Veljo Tormis: Reminiscentiae

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tõnu Kaljuste

EN / DE
The elemental power of ancient folk music is the lifeforce that drives the compositions of Veljo Tormis (1930-2017).  As the great Estonian composer famously said, “I do not use folk song. It is folk song that uses me.” This sentiment is echoed in definitive performances by the Estonian Philharmonic  Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Tõnu Kaljuste, for decades one of Tormis’s closest musical associates. Four orchestral cycles celebrate the changing seasons: Autumn Landscapes, Winter Patterns, Spring Sketches, Summer Motifs. And three pieces – Worry Breaks The Spirit, Hamlet’s Songs and Herding Calls – feature new arrangements by Tõnu Kaljuste, continuing and commemorating Tormis’s work.  The album opens with The Tower Bell In My Village which Kaljuste commissioned 45 years ago. It sets words by Fernando Pessoa that seem entirely pertinent in the context of this tribute.   “Oh death, it’s a bend in the road/You can’t be seen when you’ve passed by/But still your steps continue…”  Reminiscentiae was recorded at Tallinn’s Methodist Church in October and November 2020.
Es ist die zeitlose Kraft der Volksmusik, die die Lebenskraft der Kompositionen von Veljo Tormis (1930-2017) antreibt. Wie der große estnische Komponist bekanntlich sagte: "Nicht ich bediene mich des Volkslieds. Das Volkslied bedient sich meiner". Dieses Gefühl wird in den einzigartigen Aufführungen des Estnischen Philharmonischen Chors und des Tallinner Kammerorchesters unter der Leitung von Tõnu Kaljuste, dem jahrzehntelangen engsten musikalischen Gefährten von Tormis, wiedergegeben. Vier Orchesterzyklen zelebrieren die wechselnden Jahreszeiten: Autumn Landscapes, Winter Patterns, Spring Sketches, Summer Motifs. Drei Stücke – Worry Breaks The Spirit, Hamlet's Songs und Herding Calls – wurden von Tõnu Kaljuste neu arrangiert, um Tormis' Werk zu würdigen. Das Album öffnet mit The Tower Bell In My Village, das Kaljuste vor 45 Jahren in Auftrag gab. Es vertont Worte von Fernando Pessoa, die im Zusammenhang mit dieser Hommage durchaus treffend erscheinen. "Oh Tod, es ist eine Kurve in der Straße / Du kannst nicht gesehen werden, wenn du daran vorbeigegangen bist / Aber deine Schritte gehen weiter...". Reminiscentiae wurde im Oktober und November 2020 in der Methodistenkirche in Tallinn aufgenommen.
Featured Artists Recorded

October & November 2020, Methodist Church, Tallinn

Original Release Date

08.09.2023

  • 1The Tower Bell in My Village
    (Fernando Pessoa, Veljo Tormis)
    14:04
  • 2Worry Breaks the Spirit
    (Traditional, Veljo Tormis)
    02:59
  • Melancholy Songs
    (Traditional, Veljo Tormis)
  • 3I. The Singer's Childhood03:04
  • 4II. Maidens' Sorrow04:13
  • 5III. Orphan's Lament04:39
  • Reminiscentia - Autumn Landscapes
    (Veljo Tormis)
  • 6I. It is Late Summer01:46
  • 7II. Clouds Racing Across the Sky01:34
  • 8III. Pale Light01:20
  • 9IV. Painfully Red Leaves00:48
  • 10V. Wind Along the Heath01:16
  • 11VI. Cold Autumn Night01:30
  • 12VII. Sad Purple Heather01:45
  • Reminiscentia - Winter Patterns
    (Veljo Tormis)
  • 13I. Winter Morning01:32
  • 14II. Cold01:14
  • 15III. Blizzard00:35
  • 16IV. Northern Lights02:15
  • Reminiscentia - Spring Sketches
    (Veljo Tormis)
  • 17I. Spring Wind00:46
  • 18II. Buds Leafing Out00:50
  • 19III. Evening Sky00:56
  • 20IV. Under the Bird Cherry Tree00:51
  • 21V. Yellow Flame00:32
  • 22VI. In Late Spring00:57
  • Reminiscentia - Summer Motifs
    (Veljo Tormis)
  • 23I. Dry Weather01:47
  • 24II. Thunderstorm02:25
  • 25III. Summer Night02:03
  • Reminiscentia
    (Veljo Tormis)
  • 26Three I Had These Words of Beauty05:57
  • 27Hamlet's Songs I
    (Paul-Eerik Rummo, Veljo Tormis)
    06:05
  • 28Herding Calls - Childhood Memories
    (Veljo Tormis)
    09:24
Le compositeur Veljo Tormis et le chef Tõnu Kaljuste se sont bien connus, le chœur et l’orchestre figurant parmi les meilleurs ensembles de chambre du monde, de quoi offrir à cette musique lointaine de soufflé d’universalité qui la rend soudain familière. […] des configurations multiples et virtuoses, évoluant sur la ligne de crête entre l’inconnu et l’intime.
MDM, La Libre Belgique
 
