Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir – Forgotten Peoples (Veljo Tormis) (1992)

FrontCover1Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (EPCC) 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, when Daniel Reuss took over the task. Since 2014 the choir’s principal conductor has been Kaspars Putniņš. The repertoire of the EPCC ranges from Gregorian Chant to modern works, particularly those of the Estonian composers Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis.

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The group has been nominated for numerous Grammy Awards, and has won the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance twice: in 2007 with Arvo Pärt’s Da pacem and in 2014 with Pärt’s Adam’s Lament, the latter was shared with Tui Hirv & Rainer Vilu, Sinfonietta Riga & Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Latvian Radio Choir & Vox Clamantis. In 2018 Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir won the prestigious Gramophone Award with its recording of Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Arvo Pärt and Psalms of Repentance by Alfred Schnittke (conductor Kaspars Putniņš). (wikipedia)

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Veljo Tormis (7 August 1930 – 21 January 2017) was an Estonian composer, regarded as one of the great contemporary choral composers[1][2] and one of the most important composers of the 20th century in Estonia.[3] Internationally, his fame arises chiefly from his extensive body of choral music, which exceeds 500 individual choral songs, most of it a cappella. The great majority of these pieces are based on traditional ancient Estonian folksongs (regilaulud), either textually, melodically, or merely stylistically.

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His composition most often performed outside Estonia, Curse Upon Iron (Raua needmine) (1972), invokes ancient Shamanistic 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 performed and recorded by Tõnu Kaljuste with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and others. In the 1990s, Tormis began to receive commissions from some a cappella groups in the West such as the King’s Singers and the Hilliard Ensemble.

Tormis 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.

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Born in Kuusalu in 1930, Tormis had a profound experience with choral music starting at an early age. His father was a choral director, organist, and music teacher. His delight in the contrasting timbres provided by the organ stops may also be connected to his later orchestration of choral textures, a hallmark of his mature style.[3]

Tormis began his formal musical education in 1943 at the Tallinn Music School, but was interrupted by World War II and illness. In 1949, he entered the Tallinn Conservatory and continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatory (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. One of his pupils was composer Kuldar Sink.

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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. Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 has allowed increased access to the Soviet censored compositional output. The music of Tormis, along with other composers in the region, is experiencing increased rates of programing and publishing, allowing for increased appreciation of the choral and vocal music traditions. (wikipedia)

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And here´s  real highlight of his work:

“I do not use folk song, it is folk song that uses me,” said Estonian composer Veljo Tormis (1930-2017). Tormis’ grasp of folk song and the intensity of the performance lend a shamanistic quality to Forgotten Peoples. This set of six song cycles aims to preserve the song heritage of peoples in the area from Estonia through Karelia and towards Finland, peoples whose language and songs have all but disappeared – “forgotten” peoples. There are, then, important socio-political concerns behind this work. And, as producer Paul Hillier noted, “The music of Veljo Tormis taps the most ancient of roots in a fluid, powerful idiom, and offers a fascinating counterpart to the work of another Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt.” In general one could say that Tormis as composer is extrovert, where Pärt is introvert.

The song cycles that make up Forgotten Peoples were composed over a twenty-year period, beginning in 1970, and had become widely known through the performances of the Estonian Chamber Choir under the direction of Tonu Kaljuste. in Forgotten Peoples, subtitled “The Ancient Songs of my Balto-Finnic Kinsfolk”, there are echoes of Bartok and the Stravinsky of “Les Noces” but the dominant impression is of the folksong-shamanistic essence. It is tonal music, based on modal idioms of traditional songs, and its repetitive nature frequently attains an almost hypnotic power. (taken from the original liner notes)

