P irjo Kukkonen suggests that tango lyrics reflect ‘the personality, mentality and identity of the Finnish people in the same way as folk poetry does.’ The central themes of Finnish tango lyrics are love, sorrow, nature and the countryside. Many tangos express a longing for the old homestead, or a distant land of happiness... Many critics see Satumaa as a prototype of the Finnish tango. Satumaa (Fairytale Land) is about a distant land across the wide ocean. But only birds can fly to this land of happiness; wingless man must remain chained to the soil.”
Pekka Gronow, Yleisradio Finland.
S atumaa is the quintessential Finnish tango. It was written by Unto Mononen, published in 1955. The most famous recording is probably the one made by Reijo Taipale in 1962. The song has been recorded countless times, mainly by male Finnish tango singers. The most unlikely artist performing it is perhaps Frank Zappa, who played it as a request at a live show recorded in Helsinki in 1974. It was released on ‘You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2’.”
[50-sec clip, Aulis Sallinen, Introduction & Tango Overture, Op. 74b, Virtuosi di Kuhmo, 1.8MB MP3]
[50-sec clip, Aulis Sallinen, Introduction & Tango Overture, Op. 74b, Virtuosi di Kuhmo, 1.5MB MP3]
Autumn drizzle and winter sunsets: symbols of hopes dashed. A world devoid of people; lilypads that stretch as far as the eye can see: symbols of a vegetal supremacy that will triumph over humankind when we have finally destroyed civilization. A wandering piano traipses through uncertain minor keys: symbol of life’s vicissitudes. There’s a fado-like, saudades-like feel to this beautiful, troubling piece—concertino, concerto-like. The boundary between small chamber ensemble writing and chamber orchestral or symphonic writing is blurred.
This piece was originally composed in 1997 for piano quintet, commissioned by the Kitakyushu International Music Festival in Japan. Subsequent versions came to have larger orchestrations—the one on this CD, for example.
Sallinen’s notations on the score say that the Introduction is derived from a theme from the end of his 7th Symphony—the three-note piano figure that sprouts and pervades this whole piece. Six minutes in, we get an indication in the piano left-hand of what is to come: a change from 3/4 to 4/4 time (or, really, a polyrhythm 8/8 insidiously beat as 3-3-2 by some of the parts, against the majority in 4/4).
The lyricism persists—now with more vigor than before. And then we reach the end. The unresolved chord drifts off—these characters in the Introduction & Tango Overture were itinerants who’ve moved on? In any case, it is not a death or a real end; there is no conclusion here, only an implacable regard. Life! Stuff happens! Sometimes cinematically.
Or maybe it’s a sort of fatalism. This life will be lived by each of us one time only, and therefore Epicureanism and Exoticism are ways of asserting our cultural uniqueness and also ways of defying our eventual losses and mortality. Carpe diem! Exotisk Finnish Tango!
A avan meren tuolla puolen jossakin on maa,
Missä onnen kaukorantaan laine liplattaa—
Missä kukat kauneimmat luo aina loistettaan;
Siellä huolet huomisen voi jäädä unholaan.
Oi jospa kerran sinne satumaahan käydä vois,
Niin sieltä koskaan lähtisi en linnun lailla pois.
Vaan siivetönnä en voi lentää vanki olen maan;
Vain aatoksin mi kauas entää sinne käydä saan.
[There’s a land beyond the vast sea
Where waves lap the shores of happiness—
Where beautiful flowers always bloom;
Where worries of tomorrow can be forgotten.
Oh, if I could but go to Satumaa, that fairytale land,
Never would I leave it like the birds.
But without wings I cannot fly—I’m a prisoner, earthbound;
Only in far-reaching thoughts can I ever go there.]”
Satumaa, Unto Mononen
- Virtuosi di Kuhmo. Aulis Sallinen: Chamber Musics III, IV, V. (CPO, 2007.)
- Grigera D, Monteleone G. ¿Qué dice el Tango? Aguilar-Galella, 2004.
- Kukkonen P. Tango Nostalgia: The Language of Love and Longing. Helsinki Univ, 1996. ISBN 951-570-286-0.
- Sallinen page at Chester Novello
- Sallinen page at FIMIC
- Virtuosi di Kuhmo website
- Kuhmo Arts Centre
- Finnish Music Information Centre (FIMIC) website
- Hakasalo I. The melancholy Finnish tango. FIMIC essay.
- Jaakkola J. The Finnish Tango: Its history and characteristics. FIMIC essay.
- Pirjo Kukkonen page at Univ Helsinki
- DSM. Kuhmo: Festivalism in the Finnish Forest. CMT blog, 05-JAN-2007.
- DSM. Portuguese Baroque: A não perder! CMT blog, 12-JAN-2008.