Eino Tamberg

May 27, 1930 Tallinn - December 24, 2010 Tallinn
Member of the Estonian Composers' Union since 1955
Member of the Estonian Cinema Association since 1968
Member of the Estonian Theatre Union since 1982

Eino Tamberg is a composer with a flair for the theatrical, a romanticist and Estonian music’s bard of love. Music for orchestra and the stage occupy a central position in his work: he is the writer of four symphonies, nine concertos for solo instrument and many works for the stage.

Tamberg’s neoclassical-tinged Concerto Grosso (1956) was one of the seminal works in the “new wave” that marked the return of modernism to post-Stalinist Estonian music, and was also performed at the Prague Spring Festival in 1959. Social reality and current musical trends are not the most important influence on Tamberg’s work, which, even through changing times, resounds with the beauty and pain of being human. Love is the all-pervading theme of Tamberg’s work, and literary and poetic experience is also deeply reflected.

The composer himself has divided his work into five periods. Even in the first period (1955–1965), he showed an interest in symphonic music and stage genres. Though Russian symphonic influences could be heard in earlier work (Shostakovich, Prokofiev), the composer was in these years forging a unique personal idiom – a musical discourse founded on nuclear intervals, personalized timbres, exalted rhythms and euphonic symbolic patterns, as if yearning for ideal worlds.

In the second period (1967–1978), Tamberg experimented with the possibilities of dodecaphonic music (”Toccata” for symphony orchestra, 1967; ballet “Joanna tentata”, 1970), but tonal thinking and a dramaturgical musical concept continued to be defining characteristics. Many important works for orchestra and stage were completed: Trumpet Concerto No. 1 (1972), opera “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1974), Symphony No. 1 (1978) and others.

Tamberg’s style became more intimate in the post-hiatal third period (1981–1983), and his soundscapes more finely sculpted. Modal thinking and minimalist influences entered the idiom, giving rise to works that are considered part of the pantheon of Estonian music and were inspired directly or indirectly by the theme of love: Violin Concerto (1981), oratorio “Amores” (1981), opera “Flight” (1983).

The fourth period (1984–1990) was a time of searching. Folk tunes and its developmental devices – variability and heterophony – again came into Tamberg’s music: wind quintet “Shepherd’s Melodies” (1984), Symphonies No. 2 (1986) and No. 3 (1989).

In the fifth period (1991–1999), Tamberg became free of the formal and tonal canons. The result was a work as a free sequence of aural events, a “journey” whose end terminus could not be predicted. The number of parts became smaller and the texture more detailed. The possibilities of tone colour, rhythm and polyphony rose in predominance. Silence is often more important than bursts of emotion in Tamberg’s 1990s music, stoppage more important than forward momentum. Symbols of beauty and love receded to the background or flitted by as melancholy shadows. Not a few of the works of this period sound like a philosophical commentary on previous work. Symphony No. 4 (1998) is representative of this period.

In recent years, Eino Tamberg’s musical idiom has become terse, aphoristic. The concerto genre with its monological approach has become prominent. The new style is reflected in an intriguing manner in chamber works as well, where detail and timbre are allowed to have their say. It seems like the composer is only interested in the most general states of energy: motion and frozen motion, aliveness and lifelessness. The main tone of the music is playful or ironic, and it seems that doing battle against routine in musical discourse is more important than expression.

Eino Tamberg’s musical education began playing piano at home and continued at piano lessons under the tutelage of Valentine Riives. From 1947–1953, Tamberg studied composition at the Tallinn Conservatoire with Prof. Eugen Kapp. Tamberg has served as musical director at Tallinn Drama Theatre (1952–1953) and as sound director at Estonian Radio (1953–1959). From 1960–1969, he was adviser at the Estonian Composers’ Union. Since 1968, Eino Tamberg has a composition faculty member at the Estonian Academy of Music; he was head of the composition department 1978–2005 (including a sabbatical), and professor since 1983. Thirty-one Estonian composers have graduated during his tenure, including Raimo Kangro, Mari Vihmand, Toivo Tulev, Peeter Vähi, Margo Kõlar and Alo Mattiisen.

