Aulis Sallinen (born on 9 April 1935) trained first as an elementary school teacher, and then studied with Aarre Merikanto and Joonas Kokkonen at the Sibelius Academy in 1955–60. He subsequently worked as manager of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and as a teacher of composition at the Sibelius Academy, becoming Artist Professor in 1976.
Since the early 1970s, Sallinen’s music has been characterized by a strong sense of tonality, simple themes, clear forms and above all repetition, already manifest in the motifs themselves and their use. Repeated notes, recurring linear seconds and characteristic rhythmic motifs occupy a central position in his themes, while each motif is repeated many times before moving on to the next. The harmony is dominated by triads often filling out to create clusters. All these features have made Sallinen’s music accessible and popular. Notable examples are to be found in the Suite Grammaticale (Kieliopillinen sarja, 1971), Lauluja mereltä (Songs from the Sea, 1972) for children’s choir, and in some of his string works such as the String Quartet No. 4 ‘Quiet Songs’ of 1971 – which at times have echoes of Finnish folk music.
Other compositions of this period – such as the Chorali for wind orchestra (1970) are, in places, reminiscent of late Sibelius in their sparse severity. The classic simplicity of the 1970s gives way to a fuller, more versatile mode of expression and a more personal approach to large-scale formal shapes in the 1980s.
Fennica Gehrman has published most of Sallinen's early works, including Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral March, Mauermusik, Suite Grammaticale and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Latest publications include Variations for Cello and Orchestra (1961-62) which is Sallinen's first piece for the cello, the instrument that would later be one of his favourites, and Two Mythical Scenes Op. 1, a work completed in 1956 when Sallinen was Aarre Merikanto’s composition student.