Author Topic: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist  (Read 4643 times)

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kyjo

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I believe the very fine Finnish late-romantic Erkki Melartin (an exact contemporary of Ravel) merits a thread of his own. He is one of my favorite "unsungs", particularly for his excellent cycle of six symphonies, which were all recorded by Ondine and the Tampere PO under Leonard Grin in passionate, committed performances. IMO this cycle compares with the best of the Nordic symphonies. I'll give a brief description of each symphony:

1: A youthful, energetic work, somewhat in the Tchaikovskian mould. But already, Melartin's distinctive Nordic voice shines through.
2: A work full of gorgeous nature-painting and memorable melodies. The finale is especially impressive.
3: Along with no. 4, Melartin's best symphony. Moments of surging orchestral power alternate with quieter, evocative passages.
4: My favorite of the cycle, and possibly Melartin's masterpiece. Subtitled A Summer Symphony, this work reflects the unbridled joy of a Nordic summer. The slow movement, featuring three wordless sopranos (shades of Nielsen's Espansiva) is breathtakingly gorgeous. Only Melartin could have created a work like this, so full of zest for life.
5: Melartin is starting to explore more modern territory here. Juxtapositions of aural calm, fierce power, and passionate romanticism make this a unique work.
6: This is Melartin's darkest and most modern-sounding symphony. The music has the stern power of late Sibelius, but hardly sounds like him at all. In its turbulence, the work reminds one of a stormy sea. Nevertheless, it is still in the romantic tradition.

How to describe Melartin's style? He has often been called the "Finnish Mahler", and even though his symphonies do recall Mahler in their powerful evocations of nature and big, glorious orchestral tuttis, that nickname is not entirely accurate, as Melartin has his own voice. There are resonances of Bruckner here and there, particularly evident in Melartin's fondness of the brass, and, of course, Sibelius peeks in on occasions. But it seems entirely unfair that Melartin has been almost completely overshadowed by Sibelius.

Ondine has also recorded his lovely Violin Concerto, along with his Lyric Suite no. 3 Impressions of Belguim and the Suite from the Incidental music to The Sleeping Beauty. The Violin Concerto is a major find, a work full of typically Melartin-esque melodies and masterful orchestration. The other two works on the disc are slightly less consequential, but are thoroughly enjoyable. The tuneful Wedding March from the Sleeping Beauty Suite is Melartin's most popular piece and is, apparently, quite popular in Finland. Also in the Ondine catalogue is Melartin's opera Aino, an atmospheric, almost expressionistic work which is a refreshing change from Rossini, Verdi, Wagner etc.

Recently, Delta Classics issued a 2-disc set of Melartin's piano works. Much of his pianistic output is composed of miniatures (which are beautifully crafted, I might add), but the major piece to be found here is the Fantasia apocaliptica, a powerful piece that requires not only virtuosity but utmost understanding of Melartin's idiom.

Now, let's talk about the unrecorded side of Melartin's output. Orchestrally speaking, the most glaring omissions in the catalogue are the Lyric Suite no. 2, the Serenade for Strings in E-flat, and the symphonic poems Siikajoki, Traumgesicht, and Patria. Melartin starting working on seventh, eighth and ninth symphonies, but, unfortunately, left only minute sketches for each. On the chamber side of the spectrum, there's four string quartets which should definitely give us a more well-rounded picture of the composer. I had thought there were obscure recordings of the quartets out there somewhere, but I could be wrong. There's also a Violin Sonata. That's not all of Melartin's unrecorded compositions, though!

I apologize if my post is overlong, but I hope what members have gotten out of all my rambling is that Melartin is really distinguished composer who merits much more attention. Hell, I could only imagine how one of his symphonies would bring the house down in concert. Of course, considering the unadventurous conductors that predominate here in the US, that's not going to happen!

Any other views or comments on Melartin's music?

 :)

(originally posted at the Art-Music Forum)

Offline Lisztianwagner

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2013, 01:32:12 PM »
I'm not familiar Erkki Melartin at all, but from this description his music sounds extremely interesting!! Obviously I can't judge before listening to it, but I suppose I may get on well with Melartin's style, it shows peculiarities that attract me very much in classical music. :)
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kyjo

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2013, 01:43:45 PM »
I'm not familiar Erkki Melartin at all, but from this description his music sounds extremely interesting!! Obviously I can't judge before listening to it, but I suppose I may get on well with Melartin's style, it shows peculiarities that attract me very much in classical music. :)

Knowing your tastes, I think you would love Melartin's music! If you like Sibelius, Nielsen, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner or lesser-known composers such as Atterberg, Peterson-Berger, Alfven, Rangstrom and Madetoja, you're sure to take to Melartin's music. Now, of course, I didn't list all those composers to imply that Melartin was unoriginal; I do believe he did have an individual voice that strengthened over his compositional career. I cannot recommend the complete set of his symphonies on Ondine highly enough (though I have been told that Leonid Grin made some cuts in the scores). If the beautiful cover art (which is perfectly fitting for Melartin's evocative music) doesn't convince you to get this set, nothing will:



