Composers Datebook®

Rautavaara's Fifth

Composers Datebook - May 14, 2024


In the 1980s, the Finnish Broadcasting Company had come up with the idea of commissioning a whole evening’s worth of orchestral pieces by native composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, which, when taken together, would form a conventional concert program of overture, concerto and symphony. These three works have come to be called the Angel Trilogy, since each of them has a title with the word “angel” in it.

Rautavaara’s Fifth Symphony, with the working title Monologue with Angels, premiered on today’s date in 1986, was originally to be the symphonic conclusion of this triple commission. But Rautavaara dropped the title, and his Symphony No. 7, (Angel of Light), ended up being the third part of the Angel Trilogy, alongside the overture Angels and Visitations and the double-bass concerto Angel of Dusk.

If you asked the mystical Rautavaara why he changed his mind, he would probably have said it really wasn’t his idea at all. Rautavaara believed his compositions already existed in “another reality,” as he said, and his job was just to bring it into our world in one piece.

“I firmly believe that compositions have a will of their own,” he said, “even though some people smile at the concept.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016): Symphony No. 5; Leipzig Radio Symphony; Max Pommer, conductor; BMG 62671

On This Day


  • 1885 - German conductor and composer, Otto Klemperer, in Breslau

  • 1917 - American composer Lou Harrison, in Portland, Oregon


  • 1847 - German composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, 41, in Berlin. She was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn.


  • 1723 - Handel: opera Flavio, Re de' Langobardi (Flavio, King of the Langobards), in London at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: May 25)

  • 1832 - Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), in London, conducted by the composer

  • 1914 - R. Strauss: ballet Josephslegende, in Paris

  • 1919 - Debussy: Saxophone Rhapsody (orchestral version by Roger-Ducasse), at a Société Nationale de Musique concert conducted by André Caplet at the Salle Gaveau in Paris

  • 1923 - Holst: The Perfect Fool, in London at Covent Garden Opera House

  • 1941 - Cage: Third Construction for four percussionists, in San Francisco

  • 1942 - Copland: Lincoln Portrait, by the Cincinnati Symphony conducted by André Kostelanetz, with William Adams the narrator

  • 1953 - American premiere of Stravinsky's opera, The Rake’s Progress, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with the composer conducting. The world premiere performance occurred September 11, 1951, in Venice, again with the composer conducting.

  • 1966 - Ginastera: Concerto per Corde, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting

  • 1986 - Rautavaara: Symphony No. 5, in Helsinki, by Finnish Radio Symphony, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting

  • 1987 - Alvin Singleton: Shadows for orchestra, by the Atlanta Symphony, Robert Shaw conducting

  • 1992 - James MacMillan: Sinfonietta at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, by the London Sinfonietta, Martyn Brabbins conducting

  • 1993 - Philip Glass: opera Orphée (based on the Jean Cocteau film), by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts


  • 1719 - Handel is commanded by the Lord Chamberlain (Thomas Holles, Duke of Newcastle), to hire singers for the recently established Royal Academy of Music's productions of Italian operas (Gregorian date: May 25)

  • 1974 - Final London concert performance by conductor Leopold Stokowski, 92, conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall: The program was Symphony No. 4 by Brahms, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams, the Merry Waltz by Otto Klemperer, and the Rapsodie Espagnole by Ravel. This was not Stokowski's “final” concert appearance, however; he was on the podium again in Venice in July of that year, and continued to make studio recordings. He died September 13, 1977, at 95 in his house in Nether Wallop, Hampshire, England.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®