Partly because the album covers such a long period of time, partly because Kaljuste has taken some music originally written for choir and arranged it for orchestra, and partly because Tormis wrote music of varying styles and moods, there is an impressive variety of music to be found in this collection. […] It’s a labor of love, a lovingly performed and beautifully recorded labor of love.
Karl W. Nehring, Classical Candor
 
Tormis was influenced by the Baltic minimalists, but he did not come to the style as a response to serialism; instead, his music grew out of the use of Estonian folk music, refined and purified. Much of his music is choral. The title ‘Reminiscentiae’ started out in that form, but the orchestral arrangement here is delightful. It offers a kind of ‘Estonian Four Seasons,’ made up of fragmentary reminiscences of weather scenes, each about a minute long […] All the pieces relate to Tormis' childhood reminiscences in some way, but the theme is treated in a variety of ways […] Some of the choral pieces have unusual spoken passages. The performances by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra under their longtime conductor, Tõnu Kaljuste, are ideal, and the production is by ECM founder Manfred Eicher himself. A wonderful collection of music by a composer worth knowing better.
James Manheim, All Music
 
Together with Arvo Pärt and Erkki-Sven Tüür, Veljo Tormis is probably the best known Estonian composer. He primarily was a choral composer with more than 500 works to his credit, but his oeuvre also encompassed orchestral music, film music, an opera and more. When he turned 70 in 2000 he announced that he ‘would officially  draw an end to his creative career and retire’ – and he did, insofar as he never composed a new work, but spent another fifteen years editing and transcribing earlier compositions, supervising recordings etc. The result of this work is to a certain extent the contents of this disc. Tõnu Kaljuste, who collaborated with Tormis for many decades, has contributed to it. The overriding title is very telling: this is in many respects a matter of old wine in new bottles. For me, as a longstanding admirer of Tormis’ choral writing, the orchestral works came as a pleasant surprise. His choral music has a special twist that makes him stand out; his orchestral sound is also very individual.  […] Those of us who admire Veljo Tormis – and we are quite a few – should order a copy without delay, and those who have not yet come under his spell, should at least give him a try.
Göran Forsling, Music Web International
 
This collection comprises a number of Veljo Tormis’s choral pieces, but the central work is the cycle ‘Reminiscentia’, choral settings arranged for string orchestra. This gives them a a very different atmosphere from their vocal originals, since they no longer depend on the text as springboard for the musical narratives but instead give the appearance of a greater abstraction […] And this is proof of the composer’s mastery of musical structure and textural variety, for there is not a single piece in this unpredictable cycle that seems compromised by the absence of text. […] A provocative album containing carefully planned reminisences of a true original.  
Ivan Moody, Gramophone
 
Wirklich faszinierend wird Tormis’ Musik, weil sie sich in Klang und Wort permanent zur Modernen Kunst hin öffnet. Exemplarisch geschieht dies im ersten Stück des Albums ‘Tornikell minu külas’ (Die Turmglocke in meiner Heimat) nach einem ins Estnische zurückübersetzten Text von Fernando Pessoa, in dem die alles andere als ‘heile Welt’ der Heimat von Tod und Zerstörung  gezeichnet ist – ‘like ruins in the moon light, ’ wie es im Text heißt. Weniger doppelbödig zeigt sich Tomis in den vier Zyklen aus ‘Reminiscentiae’ für Orchester, die, beginnend mit dem Herbst, die vier Jahreszeiten zum Thema haben und stilistisch an die Werke des Letten Peteris Vasks erinnern. Die estnischen Interpreten könnten ’ihre’ Musik schöner und intensive kaum darbieten. Top!
Burkhard Schäfer, Fono Forum (Five stars)
 
Much of his music is choral. The title ‘Reminiscentiae’ started out in that form, but the orchestral arrangement here is delightful. It offers a kind of ‘Estonian Four Seasons,’ made up of fragmentary reminiscences of weather scenes, each about a minute long (sample the uncanny ‘Northern Lights’ movement from the Winter Patterns section). […] All the pieces relate to Tormis' childhood reminiscences in some way, but the theme is treated in a variety of ways; sample the closing ‘Helletused’ (‘Herding Calls’), which hardly resembles anything else out there. […] The performances by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra under their longtime conductor, Tõnu Kaljuste, are ideal, and the production is by ECM founder Manfred Eicher himself. A wonderful collection of music by a composer worth knowing better.
James Manheim, All Music
 
