Heino Eller: Neenia

Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tõnu Kaljuste

CD18,90 out of print

These moving performances by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra under conductor Kaljuste reintroduce the work of Heino Eller (1887-1970), the composer many call "the father of modern music in Estonia". Arvo Pärt contributes a liner note celebrating the influence and example of his former teacher.

Featured Artists Recorded

August 1999, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn

Original Release Date


  • Lüüriline süit / Lyrical suite
    (Heino Eller)
  • 1Andante con moto01:37
  • 2Allegro con passione02:06
  • 3Andantino meditativo02:10
  • 4Allegretto grazioso03:37
  • 5Adagio elegiaco03:16
  • 6Allegro moderato, un poco maestoso07:29
  • 7Neenia (1928)
    (Heino Eller)
  • Viis pala keelpilliorkestrile / Five pieces for string orchestra
    (Heino Eller)
  • 8Romanss / Romance05:10
  • 9Tants / Dance01:12
  • 10Tants / Dance01:37
  • 11Hällilaul / Lullaby02:15
  • 12Kodumaine viis /Homeland Song04:10
  • Sümfoniett / Sinfonietta (1965 - 1967)
    (Heino Eller)
  • 13Allegro ma non troppo05:41
  • 14Lento espressivo04:27
  • 15Allegro04:49
  • 16Eleegia / Elegy (1931)
    (Heino Eller)
Heino Eller (1887-1970) became a vital force in the music of his country, and the international celebrity of present-day Estonian composers is largely due to him: pupils included Arvo Pärt and Lepo Sumera. He was important both as a teacher and simply as a setter of high and humane artistic standards, and many of his melodies are held in affection by the Estonian public. This useful conspectus of his music for string orchestra includes some of his best-known pieces. If they don't reveal a major master, they testify to a fastidious, civilised, deeply feeling composer who was obviously a complete master of his craft. ... Altogether there's much in this music that should appeal to lovers of Vaughan Williams, Sibelius, Hindemith or Grieg. The Tallin players expound it with sympathy and understanding in a typically vivid ECM recording.
Calum MacDonald, BBC Music Magazine
The all-Eller disc deserves the most enthusiastic of welcomes: the music is dignified, even chaste, usually gentle, sometimes passionate, though never raising its voice. The influence of Tchaikovsky can be heard in the background, his Serenade for Strings in particular, but Eller was never as overtly sentimental as the Russian: there is deep feeling her, but it is not for public display. The titles of Nenia (1928) and the Elegia (1931), where a harp joins the strings, indicate an atmosphere of sorrowful resignation; this is further underlined in most of the Grieg-like miniatures of the Lyric Suite (1945) and the Five Pieces (1943), which in each case were rescored from earlier piano pieces - even the more outward-going movements are tinged with sadness. The Elegia adds a further point of comparison, with another composer whose music is infused with a sense of loss: Elgar. ... Good, transparent sound with plenty of body, and well-informed, perceptive insert note from Herbert Glossner. Strongly recommended.
Martin Anderson, International Record Review
Anfangs möchte man sich hineinlegen in die Musik; wie ein Kopfkissen um sich betten. Doch schon bald stützt man sich auf und lauscht verwirrt, wie die langen, ineinander schwebenden Passagen von kurzen, warnenden Akkorden kontrastiert werden. Als ob der Himmel, der sich eben noch in freundlichem Blau zeigte, in Windeseile von dunklen Wolken bezogen wurde. Der estnische Komponist Heino Eller (1887-1970) ist ein Meister jener Stimmung aus offener Klage und sanfter, sich ergebender Trauer. ... Erfrischt wird man durch die Fünf Stücke für Streichorchester, die auf verschiedene, sehr beschwingte estnische Tänze und ein traditionelles Schlaflied zurückgreifen, ohne je ins Folkloristische abzugleiten. All das ganz wunderbar eingespielt vom Tallinn Chamber Orchestra unter Leitung Tonu Kaljustes.
Rheinischer Merkur
Eller entwickelte einen Stil, der vor allem durch elegische Stimmungen und ungewöhnliche, aber stets wohlklingende harmonische Wendungen charakterisiert wird. ... Viele der hier eingespielten Stücke hat Eller zunächst für Klavier komponiert und erst später für Streichorchester instrumentiert, einen Klangkörper, den er besonders mochte und exzellent einzusetzen wusste. Das satte Volumen über zumeist massiven Bassfundament kommt in diesen Aufnahmen bestens zur Geltung.
Martin Demmler, Fono Forum
Ein Schleier aus Wehmut in nordischer Kühle liegt um die Musik von Heino Eller (1887-1960). Selbst Violinist, hat er seine Werke für Streichorchester in einem gemäßigten Modernismus notiert. Ein schluchzender Gesang kennzeichnet "Neenia", ein Memorial für einen toten Freund, eine vornehme Einfachheit zeigt sich in der "Lyrischen Suite", deren Partien sich wie Fassaden einst intakter Lebenswelten anhören. Ellers Heimat Estland ist stets präsent. "Fünf Stücke" sind von Tänzen der dortigen Folklore inspiriert. Schatten und Licht begleiten die "Elegie" für einen anderen Freund, und Ellers Landsmann Tõnu Kaljuste hat dieses Klangfarbenspiel durch die Noblesse des Tallinn Chamber Orchestra intensiv ausgeleuchtet.
Hans-Dieter Grünefeld, Scala
"There are a few countries", Martin Anderson observed in International Record Review recently, "which seem to produce composers in disproportion to their populations: the Low Countries in the fifteenth century, for example, or the Czech lands in the second half of the eighteenth. Estonia can be counted among this select band, too, the more surprisingly when one thinks that music there has developed from a standing start: a little over a century ago, there simply was no Estonian concert music. And the musical culture which arose before and during the first half of the twentieth century proved strong enough to resist 50 further years of suppression of the national identity - keeping some outstanding composers out of the world's eye. We are only now beginning to realise how much there is to discover."