If you enjoy that set (which I assure you will), don't fail to pick this lovely recording up:



 :)

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #3 on: August 06, 2013, 03:55:57 PM »
My Dad owns this Melartin symphony set, I'll have to ask him to make copies of it for me. He mentioned how Melartin is one of the more underrated Finns and how he was overshadowed by Sibelius throughout his life. Unfortunately, there were many Finns who never got the kind of recognition they truly deserved. Madetoja is one I'm thinking of in particular.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2013, 04:03:29 PM by Mirror Image »
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kyjo

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2013, 04:11:02 PM »
My Dad owns this Melartin symphony set, I'll have to ask him to make copies of it for me. He mentioned how Melartin is one of the more underrated Finns and how he was overshadowed by Sibelius throughout his life. Unfortunately, there were many Finns who never got the kind of recognition they truly deserved. Madetoja is one I'm thinking of in particular.

I, too, think it is unfair how many Finns were overshadowed by Sibelius, particularly in the case of Melartin. There are so many other excellent Finnish composers who were unable to escape Sibelius' long shadow-Englund, Klami, Kokkonen, Merikanto, Madetoja, Pingoud and Raitio, just to name a few. Once you get a chance to listen to them, please report back your thoughts on Melartin's symphonies, John. I think you'll really like them! :)

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2013, 04:23:56 PM »
I, too, think it is unfair how many Finns were overshadowed by Sibelius, particularly in the case of Melartin. There are so many other excellent Finnish composers who were unable to escape Sibelius' long shadow-Englund, Klami, Kokkonen, Merikanto, Madetoja, Pingoud and Raitio, just to name a few. Once you get a chance to listen to them, please report back your thoughts on Melartin's symphonies, John. I think you'll really like them! :)

Will do, Kyle!
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Offline Lisztianwagner

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2013, 05:39:43 AM »
Knowing your tastes, I think you would love Melartin's music! If you like Sibelius, Nielsen, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner or lesser-known composers such as Atterberg, Peterson-Berger, Alfven, Rangstrom and Madetoja, you're sure to take to Melartin's music. Now, of course, I didn't list all those composers to imply that Melartin was unoriginal; I do believe he did have an individual voice that strengthened over his compositional career. I cannot recommend the complete set of his symphonies on Ondine highly enough (though I have been told that Leonid Grin made some cuts in the scores). If the beautiful cover art (which is perfectly fitting for Melartin's evocative music) doesn't convince you to get this set, nothing will:



If you enjoy that set (which I assure you will), don't fail to pick this lovely recording up:



 :)

Thank you for recommending these sets, I've found both on spotify; I'm looking forward to listening to some of that music. :)
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kyjo

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2013, 06:55:23 AM »
Thank you for recommending these sets, I've found both on spotify; I'm looking forward to listening to some of that music. :)

My pleasure :) Do make sure you listen to Symphony no. 4, especially-it's a breathtakingly gorgeous piece!

Baron Scarpia

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2018, 08:12:39 AM »
Listened to Melartin Symphony No 3 yesterday (the second time). There are expanses of absolutely magnificent music here. I am still coming to terms with the structure. The first movement, for instance, begins with what seems like a slow introduction, an exposition of material that will return throughout the work, then after some new material a sort of off-kilter march theme appears out of the blue (very attractive) and as the movement draws to a close, the opening material returns, transformed with luminous harmony and orchestration, the key motif appearing in many different harmonic transformations. Very compelling music, but takes some effort for me to assimilate since it does not follow the expected form of exposition, development, recapitulation that is the default for music of this type. It has been worth the effort, but there is a lot more for me to discover in this work.

Offline kyjo

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2018, 09:04:58 AM »
Listened to Melartin Symphony No 3 yesterday (the second time). There are expanses of absolutely magnificent music here. I am still coming to terms with the structure. The first movement, for instance, begins with what seems like a slow introduction, an exposition of material that will return throughout the work, then after some new material a sort of off-kilter march theme appears out of the blue (very attractive) and as the movement draws to a close, the opening material returns, transformed with luminous harmony and orchestration, the key motif appearing in many different harmonic transformations. Very compelling music, but takes some effort for me to assimilate since it does not follow the expected form of exposition, development, recapitulation that is the default for music of this type. It has been worth the effort, but there is a lot more for me to discover in this work.

