Lepo Sumera

Lepo Sumera

Lepo Sumera (May 8 1950 - June 2 2000) was an Estonian composer who studied with Veljo Tormis in his teens and, from 1968, with the renowned Professor Heino Eller at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (then Tallinn State Conservatory). After Prof. Eller’s death (1970) he studied with Heino Jürisalu, graduating 1973. He took post-graduation studies at the Moscow Conservatory (1979-1982) with Prof. Roman Ledenev.

Sumera was an admired symphonist and a pioneer in electro-acoustic and computer music, he was also much sought after as a chamber music composer and the musicians frequently asked him to write new pieces for them. Film directors appreciated his skill to create the atmosphere and delineate the character. Lepo Sumera’s music has been performed in most European countries as well as in the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia.

Musical Language

Some critics have call him a musical chameleon. In his music for films or dramas he enjoyed writing a waltz or a piece of rock music if required. In his works for concert stage he would employ new stylistic means if his vision required them.

From the very beginning, his musical language demonstrates an individual approach to contemporary composition techniques. For example, in the late 1960s he studied Arnold Schoenberg’s counterpoint, and wrote some neat pieces in a strict 12-tone system. In a few years he was convinced that they would not enter his worklist. He admired Olivier Messiaen (and studied his composition technique too) and Luciano Berio’s "Sinfonia", but copied neither of them in his own "Fughetta and Postlude", "In memoriam", or "Play for the Wind Instruments". He would use a particular technique in a particular section as a means for certain musical characters, contrasted with other means and characters (and in some of his works the ironic, postmodern attitude emerges). Yet the texture is always coherent and different devices employed in the work are parts of the whole.

A larger picture of Sumera’s music reveals that the seemingly controversial elements are integrated in his idiom in a highly idiosyncratic way, the essentials of which never changed: the acoustic sensibility; the ambiguity of musical characters; the autonomous expressive power of the overall form.

He retained these essentials in electro-acoustic music, which became increasingly important during the last decade of his life. In his film scores he had been using electronic means since the mid-1970s when the cultural ideology refused to acknowledge that there was electronic music for concert stages, and there were no electronic music studios in Estonia (the composers interested in that area used the limited possibilities of recording technology).The situation changed in the 1990s. Sumera was particularly fascinated by live electronics. As a composer with a lot of experience with film directors, he naturally got interested in multimedia. Alongside the "Cello Concerto" and the "Sixth Symphony", the multimedia composition "Heart Affairs" is the top achievement of his last years.

The technological side of the work is most complicated and its origin is perhaps the most notable example of the composer's imagination combined with a shrewd analytical mind. Lepo Sumera had his heart examined for the first time in 1997. He saw the echocardiogram of his heart and was given the chance to listen to its sounds and rhythms. He recognized the artistic qualities of the image. Both audio and video material of his Heart Affairs are derived from a human heart – not from the composer's heart, but from a perfectly healthy one. The work is more than a picture of a single heart; it depicts the fragility and beauty of human existence.

Symphonies

The symphony orchestra was Sumera’s favourite medium, and the symphony became the major genre in his output. As a genre, it matches Sumera's individual talents, his ability to ‘dive’ into the musical material, to create extensive formal arches. His use of orchestral colours displays remarkable subtlety and a power of imagination. At the same time, timbre has an important dramatic function in his music.

From the stylistic point of view, the first two symphonies (1981; 1984) are closely related; diatonic modes, long sections of motivic repetition and variation that appear in complex polyrhythmic and tonally ambiguous textures are characteristic of his works written in 1981-86. Since the late 1980s he preferred chromatic synthetic modes, some of them created by him, and paid special attention to the variety of harmonic colours. In that period he wrote his "Third Symphony" (1988) and "Fourth Symphony (“Serena Borealis”)" (1992). The complex textures in the anxious, explosive "Fifth Symphony" (1995) are based on an extensive use of aleatoric counterpoint (determined aleatorics).

With the "Third Symphony", ‘endless’ meditative sonic fields and melodic lines appeared in Sumera’s music. In his translucent Sixth Symphony (2000), which remained his last work, we find the most fascinating, enigmatic, and tragic meditative music he ever wrote. His symphonies reflect his most serious and painful experience. In contrast, many of his choral and chamber music compositions reveal the person with a vivid sense of humour behind them. For instance, "Mushroom Cantata" (with its text consisting of Latin names of mushrooms), "Play for Ten" and "Songs from Estonian Matrimonial Lyrics" have a sunny mood.

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