Meet the Composers


I am beginning my doctoral studies at the Sibelius Academy this autumn, and the first concert will take place next spring. The main idea of my concert series is to showcase Finnish women composers from the 19th century onwards. (Well, there were maybe three composers in total in Finland before the 19th century, so... And to be honest, even in the 19th century there was no Finland yet. But who's counting.) To kickstart the year I thought I'd introduce these ladies to you. Here they are:

  • Iida Antola (1990-)

The youngest composer (or the last born) of the concert, she is quite the multitalent. Brilliant singer, choir conductor and pianist, Iida also composes - probably because otherwise she would have actual free time. Her three songs for soprano and piano to L. Onerva's poems are hauntingly beautiful.

  • Aili Elina Auer (1902 - 1968)

She is a mystery to the internet. Aili might have lived in St. Petersburg for a while, and her manuscript collection can be found in the Finnish National Archives, but so far I know no more of her. She has set some charming songs to poems by Aila Meriluoto.

  • Greta Dahlström (1887 - 1978)

Greta was a music teacher, folk music collector, choir conductor and a composer. She gathered and notated music of the Finnish-Swedish tradition with a passion. Like many of the women composers I've discovered, she was such a multi-talent and did not apparently need to rest, ever. She spoke four languages fluently, conducted so many choirs and was active in societies, taught music and English, and composed especially choir music and songs.

  • Carita Holmström (1954 -)

Carita is a pianist, singer and composer. She moves fluently from one genre to the next - she has composed and performed classical music, jazz and pop. Her four songs to poems by Edith Södergran perfectly capture the poet's eccentricity and playful eroticism. Carita teaches at the Sibelius Academy.

  • Lilli Leinberg (1836 - 1922)

Her real name was Hilma Rosaura Thuneberg, but she apparently preferred Lilli. Lilli is mentioned on her husband's wikipedia page as a composer, but not many of her works remain. I found one of her songs from the Finnish National Archives, a very charming one-page affair, that will end the recital.

  • Minna Leinonen (1977 -)

Minna's award-winning works Sunken and Kevätkesän avaruus bring some drama to the second half of the recital. She is as comfortable composing small-scale songs as experimental operas. Minna is interested in expanding her horizons, combining music to other fields such as acrobatics and video art.

  • Helvi Leiviskä (1902 - 1982)

She was probably the first woman composer in Finland who was widely appreciated and accepted. Many of the composers before her (and after) were seen as lesser beings, but Helvi was a true force to be reckoned with. Still, alongside composing she worked in the Sibelius Academy library to support herself, no matter how well her symphonies were reviewed. Unfortunately many critics could not get past the fact that she was a woman - they simply had to keep wondering about that.

  • Ida Moberg (1859 - 1947)

Composer and music teacher, Ida was - as far as we know - the first Finnish woman to compose a symphony. She composed also many other large-scale works, including a buddhist opera. She composed also many songs that seem to have all gone missing from an archive. What happened to them appears to be a mystery. This kind of disappointments keep repeating when looking for women composer's works - many of them have been lost, because someone thought they're not worth preserving.

  • Laura Netzel (1839 - 1927)

Talking of multi-talents, Laura was quite the ticket. Composer, brilliant concert pianist, conductor, harpist, concert organizer and social activist, she lived quite a busy and cosmopolitan life mainly in Sweden. Born in the heart of Savo, she moved to Sweden as a baby and did her life's work there. Laura composed a wide array of works from songs and piano pieces to chamber music, orchestral and choral works. In addition to her musical successes, she was an active advocate of poor children' and working women's rights.

  • Heidi Sundblad-Halme (1903 - 1973)

This powerhouse doesn't pale in comparison to Laura. Heidi was a composer, conductor, piano teacher, and the founder of the Helsinki women's orchestra. She composed orchestral and choral works as well as plenty of teaching material for her students, and her pioneering women's orchestra earned her a Pro Finlandia -medal in 1963.

  • Erna Tauro (1916 - 1993)

Pianist, theater musician and composer, Erna worked as a bar pianist after the World War II - an unusual but brave career choice for a woman in those days. Her good friend Tove Jansson asked her to compose five songs to poems about the Moomins, and one of these became a huge hit that is still extremely well known in Finland today. Not everyone knows that Höstvisa is about Moomins, though... let alone composed by a woman. Which is why it absolutely had to be included in this program.

  • Agnes Tschetschulin (1859 - 1942)

A violinist and composer of international renown, Agnes was a true cosmopolitan of her time. She was one of the founders and played second violin in the Marie Soldat -string quartet, and taught and performed around Europe. Unfortunately most of her works have not survived, since as a woman it was nearly impossible to get anything published. All the manuscripts are missing. What's left is a bunch of music that was published during her life, and the pieces that survive show the enormity of the loss.