Ester Mägi

b. January 10, 1922, Tallinn
d. May 14, 2021
Member of the Estonian Composers’ Union since 1952

Relying on traditions, Ester Mägi’s idiom has gone through a modernisation process during half a century, yet retaining intrinsic modesty. The persistent features of her work are fine sense of form, transparent texture and subtle or objective mode of expression. Mostly her works are based on brief thematic cores borrowed from or characteristic to Estonian folk melodies. Variational forms or variational treatment of musical material is predominant in her work.

Mägi’s very first, 1950s works bear a stamp of National Romanticism. In 1960s music, the influences of Estonian folk music increase – diatonic modes and varying of brief motifs. From the end of 1960s modernistic features – polytonality and extended tonality, colourful harmony and excited rhythmic – begin to enrich Mägi’s idiom. Since the 1980ies stylisation elements emerge.

Chamber music and choral works form the bigger half of Mägi’s oeuvre, but also the Symphony, one of her few orchestral opuses, stands out as a remarkable work in Estonian music.

Ester Mägi graduated from Tallinn State Conservatoire in 1952 as a student of Prof. Mart Saar and continued with postgraduate studies in Moscow Conservatoire in 1951–1954 with Prof. Visarion Shebalin. In 1954–1984, from 1977 as an associate Professor, she lectured music theory at Tallinn State Conservatoire. In 1999 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.

Ester Mägi’s works have been performed in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Russia, United States of America and Australia. Her chamber music has been played by renowned Estonian and foreign musical collectives and artists; her orchestral works have been conducted by Neeme Järvi, Eri Klas, Peeter Lilje, Paul Mägi, Roman Matsov, Nikolai Alekseyev, Emin Khachaturian and others. Mägi’s choral songs belong to the repertoire of numerous Estonian choirs and have been awarded at many competitions, including regular choral song contest of the Estonian National Male Choir and the Georg Ots Music Days new vocal works contest in 1985, 1986 and 1988.

Ester Mägi’s work has been recorded by Melodiya, Estonian Radio, Raven Records, Finlandia Records, Alba Records, Antes Edition and others. Four author CDs have been released: LP "Ester Mägi. Bucolics", Melodiya 1988; CD "Ester Mägi. A musical portrait", Antes Edition 1998; CD "Ester Mägi. Tree of Song", Alba Records 2005, CD "Ester Mägi. Orchestral Music", Toccata Classics 2007. The scores of Ester Mägi have been published by Muzyka, Sovetsky Kompozitor, Eres Editon, edition 49, SP Muusikaprojekt and other publishing houses.

Ester Mägi has been awarded the Prize of the Soviet Estonia (1980), Annual Music Award of the ESSR (1985), Annual Music Award of Estonia (1991), Estonian Culture Award (1996), Lifetime Achievement Award of the Estonian National Culture Foundation (1999), Annual Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (2001) for her creative achievements, Annual Prize of Estonian Music Council (2008) and Culture Prize of the Republic of Estonia for the longtime outstanding creative activity (2014). She has also been awarded the titles of Honorary Art Worker (1971) and People’s Artist (1984) of ESSR. In 1998 Ester Mägi received the 5th class order of the National Coat Arms.

© EMIC 2007

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