Toivo Kuula

Toivo Kuula


• 1883 1918


Finnish composer Toivo Kuula was born in Alavus, Vaasa, Finland, on July 7, 1883. He showed talent early on but did not begin serious studies until 1900, when he enrolled at the Helsinki Music Institute. There he studied under Martin Wegelius but, owing to scarce finances, had to withdraw for three years. After his 1906 return, he began attracting attention with some of his early works, notably the song I gazed long into the fire and the Sonata for Violin and Piano, both from 1907.

1908 was a pivotal year in the formation of Kuula's style and the rounding of his compositional skills: Jean Sibelius took him on as his first composition student. Sibelius' brother-in-law, Armas Järnefelt, was an early supporter of Kuula) and Kuula traveled abroad to study in Bologna with Marco Enrico Bossi. Further studies came in the succeeding years in Leipzig and Paris, as Kuula began turning out important works, such as The Song of the Seal, for chorus and orchestra (1909), and The Bath Maids, for soprano and orchestra (1910).

Beginning in 1910 Kuula served as conductor of the orchestra in Oulu for two seasons, then moved on to other conducting posts, first for the Helsinki Town Orchestra (1912-1916), then for the Native Orchestra, in Viipuri, 1916-1918. 1914 was another pivotal year in the composer's life: Kuula met and later married soprano Alma Silventoinen, who was the inspiration behind most of his 24 solo songs, and he also began work on his magnum opus, the Stabat Mater, for mixed chorus and orchestra.

The circumstances surrounding Kuula's death were tragic: in an apparently meaningless street fight in the wake of Finnish Civil War - meaningless, because Finland had just won it's independence - the composer was shot and killed by an inebriated soldier. The Stabat Mater was left incomplete at his death, but composer and friend Leevi Madetoja finished it. In the area of choral music and song, Kuula displayed extraordinary talent and must be regarded as one of the leading Finnish composers of his time.