Veli-Matti Puumala (1965)

Grave, funebre (1999 -2001)

for solo horn and two bass clarinets, two trombones and two cellos

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1999 - 2001
    • Duration: 14 mn
    • Publisher: Fennica Gehrman, Helsinki
    • Commission: Horn Club of Finland
    • Dedication: à Esa Tapani
Detailed formation
  • soloist: 1 horn
  • 2 bass clarinets, 2 trombones, 2 cellos

Premiere information

  • Date: 20 November 2001

    Finlande, Helsinki


    Esa Tapani : cor, Heikki Nikula et Marko Portin : clarinettes basses, Valtteri Malmivirta et Jussi Vuorinen : trombones, Jukka Rautasalo et Tuija Rantamäki : violoncelles.

Program note

The use of instruments chosen to suit a specific work rather than of an established combination is a characteristic of modernistic chamber music. The main reason for this has been the growing significance of timbre and the new potential afforded here by unconventional line-ups. Sometimes the initiative may come from musicians – from players of instruments outside the standard ensembles in search of new repertoire.

Grave, funebre
by Veli-Matti Puumala was commissioned by the Horn Club of Finland. His aim was a work in which the French horn occupies a major role while giving the composer a free hand to choose the other instruments. The combination selected by Puumala is not one that immediately springs to mind, but despite being unusual – or maybe precisely because of this – it works extremely well. For the French horn is accompanied by two bass clarinets, two trombones and two cellos; in other words, a band with a strong leaning towards the low register and dark timbres. The horn can, if necessary, easily be singled out from its companions but just as easily integrated. It can thus be assigned a focal role without its being too obviously a soloist or otherwise too conspicuous, as would easily be the case if the other instruments were, say, a string ensemble.

Naturally the composer is the best person to say whether the choice of instruments steered the expression towards grave, funereal emotions or whether the message came first and he then looked around for the instruments best able to express it, as it were. In any case the deep-hued, slow-tempo spans of Grave, funebre are greatly in keeping with the title. The work is in this respect very consistent in its expression, a character piece on a scale not necessarily common for its genre taking a quarter of an hour to perform. True, it grows out of a meditative opening towards a more forceful, more weighty mode of expression and gushing intensity, but this again adds greater breadth to the prevailing basic mood rather than introducing any contrasting elements.

With his unusual collection of instruments Puumala paints some fascinating shades exploring the nuances to be found in the low register, but timbre painting is not his primary objective. One new feature of his idiom is the expansive approach to melody, which is usually of an intensive, expressionistic nature. At a guess, this new melodic orientation has its roots in his ongoing opera project.

Kimmo Korhonen.