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Veljo Tormis


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Veljo Tormis (b. August 7, 1930) is an Estonian considered to be one of Estonia’s most important composers of the 20th century. Internationally, his fame arises chiefly from his extensive body of choral music, which exceeds 500 individual choral songs, most of it . The great majority of these pieces are based on traditional ancient Estonian folksongs (regilaulud), either textually, melodically, or merely stylistically.

His composition most often performed outside of Estonia, “Curse Upon Iron” (Raua needmine) (1972), invokes ancient Shamanistic traditions to construct an allegory about the evils of war. This piece was banned by the Soviet government, along with many other controversial works by Tormis.

More recently, Tormis’s works have been lionized in worldwide performances and several recordings by Tõnu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. In the 1990s, Tormis also began to receive commissions from some of the pre-eminent a cappella choruses in the West such as the King’s Singers and the Hilliard Ensemble.

Tormis has famously said of his settings of traditional melodies and verse: “It is not I who make use of , it is folk music that makes use of me.” His work demonstrates his conviction that traditional Estonian and other Balto-Finnic music represents a treasure which must be guarded and nourished, and that culture may be kept alive through the medium of song.


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