VELJO TORMIS data bank

       The Estonian composer Veljo Tormis won wider recognition with his choral music in the 1960s and by the end of the 1970s he became one of the most outstanding composers receiving commissions from many countries where Estonian choruses had performed his works. His preferred genres have been large-scale choral compositions and cycles of songs (some of them arranged into larger cycle of cycles). Choruses or vocal ensembles have the central role also in most of his stage and film music.

       Tormis is famous for his imaginative use of authentic archaic folk material – first of all Estonian and Finnish runic songs (regilaul), but also old traditional songs of other peoples. He is not attracted by the exotic sound of a distant tradition, but interested in the meaning of singing, and often working together with ethnologists he always goes deeply into the background of the songs he is using. In new music, the years of Tormis’ studies and self-establishment in the 1950s and early 1960s were the period of serious avant-garde when involvement with authentic folk traditions did not seem at all relevant to the interests of a composer. Things started to change by the end of the 1960s and in the following decades the growing popularity of ecological views together with the rise of postmodernist art affected also the aesthetic values and goals of writing new music.

       Tormis’ works are certainly not simple arrangements of some source material – even the most minimalist songs are striking by the inventive use of choral timbres and texture, but his large-scale compositions are mostly very dramatic containing powerful rises and explosive culminations. Tormis does not always use preexisting musical material for his compositions, but he has often emphasised that a text giving a form to his vague idea of the message of the composition is necessary as a starting point. He selects texts carefully and often works for a long time with poets or experts of folk verses to get a really well-formed text before starting with music. That may explain why he has composed only single pieces of pure instrumental music and most of them during his studies in Moscow or immediately after graduating.        read more