Veljo Tormis
Veljo Tormis is an Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

n composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

, regarded to be one of the greatest living choral composers and one of the most important composers of the 20th century in Estonia. Internationally, his fame arises chiefly from his extensive body of choral music, which exceeds 500 individual choral songs, most of it a cappella
A cappella
A cappella music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It is the opposite of cantata, which is accompanied singing. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato...

. The great majority of these pieces are based on traditional ancient Estonian folksongs (regilaulud), either textually, melodically, or merely stylistically.

His composition most often performed outside Estonia, Curse Upon Iron (Raua needmine) (1972), invokes ancient Shamanistic
Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

 traditions to construct an allegory about the evils of war. Some of his works were banned by the Soviet government, but because folk music was fundamental to his style most of his compositions were accepted by the censors.

More recently, Tormis' works have been lionized in worldwide performances and several recordings by Tõnu Kaljuste
Tõnu Kaljuste
Tõnu Kaljuste is an Estonian conductor.Born in Tallinn, Kaljuste is the child of Heino Kaljuste , an Estonian choral conductor, and Lia Kaljuste, a radio journalist. Tõnu sang in his father's choirs as a child, and graduated from the Tallinn Music High School in 1971...

 and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is a professional choir based in Estonia. It was founded in 1981 by Tõnu Kaljuste, who was its conductor for twenty years. In 2001, Paul Hillier followed Kaljuste's tenure, becoming the EPCC's principal conductor and artistic director until September 2008,...

. In the 1990s, Tormis also began to receive commissions from some of the pre-eminent a cappella groups in the West such as the King's Singers
King's Singers
The King's Singers is a British a cappella vocal ensemble who celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2008. Their name recalls King's College in Cambridge, England, where the group was formed by six choral scholars in 1968. In the United Kingdom, their popularity peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s...

 and the Hilliard Ensemble
Hilliard Ensemble
The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music. Founded in 1974, the group is named after the Elizabethan miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard....


Tormis has famously said of his settings of traditional melodies and verse: "It is not I who makes use of folk music, it is folk music that makes use of me." His work demonstrates his conviction that traditional Estonian and other Balto-Finnic music represents a treasure which must be guarded and nourished, and that culture may be kept alive through the medium of song.

Biographical highlights

Tormis had a profound experience with choral music starting at an early age. His father was a choral director, organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

, and music teacher. His delight in the contrasting timbre
In music, timbre is the quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices and musical instruments, such as string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. The physical characteristics of sound that determine the...

s provided by the organ stops may also be connected to his later orchestration
Orchestration is the study or practice of writing music for an orchestra or of adapting for orchestra music composed for another medium...

 of choral textures, a hallmark of his mature style.

Tormis began his formal musical education in 1943 at the Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

 Music School, but was interrupted by World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and illness. In 1949, he entered the Tallinn Conservatory and continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatory
Moscow Conservatory
The Moscow Conservatory is a higher musical education institution in Moscow, and the second oldest conservatory in Russia after St. Petersburg Conservatory. Along with the St...

 (1951–1956). He quickly acquired teaching positions at the Tallinn Music School (1955–60) and the Tallinn Music High School (1962–66), but by 1969 was supporting himself exclusively as a freelance composer.

From his student days until his retirement from composition in 2000, Tormis composed over 500 individual choral songs, as well as other vocal and instrumental pieces, 35 film scores, and an opera. Despite the censorship of several of his more politically provocative works in the late 1970s and the 1980s, he remained an incredibly celebrated composer whose works were performed throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, he is regarded as one of the great contributors to the 20th century repertory of choral music. Currently, his work is beginning to gain wider recognition in the United States as well (a country which has traditionally had limited awareness of the choral prominence of the Baltic region).

Selected works

  • Kihnu pulmalaulud (Kihnu Island Wedding Songs), 1959
  • Overture No. 2, 1959
  • Sügismaastikud (Autumn Landscapes), 1964
  • Luigelend (opera), 1965
  • Eesti kalendrilaulud (Estonian Calendar Songs), 1966–67
  • Maarjamaa ballaad (Ballad of Mary's Land), 1967
  • Raua needmine (Curse Upon Iron), 1972
  • Pikse litaania (Litany To Thunder), 1974
  • Eesti ballaadid (Estonian Ballads), 1980
  • Laulusild (Bridge of Song), 1981
  • Varjele, Jumalan soasta (God, Protect us from War), 1984
  • Unustatud rahvad (Forgotten Peoples), 1970–89
  • Piispa ja pakana (The Bishop And The Pagan), 1992
  • Incantatio maris aestuosi
    Incantatio maris aestuosi
    Incantatio maris aestuosi is an a cappella choral composition by the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis completed in 1996. The piece was commissioned by the Swedish Orphei Drängar and Finnish YL Male Voice Choir male choirs in remembrance of the victims of the MS Estonia ferry that sank on September...

    (Incantation for a Stormy Sea), 1996

External links

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