play Four Songs of Hellaakoski
Four Songs of Hellaakoski program note
FOUR SONGS OF HELLAAKOSKI
Now available from Alba Records on the new Hämäläis-Osakunnan Laulajat album Among The Leaves (Lehdellä).
Aaro Hellaakoski (1893-1952) was a poet and a pioneer of literary modernism in Finland. These songs were commissioned by Hämäläis-Osakunnan Laulajat (HOL) in 2004. They perform them here in a live recording and the studio recording by the same group will be available later this year. Though I comprehend these four poems pretty well, translating them is still a bit beyond the scope of my Finnish so my good friend Reeta Holma, who originally suggested Hellaakoski to me, translated them for me. I will add those translations to this page at some point, but for now a general description will have to suffice:
Ensimmäinen Tähti (First Star) is full of descriptions of Finnish nature near summer's end. In much of Finland, the summers are notably starless. Hence, the appearance of the first star would indicate the shortening of days (the winters are notably sunless). The word tähti means star. Something like this in the last strain:
"Summer was discreet
She left without saying goodbye
Immediately upon the appearance of the
Fevered, first star."
The general mood is characterized by a peaceful description of simple, beautiful things in nature, tinged with a hint of loss or regret.
Kuutamo Metsässä (Moonlight in the Forest) is atmospheric, describing "strange light" and filled with ideas of disappearing into moonlight. I reflect these images of light and color harmonically, and build a sound world that evokes the mood of the poem.
Sade (Rain) is more abstract and is full of images of light and dark, rain and pavement, and distant sounds on empty streets. The word sataa would literally mean "rains", as in "it rains." The other repeated word in my setting is "soi". It comes from the verb soitaa, which means to sound, to play, or to ring. In this case he is describing the sounds of the rain. But, again, this poem is much more abstract and characterized by sound than by a particular meaning.
Niin pieniksi. The title, loosely translated, means "How small", but the grammatical case of the word small is difficult to translate. But it is helpful to consider the first line: Niin pieniksi kasvoimme askettäin, or "how small we grew, recently." This is a straight-ahead love poem. The B section:
My eyes cannot see
From one end of joy to another
It ends by repeating the first line with a slight change that might translate, "So small we grew..." The music then continues the thought, as neither Finnish nor English can.