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Thread: Joonas Kokkonen

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    Default Joonas Kokkonen

    Joonas Kokkonen ((November 13, 1921 – October 2, 1996) was a Finnish composer. He was one of the most internationally famous Finnish composers of the 20th century after Sibelius; his opera The Last Temptations has received over 500 performances worldwide, and is considered by many to be Finland's most distinguished national opera.

    Wikipedia bio here.

    Even though I'd heard of him I was only aware of his famous opera The Last Temptations and since I'm no opera buff I never bothered investigating any of his other music. Lately I stumbled across his string quartets and was impressed. Poking around youtube I found this symphony:



    I've since acquired a copy of his 2nd symphony, also on the BIS label. Both are quite short; a great relief from the symphonies with endless running times. They probably appeal to me because they deviate from from strict twleve-tone composition by employing elements of earlier music and simply defaulting to tonality if and when required. In that respect they remind somewhat of Paul Hindemith's music, though the actual content is different.

    These composers - and others like Mieczysław Weinberg, Shostakovich, Erwin Schulhoff seemed to me a much more productive line of composers employing the new ideas of the 20th century alongside existing ideas to make music palatable to more than just a small crowd.

    Here is his cello concerto from 1969. Which I found when looking around for something like Mieczysław Weinberg's cello concerto. It's different, but a marvellous work:



    Finally, the first movement of Kokkonen's 3rd string quartet (1976):

    Last edited by eugeneonagain; Oct-17-2018 at 16:46.
    "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius."

    Sherlock Holmes - The Valley of Fear.

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    I've only listened to the symphonies, but sadly they don't do much for me. However, I'm not discouraging you to try them. Perhaps I haven't listened to them enough to have a better assessment. I think the 4th is the most easily appealing.

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    Frustratingly, BIS has never issued that Okko Kamu LP recording of the 4th Symphony on CD--which you've linked to above (or Leif Segerstam's recording of the 2nd that it came coupled with on LP). I've written to BIS about it, but never received a response. Sadly, I suppose they don't see it as a profitable venture...

    I discovered Joonas Kokkonen's music several years ago, and have enjoyed getting know his works--especially the 4 Symphonies, "...durch einen Spiegel"-"Metamorphoses" for 12 solo strings, Music for String Orchestra, Sinfonia da Camera, Opus sonorum, 3 String Quartets, Piano Quintet, Cello Concerto, Cello Sonata, Piano Trio, The Last Temptations (opera), Requiem, a song cycle for soprano & orchestra entitled "Hades of the Birds" (sung by soprano Monica Groop on a BIS CD), and an interesting assortment of solo piano music (5 Bagatelles, Impromptu, Sonatina for piano, "Pielavesi Suite", 2 Little Preludes, etc.,).

    I'd consider Kokkonen's 4 Symphonies to be 20th century masterworks, especially the 3th & 4th, and very underrated music. They've been recorded by a number of conductors so far:

    1. Like Kamu & Segerstam, Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund was an early champion of Kokkonen's music (in the 1960s), and made premiere recordings of his Symphonies 1, 3, and 4, and "...durch einen Spiegel" for 12 solo strings:

    https://www.amazon.com/Kokkonen-Symp...konen+berglund
    https://www.amazon.com/Kokkonen-Meet...t+the+composer

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Ow...xx74nps5VMPafU
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xnVZO8hqm8

    2. The previously mentioned recording by Okko Kamu of Kokkonen's 4th, made in 1971, and Leif Segerstam's 1961 recording of the 2nd. Of these, I've only heard Kamu's 4th, as it's available to listen to on You Tube (unlike Segerstam's 2nd). I actually prefer Kamu's 4th to Berglund's, surprisingly so, since Berglund is a favorite conductor of mine in Sibelius. It's one Kokkonen's finest symphonic works, and deserves to become standard concert hall repertory, in my view (as do all his symphonies).

    3. In the digital era, conductors Ulf Söderblom and Osma Vänska combined to record Symphonies 1-4, and the Requiem, as part of BIS's project to record all of Kokkonen's music for their "Complete Kokkonen Edition" (which has never been finished, no pun intended): https://www.amazon.com/4-Symphonies-...s+Kokkonen+BIS. I bought this box set back in the 1990s, but Kokkonen's music didn't catch on with me at the time. I probably only played it once, and set it aside--strange how that happens.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkPXmUSdwqo

    4. More recently, I've also enjoyed conductor Sakari Oramo's recordings of Kokkonen's Symphonies 1-4, with the Finnish Radio S.O., on Ondine. Oramo is the one of the finest conductors today, IMO, and he's been a tireless advocate for unjustly neglected 20th century composers (especially from Scandinavia), such as Kokkonen, and for new works by contemporary composers, such as Magnus Lindberg, Per Nørgård, Kimmo Hakola, Anders Hillborg, Jouni Kaipainen, Kaija Saariaho, etc. His recordings of Kokkonen's 4 Symphonies (and Opus sonorum, & the Cello Concerto) are excellent; however, Symphonies 3 & 4 may take some tracking down, in order to find them at a reasonable price (as the CD is out of print), but they're well worth searching for, IMO. Or, you can just listen to them for free on You Tube:

    Symphonies 3 & 4, & Cello Concerto, Sakari Oramo, conducting the Finnish Radio S.O.:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaL1...GAibGmm0Qep6AM