ECM has contributed to this growing awareness of Estonian music, by introducing Arvo Pärt to the world-at-large, by championing the music of Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür, and by presenting some of the most important Estonian interpreters, including conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.

Kaljuste now returns to conduct the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in performances of the music of Heino Eller. Eller (1887-1970), is the grey eminence of music in Estonia. Of crucial importance both as a composer and teacher, the history of modern Estonian composition begins with him.

Heino Eller took private lessons in violin, music theory, participated in several ensembles and orchestras and also performed as a solo violinist. In 1907 he began his violin studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and from 1908-1911 studied law at the St. Petersburg University. He graduated from Petrograd Conservatory as a composer in 1920 and for the next 20 years taught music theory and composition at Tartu Higher Music School, and also founded the so-called 'Tartu School' of Estonian composition. Other members of the school include Eduard Tubin, Eduard Oja, Olav Roots, Alfred Karindi, Johannes Bleive and theorist Karl Leichter. In 1940 Eller moved to Tallinn and became a Professor of Composition in Tallinn, where his students were Villem Kapp, Kaljo Raid, Boris Kõrver, Anatoli Garshnek, Leo Normet, Valter Ojakäär, Uno Naissoo, Arne Oit, Jaan Rääts, Heino Jürisalu, Alo Põldmäe, Lepo Sumera and Arvo Pärt. Eller continued to work as a teacher right up until his death in 1970.

Eller's teaching excellence has been valued in many ways, but the ultimate proof lies in the list of his students, who have led highly productive and creative careers. Arvo Pärt, the most famous of those students offers a personal introduction to Eller in the liner notes to the present CD."It is with profound gratitude (writes Pärt) that I think of my composition teacher Heino Eller and of the time I spent studying with him. It is difficult to say just what impressed me more, his way of teaching or his charismatic personality. Over the decades, Heino Eller's generosity, nobility of spirit and work have merged in my mind to create an overall picture that has continued to influence me up to the present day.

As a pedagogue he was always open to modern movements in art, allowing his students to go their own ways and respecting their personal decisions, even where they diverged substantially from his own ideals ... Soviet ideology was incapable of dimming his insight into human and cultural values. Thanks to his training in St. Petersburg, with its centuries-old musical tradition, he was able to establish totally new standards in small Estonia, thereby laying the cornerstone for professionalism in music. Heino Eller's oeuvre is typified by strict logic, a cultivated sense of style, subtle and masterly orchestration, and a markedly personal style of composition. These qualities position him firmly alongside the great Nordic composers. ... Now that I am approximately the age my teacher was at the time, I have discovered a pronouncement I never heard from Eller in his lessons: 'Finding a single suitable note is far more difficult than bringing a mass of notes to paper.' Although he never conveyed this message to me in so many words, he appears nonetheless to have succeeded in rooting a similarly tormenting search for the 'single suitable note in my soul."


Notes on the compositions:

Lüüriline süit (Lyric suite, 1945) is based on six pieces from a piano cycle written in 1942-43, an agonised time in the composer's life. It was during this period that his wife Anna met a violent death at the hands of the occupying Nazis.

Neenia (1928) was written in memory of Johannes Arro (1865-1928), the father of musicologist Elmar Arro, and a close friend. As CD booklet essayist Herbert Glossner writes, "In this composition, too, Eller - and Tõnu Kaljuste and his chamber orchestra, following Eller's lead - savours fully the saturated volumes of the strings, dissonant sharps, a powerfully supporting bass fundament, the insistent lament, and the soft ebbing of the sound. Melodic invention and instrumental delicacy - in the solo violin's intermezzo, for example - make Neenia both an intense orchestral work and a worthy memorial to a contemporary whom Eller obviously greatly admired".

All the movements of the Five Pieces for String Orchestra (1953) were originally composed for piano and, with the exception of the fourth movement, belong to the composer's early St. Petersburg period. First performance of the string orchestra version took place on September 21, 1956, conducted by Sergei Prokhorov. Romance (initially untitled) originates from 1919; the first of the two dances (1916) is one of the first compositions in 'folk tune' style (a second undated dance was also written before the 1940s). "Lullaby" (1953) is the most recent work in the cycle. Of the "Homeland Song" Arvo Pärt says, "One could say it has over the years achieved the same kind of symbolic significance for Estonia that Sibelius's famous work Finlandia has for Finland."Sümfoniett (Sinfonietta) for string orchestra in G Minor (1965-1967), Eller's last major composition, was first performed during the concert celebrating the composer's 80th birthday on March 7, 1967, conducted by Neeme Järvi. All three movements of the piece are written in sonata form.

Elegie, for string orchestra and harp (1931) is dedicated to the memory of pianist and musicologist Prof. Peeter Ramul (1881-1931), a close associate of Eller's.