Villem Kapp

September 7, 1913, Suure-Jaani – March 24, 1964, Tallinn
Member of the Estonian Composers' Union

The output of Villem Kapp is characterized by spontaneous emotion and simple musical language with romantic color. Although he has composed music almost in every genre, the most valuable are Kapp’s choral and solo songs. Also his opera Lembitu, two symphonies, cantata To the Spring, choral poem Northern Coast and wind quintet form an important part of his oeuvre.

Villem Kapp, the youngest of the Kapp dynasty of musicians, nephew of the composer and composition professor Artur Kapp, graduated from the Tallinn Conservatory in 1938, as an organist in August Topman’s class and in 1944, as the composer in the class of Heino Eller (in 1935–1938 and 1940–1941 Villem Kapp also studied with his uncle Artur Kapp).

Villem Kapp was active as choral conductor (mixed choir Kalju of Tallinn Education Society and mixed choir Ilmatar in Suure-Jaani), he gave private piano lessons and lectured in Tallinn Music School. In 1938–1939, Kapp served as the organist in St. Peter’s Church in Tartu. From 1944 till his death (1964), Villem Kapp taught composition at the Tallinn Conservatory (since 1956 as associate professor, 1957–1964 the head of the composition department). Among his composition students there are Helmut Rosenvald, Lembit Veevo, Ülo Vinter, Veljo Tormis, Harri Otsa and others.

Although Villem Kapp lived and worked most of the time in Tallinn, he also stayed connected with his birth town Suure-Jaani, where he composed majority of his works. Choral and solo songs form the most popular part of his creation, he has composed about 60 choral songs. Work with the text played a significant role in the composing process of the vocal music. Trying to illustrate every figure with music, Villem Kapp paid great attention to the tone color, rhythm and melodic line derived from the word.

Although Villem Kapp didn’t directly use the traditional music, his melodies of the songs are often simple and close to the folk music ("You, Sweet Oak-tree", "Seagull", "Lend Me the Zither, Vanemuine!").

Legendary choral conductor and composer Gustav Ernesaks have said, that it seemed to him that the composer, who had worked closely with the choirs, had sung through the vocal parts – everything sounded well and his choral music was easy to sing, conduct and listen. Especially Kapp’s heroic choral poem Northern Coast achieved wide popularity (1958, text by Kersti Merilaas).

Among the solo songs, When the Summer Day Ends (from the cycle Happy Day, text by Juhan Sütiste), Snowflake (Juhan Liiv), You Came (Juhan Liiv), The Prisoner (Alexander Pushkin), You, Sweet Oak-tree (traditional) and others are the best known.

Life work for Villem Kapp was opera Lembitu (1961, libretto by Astrid Pirn after Juhan Sütiste, premiered at the theatre Estonia in 1961). Themes of the historical opera are ancient Estonian fight for independence in the 13th century, the Battle of St. Matthew’s Day and an ancient Estonian elder of Sakala County and military leader Lembitu. These events were very near to Kapp’s heart, because they took place in his home place.

Villem Kapp’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor (1954) is considered one of the Estonian strongest works for symphony orchestra from the period, when the common clearness and closeness to the people was demanded for the music in general by the Soviet ideology.

Several Villem Kapp’s compositions have won prizes at the competitions organised by the Government of the Arts and Ministry of Culture. His works have been recorded for Estonian Radio and on several compilation CDs. In 1967, book about Villem Kapp was written by Helga Tõnson (Eesti Raamat).

Villem Kapp was given the honorary title of the Estonian SSR Honoured Worker in Arts (1955), the Estonian SSR People’s Artist (1963) and he has been awarded the Estonian SSR State Prize (1950). In 1973, the Home Museum of the Kapp Family was established in Suure-Jaani, Viljandi County and since 1998, the Suure-Jaani Music Festival, dedicated to the music composed by the Kapp family is organised in Suure-Jaani.

Look also: Home Museum of the Kapp Family

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