This fine album celebrates the fruitful creative partnership between Estonian composer Veljo Tormis (1930-2017) and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste. […] The voices of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir have this music in their blood; they sing for Kaljuste with impeccable commitment, attack and blend.
Philip Reed, Choir & Organ (Five stars)
 
Persönliches und kollektives Gedächtnis für die nationale Kultur in Estland waren für den Chorkomponisten Veljo Tormis eine untrennbare Einheit. Ob in der Betrachtung ‘Die Turmglocke eines Dorfes’, symbolisch für resistenten Glauben und in den klaren Stimmen zugleich liturgisch und suggestiv, den ‘Melancholischen Liedern’ mit nachtrauernden Kindheits-Sujets oder dem klangpoetischen Jahreszeiten-Zyklus ’Reminiscentiae’ für Streicher und Solisten: Sein langjähriger Förderer und Gefährte Tõnu Kaljuste ist unerschütterliche Premium-Instanz zur Präsentation dieses einzigartigen estnischen Vokalerbes.
Hans-Dieter Grünefeld, Neue Musikzeitung
“Being an Estonian composer, I consider it natural that my work is based chiefly on the motifs of Estonian folklore. I turned to our natural heritage in order to discover my musical mother tongue.”
Veljo Tormis, 1990
 
The elemental power of ancient folk music was the life force that drove the compositions of Veljo Tormis (1930-2017). As the great Estonian composer famously said, “I do not use folk song. It is folk song that uses me.” This sentiment is echoed in definitive performances by the Estonian Philharmonic Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Tõnu Kaljuste, for decades one of Tormis’s closest musical associates. Four orchestral cycles celebrate the changing seasons: Autumn Landscapes, Winter Patterns, Spring Sketches, Summer Motifs. And three pieces – Worry Breaks The Spirit, Hamlet’s Songs and Herding Calls - feature new arrangements by Tõnu Kaljuste, continuing and commemorating Tormis’s work.
 
The album opens with The Tower Bell In My Village with words by Fernando Pessoa (recited and sung here in Estonian) that seem entirely pertinent in the context of this tribute. “Oh death, it’s a bend in the road/You can’t be seen when you’ve passed by/But still your steps continue.” For most of his life, Tormis’s music was little heard beyond his homeland – a situation that began to change with the release of Forgotten Peoples in 1992, and Litany to Thunder in 1999, both with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Kaljuste. Meanwhile, his influence continues to spread with each passing year.
 
Reminiscentiae concerns itself with memory at multiple levels, evoking scenes from Veljo Tormis’s childhood, and underlining the feeling of closeness to nature that is a thread throughout his life’s work. The album also reflects upon the decades-long creative collaboration between Tormis and Kaljuste. The conductor commissioned The Tower Bell In My Village from Tormis, 45 years ago: “I went to his door holding in my hands the text by Fernando Pessoa and asked him to create a piece for a concert tour with my choir.” Since the church tower bells of then-Soviet Estonia were notably silent, and the churches themselves abandoned sanctums, the authorities looked with disfavor on this musical gesture drawing attention to them. In her biography, Ancient Song Recovered: The Life and Music of Veljo Tormis, Mimi S. Daitz writes, “Tormis was an artist sensitive to and expressive of the Zeigeist in Estonia. He was a political composer. That is, he expressed his political point of view through his music in varying degrees and with greater or lesser directness.”
 
A powerful voice for national independence he stressed the importance of choral singing as he explored the ancient cultures of which Estonian folk song forms a part. Veljo Tormis, a composer deeply in tune with his country’s vital tradition of choral singing and ancient folk culture, was born in Kuusalu, Estonia in 1930. Tormis studied at Tallinn and later Moscow Conservatories and when a teacher at Tallinn’s Music High School numbered Arvo Pärt among his students.
 
Many of Tormis’ works are written for choir and based on an ancient form of Estonian folk song called regilaul. He has written: “National musics can also convey religious feelings; they often represent pre-Christian forms of spirituality, which should also be important and meaningful in our integrating world. Old Estonian runo songs certainly communicate the nature worship and rituals of prehistoric times.”
 
Reminiscentiae was recorded at the Methodist Church in Talinn in October and November 2020.Earlier that year, on what would have been Tormis’s 90th birthday on August 7, the Veljo Tormis Virtual Centre was launched,
 
An authorized database based on the composer’s own materials, it has as its goal the collection, availability, preservation, dissemination and promotion of Veljo Tormis' creative heritage. Open to the whole world, it will be the main tool for disseminating information related to Tormis' compositions and activities.
 
More information: Veljo Tormis Virtual Centre - YouTube
 
CD booklet for Reminiscentiae includes liner notes by Miina Pärn and Tonu Kaljuste and all sung texts in Estonian and English.