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Aulis Sallinen grew up in a thoroughly Sibelio-centric world, writing tonal music to please his teachers at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki while Sibelius was still alive and a national hero. In the late 1950s, however, postwar serialism reached Finland. "Serialism found its way to Finland and my fellow students greeted it with open arms. And so did I," Sallinen recalled. "My diploma assignment in 1960 and my first two string quartets were something in the nature of an application of 12-note music."
But if serialism provided Sallinen with the basis for an artistic declaration of independence from the previous generation's accepted model, it introduced its own limitations and by the end of the decade Sallinen was already moving away from it. His Third String Quartet was composed in 1969 for school concerts, and the composer chose to use a traditional fiddle tune - Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral March - as a readily identifiable theme for a set of variations.
This mournful modal melody is clearly stated at the beginning by first violin and cello, and then developed in various aspects through five variations and two intermezzos, "ever present either in itself, like a distant horizon, or in its variations," Sallinen said. The form is a symmetrical arch with the third variation, framed by the slippery intermezzos, at the center. The instrumental techniques are as varied as the thematic material, ranging from thrumming pizzicato chords to ghostly harmonics, in music that seldom loses a sense of earthy rootedness, despite the oblique angle of some of the "aspects."
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.