Aulis Sallinen is one of the most prominent figures in Finnish music, and his music often focuses on figures from Finnish history. While his lyric writing shows a strong Sibelius influence, there is also a certain acerbic touch in both his subject matter and his music that is strongly reminiscent of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Weill. His opera The Red Line, in particular, has a sardonic, slightly bitter tone that strongly resemblesRead more Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Like Weill, he also used jazz elements, as in the ironic song in Kullervo in which Kullervo learns that he has slept with his own sister.
He first studied the violin and then piano, and his interest in composing began when he started improvising jazz and themes and variations on the piano. At the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, he studied composition under Aarre Merikanto and Joonas Kokkonen, and upon graduating, was the Administrator of the Finnish Radio Symphony, a position he held for nearly ten years. His first published composition was his 1962 Mauermusik, a tribute to a young German man who was killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall. It is a powerful work with highly expressive writing, and brought him to international attention. Aside from its political content, it was hailed as an example of how contemporary classical music can be expressive and approachable. In 1963, he returned to the Academy as a professor, a post which he held for thirteen years.
His first operatic composition, Ratsumies, was written for the Savonlinna Opera Festival, and premiered in 1974. It was a major success, and many attributed the sudden spurt of major Finnish opera productions to its success, and that of Kokkonen's Viimeiset kiusaukset. This was followed by a commission for the Finnish National Opera, Punainen viiva (The red line), for which he wrote the libretto himself, and was premiered in 1978. It was also successful, and in 1981 he was named Professor of Arts for Life by the Finnish government. His next opera, Kunningas lahtee Raskaan (The King goes to France), was a joint commission from the Covent Garden, the BBC, and the Savonlinna Opera Festival, where it premiered in 1984. His fourth work, Kullervo, based on the legend that inspired Sibelius to one of his great nationalist works, was originally written for the Finnish National Opera, but since the opening of their new house was delayed, it was instead premiered in Los Angeles (1992).
In contrast to his operas, which are nearly all somber, even bleak, his instrumental and orchestral music has a strong spiritual element and is often even rhapsodic, as in his Chamber Music II or Sunrise Serenade, or even playful, as in the Nocturnal Dances. While his symphonies are generally more austere, particularly the Fifth and Sixth, they, too, show a strong lyrical element, reminiscent of Sibelius. As the title of the Sunrise Serenade suggests, he often finds the inspiration for these works in visual elements rather than dramatic or episodic ones. Read less