Raitio could be considered as one of the most remarkable Colorists in the history of European art music. He began his career as a composer by writing music in the Late Romantic tradition, but his most popular work, symphonic poem The Swans (1919), was a turning-point in his career.
During the 1920s Raitio wrote eight outstanding symphonic poems where his unique Colorism played the most significant role. Unfortunately Raitio’s Cosmopolitan music was too much for the Finnish audiences and by the 1930s the composer turned into a more traditional way of writing music. In the silence, however, Raitio continued to compose his breath-taking Expressionistic music in the form of Operas. Raitio’s greatest opportunity for international breakthrough, the German productions of his Operas were cancelled due to the Second World War. The composer died in cancer 1945.
Raitio’s musical language is unique, but influences from the French and Russian masters of Impressionism and Colorism (e.g. Debussy, Scriabin) can be heard in his music. Also the French group of composers, Les Six, can be mentioned, but Raitio wrote many of his greatest works before his trip to Paris in 1925.
Some of Raitio’s greatest works:
Works for Stage
- The Daughter of Jephtha (1929) [Opera in Two Acts]
- The Watersprout (Vesipatsas) (1929) [Ballet]
- Princess Cecilia (Prinsessa Cecilia) (1933) [Opera in Five Acts]
- The King of Lydia (Lyydian kuningas) (1937) [Opera in One Act]
- Väinämöinen’s Proposal (Väinämöisen kosinta) (1937-40) [Opera in Three Acts]
- Symphony in G minor, op.13 (1918-19)
- The Swans (Joutsenet) (1919)
- Nocturne (1920)
- Fantasia estatica (1921)
- Antigone (1921-22) [A Trilogy of Three Symphonic Poems]
- Moonlight on Jupiter (Kuutamo Jupiterissa) (1922-23)
- Fantasia poetica (1923)
- Four Color Poems (1922)
Even up to today Raitio has remained as a mysterious personality. He prefered solitude and avoided large crowds and the public. Only few facts about his life is known and there are only few documents proving that he ever lived. However, his music speaks for himself. He was a genious (very much respected by Sibelius) but never won recognition. The reason why he was neglected remains in the fact that his music was too modern for the Finnish audiences of his time. Many of his works were never performed during his lifetime (only one of his orchestral works was pulbished!) and he has been rediscovered by musicologists as late as in the 1990s. The Väinö Raitio Society was founded in 1991.