Phase Two and Beyond…

I was supposed to spend a week on this phase of my research project. I certainly didn’t expect to find exactly what I needed within the first hour.


A quick search on Google for the history of Finnish music yielded a rather long and informative article containing more than enough information to begin exploring the musical styles of that culture. The article touched on two different genres of authentic Finnish music: the bulk of its space was filled with a description of the pelimanni genre, which surfaced in the 1700s as a form of agrarian folk music. Since then, it has gradually grown over the centuries to be the dominant domestic genre of music in Finland, and in its instrumentation and compositional style it has taken on some aspects of the folk genres of neighboring Northern European countries. The most notable international influences on pelimanni music were the introduction of the German waltz and Polish polka forms of dance, as well as the arrival of the American gramophone in the first quarter of the twentieth century. However, far more important to the subject of my research is the older genre of Finnish music: Kalevalaic music, named after the epic poem Kalevala whence much of the ancient Finnish mythology is derived. This genre of music is thousands of years old and consists largely of rune singing and poetic recitation, sometimes aided by a zither-like stringed instrument called the kantele. Kalevalaic poetry was very often recited in trochaic tetrameter; that is, every line consists of four “feet,” each of which is a pair of syllables – one stressed, one unstressed, in that order. (If you don’t understand this, just say “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in your head – that’s also trochaic tetrameter.) The ancient origins and primarily vocal instrumentation of the Kalevalaic musical genre especially caught my attention – not only will the culmination of my research yield an original choral composition, but also the archaic style well befits a work of music inspired by the Elves of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The Elves (or Eldar) were the first-born of the Valar, the very first sentient creatures to walk the earth and gaze up at the stars in wonder. Furthermore, Tolkien himself intended the Elvish dialect of Quenya to hold a place in the culture and history of Middle-earth not unlike that of Church Latin in our world, which itself is thousands of years old and is often used in solemn or august settings. So from there, I set out to try to ascertain what Kalevalaic rune singing might have sounded like, fully prepared to delve into the bowels of the Internet to find what I sought.


The very next article I found was entitled “The Influence of the Kalevala on Contemporary Finnish Choral Music.” I could not possibly have found anything more relevant to my research. One of the first pieces of wisdom this article pointed out was that the trochaic tetrameter of Kalevalaic rune singing was often written in 5/4 time signature: six eighth notes mark the first three feet, followed by two longer quarter notes for the final foot. (It just so happens that 5/4 is my favorite time signature. Go figure.) The article goes on to discuss various musical devices used by Finnish composers to try to capture the texture of the ancient rune singing – open fifth intervals, pedal tones, call-and-response between parts, just to name a few – while all along I took mental notes to make sure all of these elements would have a presence in my own final composition. What was especially helpful about this article was that it provided five examples of contemporary Finnish choral works that display these and other elements, making it clear that they were heavily influenced by the ancient Kalevalaic music. Even better, three of those five can be found on YouTube – reading about music is useful, but it’s nothing compared with actually listening to the song with your own ears. Music is funny that way, I guess. (For those of you who are interested, my favorite of these exhibitioned pieces is “Venematka” by Jean Sibelius. You can listen to it at


Following this, I naively figured that I had done enough research to begin my composition. I worked hard on it for several days, and it was near its completion when I realized that I had barely done ten hours of work on my project. Something was going to have to change. I turned to this blog to see if I could find any inspiration from some of your posts, and I noticed that Johnny Willing had commented on my first post. He expressed his interest in my research, and also (among other things) gave me a link to an online course in Quenya, which I knew would be the perfect thing to¬† help fill the rest of my 80 hours. So far I have made it through the introduction and lesson 1 out of 20, and proceeding at a suitable pace. Immersing myself in the intricacies of this language did help me in an unforseen way – after all of my research on Finnish music, I had lost sight somewhat of the initial goal of my project. I am not writing Finnish music. I am writing Elvish music. It is true that as Quenya was inspired by the Finnish language, so too my style of composing should be inspired to some degree by the music of that culture. But it should be no more than that – an inspiration – and it is up to me to blend that area of influence with the majesty and decorum of Tolkien’s Elves. So perhaps I will have to change some core aspects of the piece. In any case, I look forward to seeing what the remainder of my research will yield in the coming weeks.