Urmas Sisask

b. Septmeber 9, 1960, Rapla
Member of the Estonian Composers' Union since 1986
founding member of the Estonian Astromusic Society 1993
founding member of the Estonian Astronomers Community Ridamus 2003

Universe was created with love 13,7 milliards years ago. Stars, galaxies, planets, comets and other cosmic beings, including us, exist happily in great love. Human beings were created here to sense the love. Planet Earth is a magnet to life. Human being is born of stars and becomes to stars as well. Therefore I don't regard myself as a composer, rather transcriber of music. (Urmas Sisask)

Urmas Sisask started his composition studies at the Tallinn Music High School with Anatoli Garshnek, René Eespere and Mati Kuulberg. He continued in the composition class of René Eespere at the Tallinn State Conservtoire, from which he graduated in 1985.
Since 1985, he has been living and working in small Estonian town Jäneda, where he worked as the artistic director of the local culture house (until 1998), as a music teacher and leader of various music collectives, Jäneda chamber choir among them, until 2000. In 1994, so-called Musical Observatory Tower was founded in Jäneda manor building, where Sisask additionally opened a self-made planetarium in 1996. In this tower, Urmas Sisask continuously makes astronomical observations and organizes numerous lecture-concerts. Therein, the majority of his compositions, of which a compelling part is devoted to the celestial bodies and constellations, are created.

Urmas Sisask’s oeuvre is rich of styles and genres, it is varying from sacred music to popular and even rap-like songs. Sisask has composed numerous works for piano, small- and large-scale choir works, chamber music, orchestral works. He has created music for nature films by Rein Maran, stage works for children (children’s opera Evil Daughter of the King, musical Karius and Bactus, a verbal-musical performance Krõll) and other stage works (The Last Mountain, 2009).
His most known large-scale works are Requiem in Memory of Those Who Gave Their Life for the Freedom of Estonia for male choir and sypmhony orchestra (1998), Mass No. 3 Estonian Mass for mixed choir, soloists, organ and shaman drum (1992), which is the first mass ever written in Estonian language, and oratorio Pro Patria for mixed choir, soloists and wind band (2003).

Urmas Sisask has gained international recognition primarily with his choral music. He has written choir songs, motets, oratorios, cantatas, masses and other sacred works. One of his most beloved choral compositions is Gloria Patri for mixed choir (1988) - cycle of 24 a capella hymns. Sisask’s choral style features clear texture, simple harmony and fluid voice leading. Sincere emotionality and beautiful melodies have ensured him an audience in Japan, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, USA, France, Germany, Australia and elsewhere in the world. In 16 years, 14 Urmas Sisask author-CDs are released and his works can be found in more than 40 collection CDs.

Sisask’s interest for astronomy is as old as his activity as a composer – his first astro-music works were created already in his childhood (piano cycle Cassiopeia for children), when he once happened to improvise on piano outdoors, exploring and admiring the starry sky. Since then, astronomy has been his main source of inspiration.

Sisask’s astro-music creation is formed by two different methods. Firstly – an intuitive method, where inspiration is drawn from experience and observations in conjunction with astronomical knowledge. Secondly – a mathematical method of theoretical sounds, where specific pitches are governed from numerical descriptions of cosmic objects’ movements. This method is based on the fact that the rotation of celestial bodies can be treated as oscillation of fixed frequencies, which can be made audible by converting them octaves by octaves to the range of human hearing (16–20000 Hz). Analysing the motions of solar system planets, in 1987 Sisask came up to a five-pitch series of C Sharp – D – F Sharp – G Sharp – A, which interestingly is the exact equivalent of Japanese pentatonic scale known as Kumayoshi. Such a scale structure is the melodic and harmonic basis for a large number of his works (eg Gloria Patri).

Astronomical subjects in Sisask’s music are reflected particularly in his instrumental works, for example: three Starry Sky Cycles for piano: Northern Sky (1987), Southern Sky (1995) and Estonian Folk Sky (2004), clarinet concerto Eclipsing Bynaries (1991), piano cycle Zodiac (1994), The Hale Bopp Comet for flute and guitar (1999), The Hjakutake Comet for mandolin orchestra (1996), Violin concerto No. 1 Perseids (1998), based on observations of meteor shower, flute concerto Leonids (2001), The Ikeya Shang Comet for violin, piano and vibraphone (2002) and many others.

In addition to the astronomy, Sisask’s work have been influenced by composer’s interest in shamanistic cultures as well as Estonian runo-songs. Also European tradition of sacred music, starting from Gregorian chant and medieval vocal polyphony and ending with the Lutheran choral harmony, is reflected in his music.
Sisask has created numerous works on canonical texts, including mixed choir works Gloria Patri (1988), Magnificat (1990), Domine exaudi orationem meam (1989) and Misereatur vestri omnipotens (1990), motets Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro and Benedictio (1991), oratorio Veni Sancte Spiritus (2005), Ikos (2007) on Russian Orthodox prayer book texts, six masses and many other works. The list of his works also includes music for blessing and thanks giving rituals (Thanks Giving Song to the Sun, 1992, Incantation for Denmark, 2008).

Sisask’s fairly constant idiom is variant development of vivid core melodies, ecstatic rhythm pulse and style techniques of ritual music of various origins, expressing religious and mythological ideas that reflect in his creation. The use of simple ostinato’s resemble both Estonian runo-songs, shaman rituals as well as the medieval dance music. Sisask often takes part of his works’ performances by playing the piano or shaman drum. An archaic vision of human as a particle of nature and the whole universe is embodied in Sisask’s music.

Urmas Sisask have awarded the Cultural Award of the Republic of Estonia (1990), the Order of the White Star (Fourth Class) (2001), the Armorial Order of Järvamaa County (2001), the Estonian Defense Forces Special Service Cross (2004), Veljo Tormis’s Estonian Choral Music Grant (2007) and the Estonian National Culture Annual Award of Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) (2009), title of Musician of the Year of Estonian Radio (2010) and Annual Prize of the Culture Endowment of Estonia (2010).

Urmas Sisask’s works are mainly published by Edition 49, but also by ERES, Alcanto and Fennica Gehrman.

Look also: www.janeda.ee/muusika/index.html
A book of Urmas Sisask: Anne Kahro "Sindrinahkses kasukas" (Talmar & Põhi, 2000)

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(updated in January 2011)

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