Estonian composer Veljo Tormis dies at 86


Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, perhaps best known internationally for his prolific career centering largely on choral music and featuring traditional Estonian and Baltic Finnic influences, died at 86 on Saturday evening.

Veljo Tormis was born Aug. 7, 1930 in Aru village, Harju County. From 1937-1942 he lived in Kivi-Vigala, where his father Riho Tormis worked as a verger. They had an organ in their home which Tormis began to teach himself to play as a child.

From 1942-1943, Tormis was given organ lessons by August Topman, and from 1943-1944 was Topman’s organ student at the Tallinn State Conservatory. In 1944 he continued his study of the organ at Tallinn Music School, which he completed in 1947, under the direction of Salme Krull. He also studied conducting at Tallinn Music School from 1949-1950 before going on to study in composer Villem Kapp’s composition class at Tallinn State Conservatory from 1950-1951, according to the website of the Estonian Music Information Centre.

Tormis earned a diploma in composition under Vissarion Shebalin at the Moscow Conservatory in 1956. From 1956-1960, he worked at Tallinn Music School as a composition teacher and giving theoretical courses; among his students at the time were Arvo Pärt and Kuldar Sink. From 1956-1969, Tormis was a consultant for and from 1974-1989 the deputy chairman of the Estonian SSR Composers’ Union. Tormis worked as a freelance composer beginning in 1969.

Throughout his career, Tormis composed over 500 choral pieces, other vocal and instrumental pieces, 35 film scores and one opera. Among his most famous works are "Estonian Ballads," "Curse Upon Iron" and the suites "Estonian Calendar Songs" and "Forgotten Peoples."

His works have been recorded by record labels including Forte, Finlandia, Chandos, Toccata Classics, Alba Records, ECM Records and Eesti Raadio; his publishers include Fennica Gehrman, SP Muusikaprojekt, Muusika, edition 49, Carus-Verlag and Eres Edition.

Throughout the decades, Tormis earned a number of awards and recognition, most recently including the Order of the National Coat of Arms, 1st Class in 2015, the PÖFF Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Cultural Award in 2016.

A variety of audio and video material about Tormis and his works can be found in the ERR Archive (link in Estonian).

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla

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