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Joonas Kokkonen

November 13, 1921 - October 2, 1996
born in Iisalmi, composed during the Modern period
Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen helped in several ways to foster the musical vitality his country has recently exhibited. He was the teacher of such composers as Aulis Sallinen and Paavo Heininen, and he laid much organizational groundwork for Finland's modern concert life through his executive work with a variety of musical organizations. It is tempting, therefore, to regard him as the link between Sibelius and the Finnish composers of today; he was active from the late 1940s through the late 1980s. His style, however, was his own. Kokkonen's best-known work was the religious opera Viimeiset kiusaukset (The Last Temptation). After its premiere in Helsinki in 1975, the work was performed at numerous major opera houses, including the Metropolitan in New York.

Born in Iisalmi, Finland, in 1921, Kokkonen attended the University of Helsinki. His musical education was completed at Finland's top music school, the Sibelius Academy, where he taught from 1950 to 1963. His works include, in addition to Viimeiset kiusaukset, four symphonies and other orchestral works, choral and solo vocal works, chamber music, and works for solo piano. The Sinfonia da camera of 1962 was one of the first of his works to win performances outside of Finland. Kokkonen spent most of his life in the town of Järvenpää near Helsinki, where Sibelius had also lived; his home was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

Kokkonen's music fell into the sequence of dominant stylistic molds that ruled musical fashion in the twentieth century: he was by turns a neo-classicist, a serialist, and a neo-tonal Romantic. Several distinctive turns of his career bespeak his independent musical mind, however, and thus the continuing influence of his music. His neo-classic chamber works of the 1950s are economical pieces, often rigorously developed from a single cell introduced at the outset. And, having adopted serialism in the early '60s, Kokkonen was unusually quick to turn away from it, with both his Symphony No. 3 (1967) and Symphony No. 4 (1971) giving signs of a more accessible style to come. ~ James Manheim, Rovi
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