Sunday, 6 August 2017

Minna - Piano Quintet No. 1

My first piano quintet “Minna” is also the first quintet out of a trilogy consisting of three large form works with the theme “Woman’s Destiny”. The trilogy is a commission by the Kokonainen Festival and the upcoming works will be premiered on the festivals of 2018 and 2019.

The first quintet “Minna - Pictures from the life of Minna Canth" will gets its world premiere this year on the 20th of August at the Kokonainen Festival. It will be played by the incredible musicians Linda Suolahti, Anna Husgafvel, Mari Viluksela, Sara Viluksela and Tiina Karakorpi. As the name says, it is a selection of images from the turbulent and fascinating life of the first famous Finnish feminist Minna Canth (1844-1897).

A sneak peek from the beginning of "Minna", my first Piano Quintet.

The first movement “Alku” (“Beginning”) is about Minna Canth’s happy youth - she was a very bright girl full of life. Her father wanted her to get the best education he could afford, and she was one of the first women to begin her studies at Jyväskylä Teachers Seminary, which was the first school in Finland to offer higher education for women. “I could once again dedicate myself to intellectual occupations and did so with great pleasure and joy. It was as though I had begun to live again.” She however interrupted her studies and married her former teacher Johan Ferdinand Canth. Within the next fourteen years she bore seven children while helping the poor, and working as a journalist.

The second movement “Pysähdys” (“Pause”) is about the despair I can imagine Minna felt, when her husband died in 1889 while she was pregnant with their seventh child. She was exhausted both physically and mentally. After the birth of her seventh child she was very depressed and wrote in her memoir “— — an awful force tried to overwin me to kill my youngest child”.

The third movement “Tahto” (“Volition”) is about the inner thrive of Minna. “My biggest joy and sweetest pleasure is writing. I can’t imagine how I could live anymore, if I wouldn’t be allowed to write” Minna wrote in a letter in 1883. Tirelessly she wrote both articles and theatre plays during the whole of her life. She was always a very idealistic woman who fought for the rights of the poor, sick and those in need. She worked for laws to regulate alcohol consumption, and for laws that would permit women to own property even after having got married. She questioned the idea that poor people were poor due to God’s will,  and instead she implied peoples’ obligation to help the ones in need. She was also a very well read woman who kept herself very well informed about the literature of her time. She writes in one letter “What a great war hero I would have been, had I been born a man in a time of war!”. Due to her fighting spirit and her critical texts, she also managed to get many enemies. But her impact on society was probably greater than that of any other woman at any time in Finland.  She is the only woman who has an own flag day in Finland - March 19th, the day of equality.

Minna Canth died due to heart failure on the 12th of May 1897 and the word about her death spread fast around Finland. Her funeral was held three days later and was so well attended that the whole cemetery outside the church was filled with people. The last movement “Muisto” (“Memory”) describes the void she had left in society through her death, but also how she has been the beginning of a new society where people have more equal opportunities. The women’s right activist Lucina Hagman, whom Minna much appreciated, writes about her friend Minna: “You, you taught us to feel humanity, taught us to look for humanity and to find it even there, where the world didn’t want to see it nor recognise it existed. This inexhaustible love is the greatest  gift you could give your people; you fulfilled by your acts the greatest eternal command; love one another.”

Portrait of Minna Canth by Kaarlo Vuori

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