Paavo Heininen’s music inspires the first dissertation

Inkeri Jaakkola
Studio Halme/Pihla Riekkinen

Paavo Heininen applies new kinds of intermedial narrative strategies in his Silkkirumpu (Damask Drum) opera. This is one of the findings in Inkeri Jaakkola’s dissertation Beneath the Laurel Tree: Text-Music Relationships in Paavo Heininen’s Opera Silkkirumpu, op. 45, which will be examined at Uniarts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy on 26 September 2020. Jaakkola’s research is the first Finnish dissertation to examine Heininen’s music by employing approaches of music analysis.

Jaakkola has examined Silkkirumpu by utilising methods of music analysis and literary theory.  

“I wanted to show how versatile and skilful Heininen is in his adoption of traditional narrative techniques of opera and vocal music in Silkkirumpu, while also incorporating new audio-visual narrative strategies,” describes Jaakkola. 

Silkkirumpu is a staple of Heininen’s oeuvre and one of the masterpieces of the Finnish opera literature. The opera’s text is based on a Japanese noh play Aya no Tsuzumi, and the libretto has been translated by Eeva-Liisa Manner, one of the most distinguished poets of Finnish modernism.  

For the purpose of her research, Jaakkola also developed a new analytical model for examining “vocal styles”. This entails the review of all aspects that affect the soloists’ expression and especially the way their vocal styles transform as the drama proceeds – for example, the way the dynamics and the melody’s intervallic structures change when heading towards the dramatic culmination of a conflict, or the way extreme sorrow is expressed. Besides the soloist parts, Jaakkola also analysed the orchestra’s actions and especially its narrative role. 

“I was particularly impressed by the virtuoso vocal expression in Silkkirumpu, and the way the vocal parts are combined with linguistic game. Even the smallest details in the score of the opera are carefully thought-out. In Silkkirumpu, I admire the clarity of musical strategies, the way the musical connections can be heard so vividly, the intelligent sum of parts, and the touching display of emotions, all designed by Heininen.”  

Jaakkola’s doctoral research is the first Finnish dissertation to focus on Paavo Heininen’s musical style and the music in the Silkkirumpu opera. The research also provides new insights into Eeva-Liisa Manner as a poet.  
“In the very early stages of my research, Professor Heininen said to me: ‘I don’t have a ready-made method to give you. It’s all about reading the score in an insightful way. ’That is what I have boldly aspired to do in my research,’ Jaakkola notes. 

Further information:
Inkeri Jaakkola

Pub­lic defence of the doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion of Inkeri Jaakkola

26 September 2020 at 4 p.m.
Uniarts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, Helsinki Music Centre, Black Box, Mannerheimintie 13, Helsinki 

Title of the dissertation: Beneath the Laurel Tree: Text-Music Relationships in Paavo Heininen’s Opera Silkkirumpu, op. 45 

Opponent: Prof. Yayoi Uno Everett, The University of Illinois at Chicago 

Thesis examiners: Prof. Yayoi Uno Everett, The University of Illinois at Chicago; Prof. Philip Rupprecht, Duke University 

Custos: Prof. Lauri Suurpää, Uniarts Helsinki 

The public examination is held in English.