Beloved composer Veljo Tormis has deceased. His contribution to the Estonian choral tradition and world choral music is invaluable. Although having started in neoclassicist style – good example is his Overture No. 2 that was the first work of an Estonian composer performed at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1961 – he later took the usage of Estonian folk music to a new level by bringing into play modernist composition techniques. In addition to Estonian folk song, he uses also melodies of our other kindred nations: the Ingrians, Setus, Estonians, Latvians, Livonians, Finns, Russians, Bulgarians and other peoples. His original style derived from Estonian folk song regilaul has gained the worldwide recognition.
Veljo Tormis. Photo: Tõnu Tormis
Among his numerous works two extensive cycles come forth: Estonian Calendar Songs („Eesti kalendrilaulud“, 1967) based on the folk melodies of different Estonian counties and tied to important dates in the folk calendar and Forgotten Peoples („Unustatud rahvad“, 1970–1989) based on the folklore of the endangered Baltic and Finnic peoples. In one of Estonian music’s greatest works, Tormis’ cantata-ballet from 1980, Estonian Ballads (“Eesti ballaadid”, traditional text arranged by Ülo Tedre), various narrative Estonian folk songs intertwine into a dramatic epic saga with a symphonic texture and philosophical message.
Veljo Tormis began his music studies as an organ pupil of August Topman at the Tallinn Conservatoire (1943–1944), and continud with Salme Krull at the Tallinn Higher Music School graduating in 1947. In 1949–1950, he studied choir conducting at the same school, in 1950–1951 he was a composition student of Professor Villem Kapp at the Tallinn Conservatoire. Tormis earned his composer’s diploma at the Moscow Conservatoire from 1951 to 1956 as a student of Professor Visarion Shebalin.
Tormis has worked at Tallinn Music High School as a teacher of music theory and composition (1956–1960), in 1956–1969 he was engaged as an adviser of the Estonian Composers’ Union and 1974–1989 as a vice-president of the ECU. Since 1969, Tormis was a freelance composer.