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In the Footsteps of Uuno Klami

The Third International Uuno Klami Composition Competition is dedicated to one of the most popular and most frequently-performed Finnish composers, Uuno Klami (1900-61).

Orphaned at an early age, Klami was born in the village of Klamila in Virolahti near what is now the southeast border of Finland on 20 September 1900. He studied composition at the Helsinki Music Institute with the eminent Finnish composer Erkki Melartin (1875-1937) and spent 1924-25 in Paris and 1928-29 in Vienna, but no longer engaged in systematic study while there. Throughout his life Klami was a free composer. In 1959 he was elected a member of the Academy of Finland.

Even as a student Klami was already striking off along a path of his own, away from the Late Romantic mainstream. He also succeeded in keeping his distance from Sibelius, who tended to overshadow the musical life of early 20th century Finland. The music of Klami is for the most part in the neoclassical tradition, while also bearing clear traces of influences from France (Ravel), Russia (Stravinsky) and Spain (de Falla). In the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly, Klami was a stylistically pluralistic composer, writing salon music and compositions influenced by jazz, music for stage and screen, and works in a more serious vein for orchestra with or without choir. In his handling of the orchestra Klami was one of the most virtuosic Finnish composers of all times.

Klami the man, and to some extent the composer, has remained something of an enigma. His music defies categorical description, and he often seems to conceal his innermost being beneath an ostensibly innocuous, cheerful veneer.

The works for orchestra constitute the weightiest item in his output. Topping the list are the oratorio Psalmus (1932-36), the unfinished ballet Whirls (1944/1957-60), and one of the most frequently performed works by any Finnish composer, the Kalevala Suite (1930-33/1943). Other outstanding works by him include some of his symphonic poems and overtures, such as Aurora Borealis (1936/1946-48), The Karelian Market Place (1947), King Lear (1944), The Cobblers on the Heath (1936), Karelian Rhapsody (1927) and Lemminkäinen's Adventures on the Island (1934).

The focal work in Klami's concertante category is the violin concerto (first version 1939-43, second version 1953-54). He also wrote two symphonies, two piano concertos, numerous pieces for small orchestra, the orchestral Song of Lake Kuujärvi, film and theatre music.

The entries in the Uuno Klami Composition Competition need not be in any way related to the music of Klami and can represent any stylistic genre. One reason for dedicating a competition to Klami has been to draw attention to a composer of note too little known outside Finland. Secondly, Klami's free spirit and his cosmopolitanism rooted enchantingly in his native Finnish-Karelian soil are traits that are, in an increasingly integrated Europe, growing steadily more important as culture struggles to combat the pressures of global standardisation and uniformity.

Kalevi Aho
Chairman of the Jury