Madetoja, Leevi


Madetoja, Leevi

Symphony No. 3, Op. 55

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Leevi Madetoja
(b. Oulu, 17. February 1887 – d. Helsinki , 6. October 1947)

Symphony No. 3, Op. 55

First Movement p.3
Second Movement p.33
Third Movement p.46
Fourth Movement p.107

Leevi Madetoja was an important figure in the musical life of Finland during the first half of the 20th Century. His major and lasting contribution was as a composer, but he was also an important teacher, professor, conductor, editor, critic, lecturer, a founding member and chairman of the Society of Finnish composers, and Secretary and Chairman of the State Commission of Music. A younger contemporary of Sibelius, he was overshadowed by the great symphonic master but came to be recognized on his own merits as a worthy successor with his personal distinctive music which was a classically refined romanticism, favoring French (rather than German) influences, that at the same time embraced Finnish national characteristics.

Born in Oulu, Finland, his father (a seaman) died in 1888 making it financially very difficult for the family. In order to help out his mother, young Leevi worked at times as a menial laborer. Drawn to music as a boy, he became an accomplished performer on the kantele (a Finnish folk instrument). Studying violin and piano on his own, in secondary school he participated in the choir and also got his first experiences as a conductor. In 1906, Madetoja enrolled at the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki Music Institute, studying music theory, composition and piano. During this time he also received some private lessons from Jean Sibelius, which subsequently influenced Madetoja’s compositional style. Several of his works had successful premieres during his student days and after his graduation in 1910, he undertook further compositional studies in Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Returning to Finland, his career as a composer took a major step forward with the successful premiere of his First Symphony in 1916. At this point however, the majority of his income came from his work as a music critic and music teacher. By 1918 the Finnish government recognized his artistic contributions to the culture of his country by awarding him an artist’s pension for life. Now able to devote most of his time to composition, a major milestone in his career occurred in 1924 with the enthusiastically received premiere of his opera The Ostrobothnians. This first production ran for 16 years with a total of 90 performances, and enjoyed additional performances in Germany, Sweden and Denmark. To this day it is still considered the Finnish national opera and remains a repertoire item in Finland. After the huge success of his opera, Madetoja spent the next six months in his favorite city, Paris, and began composing his Third Symphony. It was completed upon his return to Helsinki in 1926, and premiered by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra on April 8 of that year, with the composer conducting. The scoring is for a moderate size ensemble: double woodwinds, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings. The rather small orchestra (by romantic standards) makes for a light, graceful, and buoyant quality of sound; perhaps as a nod to French musical influences he absorbed in Paris. Although dutifully applauded and lauded at its premiere, to some it lacked the pomposity, grandeur, and monumental sounds of his Symphony No. 2 and the opera The Ostrobothnians. The Third Symphonies’ relative restraint and nod to French taste seemed perplexing. Eventually the Third Symphony came to be recognized as a masterly work taking its rightful place next to those of Sibelius. After his death in 1947, his works continued to be performed in Finland but gradually passed out of the international repertoire. Only recently, with the advent of fine recordings, has there been a reevaluation and resurgence of performances, as spurred on by critical commentary such as the following:

„Beautiful, swirling rainbows of vivid [orchestral] color and his uncanny ability to instantly establish a mood or rapidly sketch vast, ice-covered landscapes“. (American Record Guide, Tom Godell)

„Madetoja (is) a first-rate composer, touched sometimes with genius … who had to wait a long, long time before his work could emerge from under the dominating shadow of his teacher’s [Sibelius’s] seven symphonies.“ (American Record Guide, William Trotter )

„Madetoja achieves moments of soaring ecstasy and searing pain, but without recourse to sentimental or cloying ornamentation. It is, quite simply, some of the most gorgeous song writing I have encountered in a very long time.“ (Fanfare Magazine, Jerry Dubins)

Karl Hinterbichler, University of New Mexico

For performance material please contact Boosey & Hawkes (, Berlin.

Score No.



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