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KUULA, Toivo (1883-1918)


  • Adam Johnson, piano

Finnish composer and conductor Toivo Kuula was a student of Sibelius, and pieces such as the majestic Juhlamarssi (‘Festive March’) share the great master’s national flavour while the descriptive folktales of Satukuvia create their own beautifully romantic atmosphere. Kuula’s piano music is notable for its vast array of colour and variety of style, from the melancholy Surumarssi (‘Funeral March’) (from Six Pieces, Op. 26) to the lighthearted Schottis (‘Scottish Dance’), while countless Finnish couples have been married to the accompaniment of Kuula’s Häämarssi (‘Wedding March’).


Satukuvia pianolle (3 Folk-Tale pictures), Op. 19 (1912) (00:15:00 )
No. 1. Andante semplice (00:05:33)
No. 2. Presto (00:04:19)
No. 3. Tranquillamento (00:05:14)
3 Piano Pieces, Op. 3b (1908) (00:10:00 )
No. 1. Elegia (Elegy) (00:04:26)
No. 2. Häämarssi (Wedding March) (00:05:23)
No. 3. Pikku gavotti (Little Gavotte) (00:03:10)
Juhlamarssi (Festive March), Op. 13b (1910) (00:09:24)
Lampaanpolska (Dance of the Sheep) (1915) (00:04:14)
Air varié in E Minor, "Variations on a Finnish Air" (1900?) (00:02:12)
Schottis (Scottish Dance) (1904?) (00:03:26)
6 Piano Pieces, Op. 26 (1916) (00:20:00 )
No. 1. Piirileikki (Round Dance) (00:01:29)
No. 2. Paimentunnelma (Pastoral Atmosphere) (00:03:41)
No. 3. Tanssi-improvisaatio (Dance Improvisation) (00:02:31)
No. 4. Nocturne (00:05:27)
No. 5. Rauha (Peace) (00:03:49)
No. 6. Surumarssi (Funeral March) (00:06:22)
Virta venhettä vie (The Current Carries the Boat), Op. 4, No. 5b (1907) (00:03:25)
Venelaulu (Barcarolle), Op. 21, No. 2b (1912) (00:01:56)
Vanha syyslaulu (An Old Autumn Song), Op. 24, No. 3b (1913) (00:01:39)
Invention in E Minor (1905?) (00:01:19)
Total Time: 01:18:59

The Artist

Adam Johnson Multi prize-winning pianist, Adam Johnson, was a scholar and Junior Fellow at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM). He has performed under the batons of Kent Nagano, Martyn Brabbins and George Hurst, and made his concerto debut aged 15 playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 15 in Pavlovsk Palace, St Petersburg, conducting from the piano. Unique among the outstanding artists of his generation, Johnson is as equally at home conducting opera as he is fulfilling the role of soloist in concerto repertoire, playing chamber music, or directing his own large-scale compositions. He has given recitals in Istanbul, New York, Northern Spain, Norway, and Rio de Janeiro, as well as undertaking a demanding schedule in the UK. In 2008, he completed a master’s degree in conducting at the RNCM under the direction of Sir Mark Elder, and was awarded the Ricordi Operatic Conducting Prize in 2007. Johnson is currently the artistic director and principal conductor of the Northern Lights Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, he was elected a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, and more recently was rewarded as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Musicians. Adam Johnson made his Wigmore Hall debut in October 2017.

The Composer

Toivo Kuula

When Toivo Kuula met with a violent death in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War in May 1918, he became the tragic romantic hero of Finnish music. Born at Vaasa in 1883, he was a pupil of Novek, Wegelius and Jrnefelt at the Helsinki Music Institute, before further study abroad in Bologna, Leipzig, Paris and, finally in 1911–12, in Berlin. During his years of continuing study he had served as a teacher and conductor in Vaasa, and conducted the orchestra in Oulu. In 1912 he became assistant conductor of the Native Orchestra and from 1916 to 1918 held a similar position with the Helsinki Town Orchestra. His work as a composer was inevitably influenced by Sibelius, drawing in particular on the folk-music of his native region. It is in particular for his songs and vocal writing that he is remembered. Kuula died at the early age of 35, and was a full-blooded national romantic. His music breathes the spirit of his own country, Ostrobothnia. Kuula left 24 solo songs for voice and piano. Typical features include a strong melodic flow and Slavic pathos, and many songs are in a minor key and a melancholy mood. It would be too simple, however, to claim that Kuula was an ardent hothead whose songs embody the rougher traditions of Ostrobothnia. Alongside local passions, his songs also carry a quite different vein of refined and nuanced sensuality, as in Sinipiika (Blue Maiden) or Jkukkia (Ice Flowers), which comes close to impressionism.

In Kuula’s songs the piano often merely provides an accompaniment. The piano texture has no independence, as in the Central European Lieder tradition. His piano writing is sonorous, with thick chords somewhat reminiscent of Brahms. Kuula wrote numerous folk-song arrangements. The choices of text show his fervent patriotism. Over half of his songs are settings of Eino Leino or VA Koskenniemi, great Finnish poets of his time. Many of Kuula’s solo songs were first performed by his wife, Alma Kuula, a singer and a source of inspiration.


“The programme as a whole is suffused with charm and in Adam Johnson’s sympathetic performances is immensely listenable to” – Gramophone