Angel of Light (Symphony No. 7)

by Einojuhani Rautavaara

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Einojuhani Rautavaara

Angel of Light (Symphony No. 7)

Fennica Gehrman


Angel of Light is part of the ongoing ‘angel series’ I began two decades ago, i.e. a series of orchestral works each with the word ‘angel’ in the title or subtitle. So far it has included Angels and Visitations, the double bass concerto Angel of Dusk, and now the seventh symphony, Angel of Light.

The image of ‘angels’ presented by classical kitsch art, as blondes in their nightdresses with the wings of a swan, is so ingrained that the world of fantasy behind the ‘angel series’ has tended to be misunderstood. For the angels I had in mind were akin to the terrifying, masculine figures bursting with saintly fury of Rainer Maria Rilke, for whom “...ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich — every angel is terrible...” These angels are not figures out of any children’s fairy tale; instead, they reside in the age-old tradition of humankind and the ever-present companion, the archetype of which C.G. Jung says, “ can bear to lose the perfect archetype.” It must accompany us, and we it, today as ever before, if we have a mind to command our lives and understand the world.

I must, however, make it quite clear that these works do not have a ‘programme’. They are absolute music by a composer whose minscape has been crossed by strong, archetypical associations — so strong that the whole work began to hinge on a particular word or two: ‘angels and visitations’ and the rest. It was like a mantra that had to be reiterated (and I mean in its given English form) until it began to radiate energy, musical energy in my case of course.

The calm, epic story of the first movement twice culminates in a grandiose hymn motif (that really does seem to have wings) that is, however, always interrupted — as if to avoid having to perform any real feats of strength. This paves the way for the violent force of the second movement that erupts in many directions in rapidly changing textures. At the end of the movement the variations of the hymn motif by the vibraphone and harp are met by angry comments from the trumpets and outbursts from the whole Orchestra, until the mood of expectation leads straight into the third, slow movement. This is marked ‘come un sogno’ — like a dream. The hymn motif reappears as the texture becomes momentarily denser, but in only barely perceptible flageolet notes on the violins. The dosing movement is finally announced by pillar chords on the brass, from which a singing recitation on the strings begins to be spun. Rising higher and higher towards the light, it gradually pulls the orchestra with it until, having reached the apex, it finds tranquillity in a variation on the hymn motif in broad, melodic spans.

The symphony was commissioned by the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1995 and it was first performed in Bloomington, Indiana.

© Einojuhani Rautavaara

(translated by © Susan Sinisalo)


2222/4331/12/1, strings


Works for Orchestra or Large Ensemble


(original version): Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, cond. David Pickett, Bloomington, April 23, 1995, Fp (revised version): Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Leif Segerstam, Helsinki Festival, Helsinki, August 21, 1995 [in both first performances the symphony was entitled The Bloomington Symphony, and entitled as Angel of Light later].


I Tranquillo, II Molto allegro, III Come un sogno, IV Pesante

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

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