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The Estonian composer, Veljo Tormis, has long pursued a mission to preserve the musical heritage of the minority groups—the Forgotten Peoples—who live along the shores of the Gulf of Finland from Lithuania in the south to Karelia on the Russian-Finnish border. Over a period of years, he has composed six song-cycles for mixed chorus based on the folk music and poetry of these peoples who are now dying out or losing their separate identity. In an informative note, the composer points out that Estonian and Finnish folk-song is part of an ancient culture which these people brought with them from the Danube basin, from a pre-Christian, shamanistic civilization which was very close to nature.
Tormis integrates folk-material into his own style in much the same way as Bartok does. As a result, there is a great variety of timbres and textures in the songs that make up these six cycles. Pedals, ostinatos and dance-rhythms abound as does frequent alternation of solo and choral singing. He makes extensive use of accompanied Sprechstimme to narrate some of the lengthy ballads in Izhorian Epic. These ten songs are settings of creation stories (similar to the Kalevala epic) or poems which point moral dilemmas in either a sad or a humorous way.
Many of these delightful and attractive songs are about the natural world around us: birds, animals, the seasons of the year, life and death in the country. Each cycle is based on the folk music of the particular region and each cycle has an overall theme. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under their conductor Tonu Kaljuste have been associated with these settings from the beginning and they sing them most beautifully. In fact, many good amateur choirs would find these songs a most rewarding challenge if they could manage to pronounce the words or if they could find someone to provide singable translations. (


Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste



CD 1:

Livonian Heritage 16:16:
01. Waking The Birds 5.20
02. Day Of A Herdsboy 3,23
03, Shrove Tuesday 1.38
04. Wee Winky Mouse 2.53
05. Sang The Father, Sang His Son 3.19

Votic Wedding Songs 11:36:
06. The Ritual Whisking Of The Bridge 1.06
07. The Arrival Of Wedding Guests 1.59
08. Mockery Singing 1.28
09. Distributing The Dowry Chest 1.26
10. Instructing The Newly-Weds 1.40
11. Praising The Cook 1.06
12. When I, Chick, Was Growing Up 2.59

Izhorian Epic 31:25:
13. Creation Of The World 3.09
14. The Call Of Three Cuckoos 4.24
15. The Wedding Song 1.56
16. A Son Or A Daughter 3.18
17. Recruitment 3.30
18. Oh, I’m A Luckless Lad 1.20
19, My Mouth Was Singing, My Heart Was Worrying 3.39
20. A Sword From The Sea 3.32
21. Incantation Of Snakes 0.49
22. Undarmoi And Kalervoi 5.52

CD 2:

Ingrian Evenings 19.04:
01. Röntuska I (A Dance Song) 3.07
02. Röntuska II 1.46
03. Röntuska III 1.52
04. Chastushka I (A Village Party Song) 1.25
05. Chastushka II 1.25
06. A Roundelay 2.03
07. Röntuska IV 2.33
08. Röntuska V 1.24
09. Ending And Going Home 3.33

Vepsian Paths 20.06:
10. My Sister, My Little Cricket 1.50
11. Urging Her Into The Boat 1.41
12. Heavenly Suitors 1.50
13. I Went To Kikoila 0.34
14. Cuckoo And Cuckoo 0.58
15. I Went To Fetch Some Water 0.15
16. Pussy-Cat, Pussy-Cat 0.36
17. I’d Like To Sing You A Song 0.36
18. Where Did You Sleep Last Night? 0.44
19. What Are They Doing At Your Place? 0.31
20.The Ox Climbed A Fir Tree 0.44
21. Forced To Get Married 2.05
22. A Cradle Song 1.47
23. The Only Son 1.56
24. Toot-Toot, Herdsboy 4.04

Karelian Destiny 26.40:
25. A Weeping Maiden 4.34
26. Suitors From The Sea 5.04
27. A Thrall In Viru 5.14
28. The Oak Cutter 5.28
29. A Lullaby 6.23

Music: Traditional/Veljo Tormis

Adapted By [Text] – Ada Ambus (Titel: 2-1 to 2-9), Arvo Laanest (Titel: 1-13 to 1-22), Elna Adler (Titel: 1-6 to 1-12), Herbert Tampere (Titel: 1-1 to 1-5), Jaan Õispuu (Titel: 2-25 to 2-29), Kari Laukkanen (Titel: 2-25 to 2-29), Maare Joalaid (Titel: 2-10 to 2-24), Tõnu Seilenthal (Titel: 1-6 to 1-12), Ulo Tedre (Titel: 2-25 to 2-29)



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