Rautavaara had been familiar with Rilke’s elegies ever since he was a student in Vienna in the 1950s, but it was not until he received a commission from Europa Cantat that he finally thought the time had come to set one of them to music. Following on from earlier instrumental ‘angel’ works, Die erste Elegie emerged together with, and related to, his Seventh Symphony, which acquired the sub-title ‘Angel of Light’.
For all that it is a twelve-tone piece, Die erste Elegie is a sonorous and very accessible work. From its opening cries over a soft chord pulsation it progresses through textures both thick and thin, sometimes stopping to dwell on a solo voice or reducing the music to only two or three voice parts. Towards the end the music becomes more static; but finally the third occurrence of a recurring harmonic motif over an F sharp pedal point, setting a section of the text relating the story of the birth of music in Greek myth, takes the work to an inspiring conclusion in a blaze of C major.
from notes by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi © 2010