Paavo Heininen (1938-2022) was a composer, essayist, pianist and teacher. A highly revered figure in Finnish musical circles, he was known as a prolific composer of symphonies and other orchestral works, chamber music, vocal music and piano pieces. He also guided a generation of young composers as Professor of Composition at the Sibelius Academy during a teaching career of more than forty years.
His natural starting point was from the beginning modernism. According to him, there is no need to change direction since to him, modernism means being open to all the possibilities that exist.
Vocal music was, however, perhaps closest to Heininen's heart because of his passion for texts: the marriage of word and music was, in his opinion, something unique, allowing the composer and the poet to express more together than they could ever do alone. Heininen composed two operas during the 1980s: Veitsi (The Knife, 1985-88) and Silkkirumpu (The Damask Drum, 1981-83).
Heininen's work list contains eight symphonies, dating from different stages in his career. According to him "the symphonies have been an important domain in my career, I might even say the main one". The fifth symphony was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, and the sixth was premiered in 2015 by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. The Symphony No. 7 was premiered by the Finnish Radio Orchestra on 26. November 2021. The Symphony No. 8 has not been performed yet.
According to Heininen, composing for the stage vitally influenced the way he thought about the symphony. His ‘symphonies’, in the sense of a credo or a foray into new territory, have actually been the Adagio…concerto per orchestra in forma di variazioni… (1963/66) and DIA (1979), that is to say orchestral works that were generically classified as ‘concerto for orchestra’. The Damask Drum, subtitled ‘concerto for singers, players, words and images’ in fact has the same function, on an even greater scale and with weightier meaning. The most important work in Heininen’s catalogue in recent decades would in this sense be the oratorio Te Deum Creaturae (Opp. 92, 77, 93), the first half of which (Kaukametsä) was premiered by the Finnish RSO.
Heininen started exploring electro-acoustic music during the latter half of the 1970s. His key works from that period include the tape composition Maiandros (1977) and the orchestral Dia (1979). During the 1990s the stylistic spectrum expanded resulting in two "jazzy" works for big band (Wolfstock and Bookends, 1996-97).
The reconstructions of works by Aarre Merikanto, his former teacher, constitute a chapter in themselves in Heininen's output. In his violin concerto Tuuminki (A Notion, 1993) Heininen inhabits the world of Merikanto, and indeed the title continues with the words "of what might have been Aarre Merikanto's 3rd Violin Concerto". In the Flute Concerto Autrefois (2008/10) Leevi Madetoja serves as an approximate model. Autrefois was born of the essence of Madetoja, but his world has been allowed to expand a bit over the stylistic horizon of his day.
Paavo Heininen has also produced a wealth of instrumental and chamber music, among them string quartets, Discantus I for alto flute, Poesia squillante ed incandescente – Sonata per pianoforte, Piano Trio Op. 91 and Variations for organ. He has also composed duos for every orchestral instrument and piano, sonatas for various instruments and several solo pieces for piano and organ. Some of his works cover an entire concert program, such as Mazurki for piano, the Finnish Song Book, Opus sylvanum (Palmgren Variations) and the Piano Etudes.
Heininen’s other orchestral works include e.g. the large Opus 66 (Music for Strings) containing a number of dance-like suites in 2-8 movements, Violin Concerto (1999), Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 (2004-05) and Organ Concerto Aiolos (2012-13) – a nine-movement, 90-minute offshoot of the Bruckner-Mahler tradition. One of the latest orchestral works is the Sinfonia Concertante de Camera Michaelmas (2018).