Great to see another fan of this magnificent work! It’s Melartin’s masterpiece IMO - only the joyous Fourth (Summer Symphony) comes close to challenging this position in his output IMO. Like you say, Melartin’s mastery of motivic development, harmony, and orchestration in this work are nothing short of spellbinding. From the magically atmospheric opening (with a solo horn quietly stating the memorable motto theme) to the superbly uplifting ending, it’s a really special work and one of the finest of the late-romantic Nordic symphonies.
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Online calyptorhynchus

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2018, 07:24:52 PM »
Thanks for this! I've listened to a couple of pieces and I think he's going to be a composer I will like!

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #11 on: May 23, 2018, 04:34:51 AM »
I need to spend more time with this composer. Scarpia’s description of Symphony No. 3 sounds enticing.
 
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #12 on: May 23, 2018, 04:56:51 AM »
I need to spend more time with this composer. Scarpia’s description of Symphony No. 3 sounds enticing.

It's v good. I expect that you'd enjoy it John.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2018, 04:58:41 AM »
It's v good. I expect that you'd enjoy it John.

 8)
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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #14 on: May 29, 2018, 03:06:12 PM »
I've been listening to the symphonies on youtube (mostly very good quality Finnish radio recordings of different dates, the performance of the 3rd highlights that it has parts in it cut from the Ondine recording).
I enjoyed them a lot, I had two comparisons which occurred to me when I listened which readers here might find interesting:
1. Bax, because both composers liked a good seascape (or in Melartin's case perhaps also a good lakescape) and could describe it in music so well. Melartin isn't nearly so lush in his harmony or orchestration, of course.
2. Pettersen, in that both composers at first hearing seem to have composed symphonies with long stretches of music where nothing much seems to happen, and after a while you realise this is the point. Of course Melartin is two generations early and far less anguished than Pettersen.
Of the symphonies I prefer 5 and 6 to the earlier ones.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #15 on: May 29, 2018, 06:51:24 PM »
I've been listening to the symphonies on youtube (mostly very good quality Finnish radio recordings of different dates, the performance of the 3rd highlights that it has parts in it cut from the Ondine recording).
I enjoyed them a lot, I had two comparisons which occurred to me when I listened which readers here might find interesting:
1. Bax, because both composers liked a good seascape (or in Melartin's case perhaps also a good lakescape) and could describe it in music so well. Melartin isn't nearly so lush in his harmony or orchestration, of course.
2. Pettersen, in that both composers at first hearing seem to have composed symphonies with long stretches of music where nothing much seems to happen, and after a while you realise this is the point. Of course Melartin is two generations early and far less anguished than Pettersen.
Of the symphonies I prefer 5 and 6 to the earlier ones.

Certainly you mean Pettersson?
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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #16 on: May 29, 2018, 11:30:45 PM »

Offline San Antone

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2018, 12:23:19 AM »
If you haven't heard his piano music, you should.  This recording collects works for solo piano from his entire career.


Offline Symphonic Addict

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #18 on: March 31, 2020, 05:42:27 PM »
I've been enjoying this truly epic work in this superb performance. This sounds more cogent than the one on the Ondine disc. I felt it at times like a blend between Sibelius and Mahler. Impressive.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/CgLRS_sw5oA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/CgLRS_sw5oA</a>
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Erkki Melartin (1875-1937), a Late-Romantic Finnish Symphonist
« Reply #19 on: June 04, 2020, 07:34:41 AM »
I've been enjoying this truly epic work in this superb performance. This sounds more cogent than the one on the Ondine disc. I felt it at times like a blend between Sibelius and Mahler. Impressive.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/CgLRS_sw5oA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/CgLRS_sw5oA</a>

Thanks, Cesar; I’ve been meaning to listen to this performance/edition of what is probably Melartin’s masterpiece.

Lately, three works of Melartin have really struck me with their high quality - the Violin Concerto, the 5th Symphony, and the String Trio. The VC deserves to be in the standard repertoire - it’s an enthralling work from start to finish. It shares its key and “wintry” atmosphere with the Sibelius VC, but is less brooding and more colorful (a la Peterson-Berger perhaps, but with a bit more drive and direction) than the more famous work.

Cesar’s “Sibelius meets Mahler” analogy is quite apt for describing the 5th Symphony. In particular, the first movement contains some truly magnificent and thrilling music, with terrifically heroic writing for the brass. Perhaps the final movement is a bit academic in places, but overall it’s quite a satisfying work.

The String Trio surely is one of the finest works composed for this instrumentation that I know. It’s folksy and rhythmic, with some unique “modern” touches such as glissandi. Yet a further example of Melartin’s inventive craft. He certainly had a quirky and colorful individual voice! BTW it can be found in this set (which also includes Toivo Kuula’s epic Piano Trio):


https://youtu.be/kxdD2ums5JE
« Last Edit: June 04, 2020, 07:45:50 AM by kyjo »
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music" - Sergei Rachmaninoff