Paavo Heininen

Paavo Heininen (b. 1938) studied the theory and composition of music at first privately and subsequently, between 1956 and 1962, at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the College of Music in Cologne and New York’s Juilliard School of Music. Among his many teachers can be counted U. Meriläinen, A. Merikanto, E. Rautavaara, E. Englund, J. Kokkonen, B. A. Zimmermann and V. Persichetti. Since the completion of his studies, which have included training as a pianist, conductor and musicologist, Heininen has acted as a teacher of theory and composition firstly at Turku Institute of Music and since 1966 at the Sibelius Academy.

Heininen’s early works bear the stamp of neo-classicism, but this soon gave way to a phase of dodecaphony (Symphony No. 1), followed by one of serialism (Adagio, Piano Concerto No. 1), proceeding ultimately towards the adoption of a ‘stream of consciousness’ in which, to quote the composer’s own words on his work Dia, ‘all parameters are of equal value as directions of musical argument, and all their combinations are equally probable’. Described in general terms, his compositional technique is somewhat reminiscent of Schoenberg ’s principle of ‘evolving variation’. He has clearly abandoned the use of repetition of musical ideas in the form in which they first appear. Everything is in a state of constant flux. Elements of recapitulation have still not entirely lost their significance, however, since a syntax based on the simultaneous evolving variation of all musical parameters also implies the retention of a certain degree of similarity between the various appearances of the musical ideas. The mutation of musical figures is the single most important determining trait in Heininen’s music, and this being so, one may best describe it from the structural standpoint as being ‘bound by logic’ rather than ‘bound by pattern’. In this sense it belongs to the tradition of ‘musical prose’, stressing the process by which the form takes shape at the expense of the form which is born as a consequence.

If there is an underlying and unobservable structure to be found in Heininen’s music (the Piano Sonata and the Symphony No. 3 might be regarded as a point of culmination in the line of development traced so far), then it is the result of exhaustive constructional effort. Even in these works his point of departure in the handling of form has been a polyparametric outline which he has defined very precisely on the serial construction level while being attentive to its effects on the more obviously discernible aspects of the form. From his tape composition Maiandros onwards, Heininen has abandoned the use of hidden serial construction and striven instead for a formulation of unity from diversity. This recent development has also implied a readoption, to some extent, of a musical architecture based on patterns.

Heininen has often been labelled an ‘intellectual’ composer; one whose music tends to be over-complex and thus difficult to follow. While there may be a grain of truth in this criticism, one can speak out with equal justification on behalf of his extraordinary density of expression, covering a broad scale from bright lyricism to aggressive vigour. One thing is clear, however: Heininen is not an ‘easy’ composer. But if what this means is that one needs unbending concentration to reach the essence of his musical argument, then the experienced gained from this will, without doubt, reward the effort.

Finnish Music Information Centre 1980



About Ilkka Oramo

Professor of Music Theory, emeritus
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