Some composers are easy to pin down, their compositional fingerprints giving them away within a few bars. Distinctive voices like Janáček, Shostakovich or Vaughan Williams speak as much of place as of time and personality. Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass are examples today of the instantly recognisable. Others, like Witold Lutosławski or Alfred Schnittke are more slippery fish, their changing styles dictated by the political climate. So how should we classify the eclectic Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who passed away at the age of 87 earlier this year?
A prolific creator of highly individual music, Rautavaara wrote eight symphonies, nine operas, 14 concertos, plus a wide variety of works for orchestra, soloists and the voice. An insightful writer on music, he taught leading Finnish composers like Kalevi Aho, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg. Yet for all the distinguishing hallmarks of his art, he can appear an elusive figure, his creative development needing to be broken down into three or four stylistic periods. Pioneer or populist? Maverick or mystic? All of these or none of them? And does it really matter as long as we still get to hear the music?