Estonian composer whose career spanned three-quarters of a century dies

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Ester Mägi, 1922-2021. Source: Rene Jakobson

Noted Estonian composer Ester Mägi has died. She was 99.

Popularly dubbed the first lady of Estonian music, Mägi was born in Tallinn on January 10 1922, during the period of the First Estonian Republic, and went on to graduate from the Tallinn State Conservatory (Tallinna riikliku konservatoorium – now the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater).

Ester Mägi began her postgraduate studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1951, beginning a 30-year stint as lecturer in music theory at her alma mater, the Tallinn conservatory, three years later. She was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater (EMTA, the successor to the Tallinn State Conservatory) in 1999.

Music journalist Anne Aavik, said that Ester Mägi was "an extraordinary woman."

"Ester Mägi was a completely unique musician, but above all else, she was an extraordinary woman who bore the values ​​of the first period of Estonian independence," Aavik told ERR's culture portal.

This was evidenced by her wide use of national and folk music, Aavik said.

Mägi's work is timeless, she added. "At the same time, there is a lot of airiness, intimacy and introversion, which does not diminish its emotional charge," Aavik went on, likening Mägi to other Estonian music greats, Eduard Tubin (1905-1982), Eino Tamberg (1930-2010) and Veljo Tormis (1930-2017)

The sheer longevity of her career also needed commenting, Aavik added – noting that Mägi's first works were completed in 1946. Upon meeting Mägi while Aavik was still in school, she said at the time she didn't quite realize that the composer had already been working half-a-century.

Her name spread well beyond Estonia's shores, Aavik said. A chamber choir active in Seattle, Washington has been recording and performing Mägi's work in North America and beyond for over a decade already, she said.

Noted Estonian conductors who have performed Mägi's works include Neeme Järvi and the late Eri Klas, while several music publishers have issued her works on commercial recording, and four albums have been released to date, the last being "Ester Mägi: Orchestral Music" (Toccata Classics, 2007).

Since her career spanned both occupied Soviet Estonia and restored-independence Estonia, Mägi was honored by both, with numerous awards, receiving the Order of the National Coat of Arms (Riigivapi teenetemärk), 5th Class from President Lennart Meri, in 1998, and an Estonian State Cultural Award
(Eesti Vabariigi kultuuripreemia) for long-term outstanding creative activity in 2014.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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