Yrjö Kilpinen (1892-1959) studied at the Helsinki Music Institute and later with Richard Heuberger in Vienna (1910–11) and with Paul Juon and Otto Taubmann in Berlin (1913–14). He travelled extensively in Scandinavia and central Europe, especially in Germany. As a composer Kilpinen concentrated almost exclusively on the lied – he has composed ca. 800 songs. Performances by well-known singers such as Gerhard Hüsch and Astra Desmond promoted his work abroad, and in Germany where he was seen as continuing the great German lied tradition of Schubert and Wolf, he was particularly popular.
Characteristic of Kilpinen's output are extensive song cycles to texts by the same poet, which often reflect the poet's stylistic changes. The settings of V.E. Törmänen's Tunturilauluja (Songs of the Fells, 1926 and 1928) have a true melodic invention and they display Kilpinen's stylistic features: open 4ths, 5ths and octaves, and bare piano textures with a fondness for pedal points and ostinatos. While in Germany Kilpinen set more than 75 songs by Christian Morgenstern which show the influence of Mussorgsky. In his later work he returned to Finnish poetry, exchanging Expressionism for the archaic language of the Kanteletar (64 songs, Op. 100).
Stylistically Yrjö Kilpinen remained an isolated phenomenon. He neither adopted the new techniques of his contemporaries, nor did he continue the national Romantic tradition in his tendency towards neo-classicism.
Fennica Gehrman has published Kilpinen's large-scale Sonata for Violin and Piano. Dated from 1935, the work was never finished. Violinist Frida Backman commissioned a completion of the work from composer Walter Wolff, which enabled the first publication of the Sonata in 2022.