    Symphonies 1 & 2, & Opus sonorum, Sakari Oramo, conducting the Finnish Radio. S.O.:

    Symphony No. 1:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0ePzW1huo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bocnxT2hOjA
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-uAXqpDWZE
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3EBcT_kLX4

    Opus sonorum:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1R6VKFvzrQ

    Symphony No. 2:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlVFopqEB5I
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzatGFmA_V8
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC-BXdplnSI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd5SEd9-D0M

    https://www.amazon.com/Kokkonen-Symp...oramo+kokkonen
    https://www.amazon.com/Joonas-Kokkon...70_&dpSrc=srch

    Other You Tube offerings of Kokkonen's music:

    Cellist Petja Svensson playing his starkly beautiful Cello Sonata:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwhLVqxRn0U
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t01egUekpl4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzAULrA0UFY

    String Quartet No. 2, played by the Melos Quartet:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4I_tF3qUIPs
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNKwC9OZM78
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cxkh6ZSGnA
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIXqPzhKQ24

    https://www.amazon.com/String-Quarte...en+piano+music

    Kokkonen's Requiem: Ulf Söderblom has recorded it twice, for BIS and Finlandia, and there has also been a recent arrangement made for voices and organ: https://www.amazon.com/Requiem-J-KOK...kkonen+requiem. Unfortunately, I can't find the Requiem on You Tube:

    https://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Joona...kkonen+requiem
    https://www.amazon.com/Symphony-3-Op...kkonen+requiem
    https://www.amazon.com/4-Symphonies-...kkonen+requiem

    Ulf Söderblom has also recorded Kokkonen's opera, The Last Temptations, for the now defunct Finlandia label, but its difficult to find at a reasonable price: I found that you have to watch the Amazon listing from time to time, as it occasionally becomes available at an affordable price (for under $20): https://www.amazon.com/Kokkonen-the-...70_&dpSrc=srch

    Kokkonen's solo piano works: I've liked Kokkonen's imaginative "Pielavesi Suite"--1. Preludietto, 2. Nocturne, 3. Sade (Rain), 4. Iltapilvia (Clouds at evening), and 5. Aamutuuli (Morning Wind), which was only recently given a world premiere recording in 2001 by pianist Janne Mertanen, on the Alba label. In my view, the "Pielavesi Suite" deserves to be better known: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IZ5...WTk0ZJmOyzRlMg

    Mertanen's entire album can be heard on You Tube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8gg...WTk0ZJmOyzRlMg
    https://www.amazon.com/Piano-Works-J...en+piano+music

    Obviously, I consider Kokkonen to be an underrated composer outside his native Finland.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-17-2018 at 21:41.

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    The Osma Vänskä recording of the 2nd is the one I picked up second hand (not looking for it, just on the off-chance). It's coupled with the cantata Erekhtheion and 'Interludes' from The Last Temptation. It was the 4th symphony I really wanted.

    His organ music is worth listening to as well.
    "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius."

    Sherlock Holmes - The Valley of Fear.

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    I haven't gotten to any of his organ music yet, but know that he was a religious man.

    Here's a bit of classical music trivia: five composers (that I know of) in music history wrote onto their finished manuscripts the Latin term "Soli Deo Gloria" (translated, "To the Glory of God Alone"): they are J.S. Bach (who wrote S.D.G. at the end of his church compositions, and once said "The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit"), F.J. Haydn (who wrote "In nomine Domini" or "In the name of the Lord", "Laus Deo" or "Praise be to God", "Soli Deo Gloria" or "To the Glory of God Alone" on his major works), G.F. Handel (who wrote it on such works as his Te Deum), Christoph Graupner (a prolific, but neglected contemporary of Bach, Handel, & Telemann's, who was offered the post at St. Thomas, Leipzig before Bach and turned it down), and Joonas Kokkonen (who concluded his works with the inscription S.D.G. L.D.--"Soli Deo Gloria, Laus Deo").

    Here's a link to an article on Kokkonen and his works published by the Finnish Music Quarterly in 2001 (written by Mats Liljeroos): https://fmq.fi/articles/the-apostle-...okkonens-music

    One work that I forgot to mention in my above post is Kokkonen's Wind Quintet. There is a tradition of composing fine Wind Quintets in Scandinavia, and Kokkonen's quintet makes a worthy addition to the field. There have been three recordings to date of the quintet--one on BIS, by the Sinfonia Lahti Wind Quintet, as part of the BIS Complete Kokkonen Edition, a second on BIS by the Helsinki Wind Quintet, and a third by the ensemble Arctic Hysteria (or Arktinen Hysteria), on the Alba label. The Alba recording is on You Tube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHhKf5USZ_M
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHHMbgsutuM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ1-ROMlm_M
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubvlh6dnduU

    https://www.classicalarchives.com/al...513103076.html
    https://www.amazon.com/Finnish-Wind-...n+wind+quintet
    https://www.amazon.com/Spiegel-quint...oonas+kokkonen
    https://www.classicalarchives.com/work/561425.html

    Of interest, Kokkonen's house, "Villa Kokkonen", has been turned into a museum (of sorts) and a concert venue. It was built and designed by architect Alvar Aalto in 1969, and is located on Lake Tuusula (or Tuusulanjärvi) in Southern Finland: https://www.villakokkonen.fi/en



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp7uaUniysI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAVeavDDZl8
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-18-2018 at 17:09.

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