimic) 2003. translated by © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
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