Raimo Kangro

September 21, 1949, Tartu February 4, 2001, Ruila
Buried at Tallinn Forest Cemetery
Member of the Estonian Composers' Union since 1973

Raimo Kangro's personal style is founded on the neoclassical basis – it stayed relatively constant throughout his whole creative period. The main characteristic of his idiom is an active, changeable, often syncopated rhythm. Melody is angular and development is based on variation or fluid and improvisation-like. Active rhythmic pulse is a unifier for stylistic borrowings from pop, rock, ancient European styles and Estonian folk music. Polyrhythmics and heterophonic orchestral textures in bright timbre colours introduce tension into the music. Instrumental works and operas are central in Kangro's oeuvre.

Kangro's virtuosic concerto-like style has found an especially well-suited form in his instrumental concertos including for flute (1973/1983), violin (1971, 1976), piano (1976, 1999), bassoon (1981), guitar and cello (1992), flute and clarinet (1993) and percussion (2000). Kangro wrote a number of works for two pianos including three two-piano concertos (1978, 1988, 1992). Used as a percussion instrument, piano holds an important position in his many other orchestra and ensemble works.

Concerto-like joy of performance and childlike humour dominate also in Kangro’s four works that bear the title of symphony: Simple Symphony ("Lihtne sümfoonia", 1976) for chamber orchestra, Tuuru Chamber Symphony ("Tuuru tubasümfoonia", 1985, in co-operation with Andres Valkonen) and Sinfonia sincera (1984) for symphony orchestra and Clicking Symphony ("Plõksuv sümfoonia", 1993) for mandolin orchestra.

Rich musical imagery opens in Kangro's 12-part series of instrumental works commissioned by various performers and festivals from 1991 to 2000, titled as Displays – poetic and humorous musical portraits of historic personages (composers Steve Reich, Mozart, Schubert, Vivaldi) and mythical beings, creatures or phenomena ("The Alien", "The Pilgrim", "The Unknown Musician", "Angel", "Perpetuum mobile", "The Trumpets of Yericho"). Beside ensemble works the series also includes orchestral pieces.

Kangro's seven operas have brought fresh stylistics into Estonian stage music. In most cases these are written in an allegorical manner verging on the grotesque, and combining various stylistic sources. In his first, comic opera Miracle ("Imelugu", 1974, libretto by Kulno Süvalep), based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, medieval secular music and pop music intonations are interwoven with neoclassicist rhythms. The first Estonian rock opera The Maiden of the North ("Põhjaneitsi", 1980, libretto by Leelo Tungal and Andres Jaaksoo after the fairy tale of Karlis Skalbe), was written by Kangro in co-operation with Andres Valkonen. Kangro’s most significant stage work is the opera The Victim ("Ohver", 1981, libretto by Kulno Süvalep after Aleksey Tolstoy’s story "The Serpent") what in a surreal vein tells of people's oppression in a closed society. In Uku and Ecu (1997, libretto by Leelo Tungal) Kangro uses Karl August Hermann's singspiel Uku and Vanemuine (1907) as a prototype to parody the grassroots Estonian identity and contemporary world politics. Kangro has also written a TV opera Sensation ("Sensatsioon", 1986, libretto by Leelo Tungal after Karel Čapek), based on rock music, and a chamber opera The Traitor ("Reetur", 1995, libretto by Leelo Tungal after Kurt Vonnegut). His last opera, The Heart ("Süda", 1999, libretto by Maarja and Kirke Kangro), is a rich grotesque involving Estonian society and the global problems that have become salient in Estonia. Grotesque and humour in Kangro’s music in many cases serve as a masquerade behind which one can sense the socially conscious personality of the composer. Kangro is also the author of a children’s opera Opera Play (1975, libretto by Leelo Tungal) and four children’s musicals.

Kangro's vocal music reflects lyrical and dramatical subjects, but, focused in rhythm, its style is instrumental by nature. Many of Kangro's stage and vocal works have been created on the lyrics of his wife Leelo Tungal and his daughters, Kirke and Maarja Kangro. The cycle Leelo’s Songs ("Leelolaulud", 1975) for vocal quintet and instrumental ensemble is based on love lyrics by Leelo Tungal. Mass in the Memory of Innocent Victims in Estonia ("Missa süütult hukkunud eestlastele", 1989, text and lyrics by Leelo Tungal) commemorates the victims of the war, oratorio Credo (1977, text: Arvi Siig and from the Morale Codex of the Communism Builder), cantatas Gaudeo (1987, text: A. Tamme) and A Man And... ("Inimene ja...", 1991, lyrics by Leelo Tungal) tell about the main values of human life.

In 1968, he graduated from the piano department of the Tartu Music High School and in 1973 from the Tallinn State Conservatoire as a composition student of Jaan Rääts and Eino Tamberg. In 1975–1976 Kangro worked as the music director of the Estonian Television. He was engaged as the adviser at the Estonian Composers’ Union in 1977–1985 and as the director of the Estonian Music Foundation in 1993–2000. In 2000–2001 Kangro was the vice-chairman of the Estonian Composers’ Union; in 2001 he was elected the chairman. Until his death, Kangro also was one of the artistic directors of the Estonian Music Days festival, founded in 1979. From 1989–2001, he served as an Estonian Academy of Music composition faculty member (assistant professor since 1995) where his best-known students were Tõnu Kõrvits, Tõnis Kaumann, Timo Steiner and Ülo Krigul.

Raimo Kangro's two author CD-s has been released by record label Antes (2001) and Estonian Music Information Centre (2004), his works have also been recorded by Finlandia, Antes and Bella Musica and others. His music have been published by edition 49, SP Muusikaprojekt, Hans Sikorski and Eres Edition.

Kangro was given the honorary title of ESSR Honoured Worker in Arts (1984), he has received the Estonian SSR Annual Prize for music (1978, 1988), ESSR State Prize (1982) and All-Union Young Association Prize (1984). He has been awarded the Estonian State Cultural Award in 1996, the Annual Prize of Cultural Endowment of Harjumaa in 1988 and the Annual Prize of the Endowment for Music of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia thrice: in 1996, in 1998 for operas Uku and Vanemuine and Uku and Ecu and in 1999 for opera Heart. In 2000 Kangro was given the scholarship Live and Shine of Cultural Endowment of Estonia  and posthumously the Estonian Republic’s IV Class Order of the White Star in 2001.

© EMIC 2007

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