Eino Tamberg’s music has been performed in many European countries (Germany, Finland, Sweden, France, Denmark, Norway, etc), Canada and the US and in great (then-)Soviet concert halls in Moscow, Leningrad, Riga, Yerevan, Novosibirsk, Tbilisi and other cities. His orchestral works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Göteborg Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Oslo Symphony Orchestra, the Leningrad Philharmonic Academic Symphony Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of the USSR, the Moscow State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra with many renowned conductors (Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Kurt Masur, Valery Gergiev, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jevgeny Svetlanov, Kirill Kondrashin, Dmitri Kitayenko, Maksim Shostakovich, Lev Markiz, Nikolai Alexeev, Eri Klas, Peeter Lilje, Arvo Volmer and others) conducting.

Many of Tamberg’s works have been composed for world famous artists including the Canadian chamber orchestra Lyra Borealis (“Journey for Strings,” premiered in Toronto in 1990), the quintet Stockholm Chamber Brass (“Music for Five”, premiered in 1993 in Verona) and the German trumpeter Matthias Höfs (Trumpet Concerto No. 2, premiered in Tampere in 1999). Trumpet Concerto No. 1 written in 1972, was commissioned by the Russian trumpet virtuoso Timofei Dokshizer. The piece has been performed tens of times on the world’s great stages, soloists including, among others, Håkan Hardenberger, Philip Smith and Rolf Smedvig. “Celebration Fanfares” was commissioned by the players of the New York Philharmonic and Neeme Järvi for the UN’s 50th anniversary; it premiered in 1995 in New York at a concert dedicated to the event. In October 2003, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with Neeme Järvi conducting performed for the first time the new work “Festive Music,” commissioned for the opening of a new wing of the Detroit concert hall. The Helsinki Festival (“Waiting,” 1991), the David Oistrakh Festival (Flute Concerto, 2003), the International Pianists Festival “Klaver” (“Non-stop and Postlude for four,” 2004), and the Estonian Music Days festival, among many others, have commissioned works by Tamberg.
Tamberg is also linked by close collaboration to Estonian artists such as the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the NYYD Ensemble, the Jaan Tamm Wind Quintet, Camerata Tallinn, the Tallinn Saxophone Quartet, the mezzo-soprano Leili Tammel, saxophonist Villu Veski, clarinettist Toomas Vavilov, bassoon player Martin Kuuskmann, cellist Aare Tammesalu and many others. For the 1997/1998 concert season, Tamberg was the resident composer at the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. The composer’s operas and ballets have been produced by the Estonian National Opera and Tartu Vanemuine Theatre.

Record label Antes has produced two CDs (1997, 2000) and BIS one CD (2010) with Eino Tamberg’s works, in 2009, his trumpet concertos were released on CD. Composer’s music has also been featured on Melodiya, Finlandia, BIS, Estonian Radio and other records. A picture of Tamberg’s life and work is provided by the book “Sentimental Journey. Eino Tamberg” published in spring 2005 by the Estonian Music Information Centre.

In 1960, Eino Tamberg received the honorary title of Estonian SSR Merited Art Worker and in 1975, People’s Artist of the Estonian SSR.

Eino Tamberg received the first prize at the World Youth and Student Festival Competition in Moscow (1957, for Concerto Grosso), the Soviet Estonia Prize (1967), the Estonian SSR State Prize (1987), the Estonian SSR annual prize for music (1979, 1984) and the Estonian State Cultural Award twice: in 1999 for Symphony No. 4 and in 2006 for outstanding long-time creative activity. He was also awarded the Annual Prize of the Endowment for Music of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia twice: in 1998 for Symphony No. 4 and in 2002 for the stage work “The Mirror Conspiracy” (short ballet “Going into a mirror” and short opera “I’d like to become a human”). For his teaching of music and lifelong contribution to musical arts Eino Tamberg got the Annual Prize of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia in 2005. In 2010, Tamberg received the Composition Prize of Estonian Music Council.

© EMIC 2005
(updated October 2010)

The texts on the EMIC's homepage are protected by the copyright law. They can be used for non-commercial purposes referring to the author (when specified) and source (Estonian Music Information Centre).