A Shape of Finns to come

A quarter century or so of new Finnish wind band music

A sea change occurred in Finnish wind band music in the 1990s as a reform of traditional wind ensembles got under way and active efforts were undertaken to find new kinds of repertoire. This reform actually had its roots in the late 1980s, about a quarter of a century ago, and changes are still happening now, in the 2010s.

1980s: On the threshold of a new era

Traditional Finnish wind band music was almost exclusively practically oriented. For a long time, the repertoire of wind bands consisted of marches and of songs and dances arranged by the conductors themselves. Only for a great occasion might one go so far as to commission a piece for wind band from a well-known composer. The practice of writing original music for wind band did not emerge in Finland until the 1970s.

It was then that the narrow original repertoire began to grow, as a number of classical contemporary Finnish composers – such as Leonid Bashmakov, Tauno Marttinen and Einojuhani Rautavaara – began to write music for the ensemble. Their works, however, remained unknown to the vast body of amateurs in the field because of their challenging instrumentations and musical complexity.

In the 1980s, however, the domain of Finnish wind band music gradually began to change with the emergence of a new generation of musicians. Now, at the very latest, the remnants of the old ‘brass seven’ tradition began to give way to a more modern wind band sound, and ensembles began to augment their ranks and to seek new musical challenges.

New Finnish wind band works for occasional and concert use began to emerge, written not only for professionals but with amateurs in mind too. Composers who wrote music specifically for youth ensembles and amateurs – including Lasse Eerola, Harri Wessman, Atso Almila and Timo Katila – aimed to make amateur ensembles aware of modern composition styles but in an accessible form. Pioneering composers and also a handful of music organisations were seminal in broadening the horizons of Finnish wind band music in the 1980s. German-born Arthur Fuhrmann, a polymath if there ever was one, initiated an active search by the Finnish Society of Composers and Lyricists (Elvis) for new Finnish repertoire for wind bands.

Around the same time, the Workers’ Musical Organisation in Finland, STM Music, began to profile itself as a publisher of wind band music, adding numerous original works to its catalogue from the 1980s onwards. New composers emerged in this specialist field: Harri Mäntynen and brothers Jukka and Markku Viitasaari.

Many feel that Keltinmäki blues by Harri Mäntynen was what really started the ball rolling in Finnish wind band music. The phenomenon was pioneered by Puhkupillit, the wind band of the University of Jyväskylä, throwing down the gauntlet to young composers to produce youthful, rhythmic material to augment the traditional wind band repertoire. Soon, composers writing in a completely new vein began to emerge from within the ensemble itself. Following Mäntynen’s example, the Viitasaari brothers began to use Puhkupillit as a workshop for new compositions, and before long they had written what became the core of the new rhythm music repertoire for wind bands. This has proven to be a particularly good fit for youth ensembles.

The Finnish repertoire of military bands mainly consisted of arrangements, and still does. Because military conductors are required to be competent in writing wind band arrangements, their efforts have resulted in a considerable body of repertoire. Eventually, new original wind band works began to trickle into the military music establishment too. In 1986, the Defence Forces and the Finnish commercial TV channel MTV organised a march composition competition intended to produce new marches for military bands to play. The competition winner was Timo Hytönen, with a blues-tinted march named Sininen paraati (Blue parade), heralding the arrival of a new type of musical expression in military music.


1990s: Transition

A great transition occurred in Finnish wind band music in the early 1990s. Thanks to the high quality of music education, Finnish amateur wind bands improved dramatically in quality, and an increasing number of them began to look to symphonic wind band music to broaden their horizons.

At the same time, repertoire drawing on popular music began to make inroads particularly in youth wind bands. The need for new music led to the emergence in the 1990s of a completely new group of composers dedicated to writing wind band music for beginners and advanced musicians alike.

Finnish military bands led the way in the development of lineups and repertoire, engaging in close cooperation with music institutes and amateur musicians in their respective regions. The spectre of disbanding military bands was on the horizon in the 1990s, and consequently these ensembles sought a more active role on the local musical scene as a means of justifying their existence.

The Conscript Band of the Finnish Defence Forces was established in 1990, also the year when the first Hamina Tattoo was held. A Tattoo Tour was launched in 1993. Every year, the Conscript Band brings together a generation of wind band amateurs and professional students, thereby fostering wind band culture among musicians on the threshold of adulthood. The Helsinki Symphonic Winds was formed at the University of Helsinki at the initiative of former Conscript Band members in 1995.

The Helsinki Symphonic Winds was one of several amateur ensembles to embrace high-quality wind band literature, particularly contemporary Finnish music. The Seinäjoki Symphonic Band, the Lahti Symphonic Band and Pyynikin Puhaltajat from Tampere, for instance, performed and recorded new original works for wind band, and soon recordings of wind band music covering a wide range of styles began to be released by other amateur ensembles and military bands.

Amateur music-making in Finland was for a considerable time divided up among various generic music organisations, but during the 1990s the Finnish Wind Band Association (known by its Finnish acronym as SPOL) assumed a more prominent role as a specialist organisation in the field. It launched a sheet music publishing business and began to collaborate with other amateur musicians’ associations. Joint efforts included the Finnish Wind Band Championships and Puhallinpäivät (Wind Music Conference), an annual national event first held in 1992.

The revitalised wind band scene and the increased demand for and supply of new repertoire led to a need for new distribution channels. Publishers and associations that had been selling wind band music scrapped their old-fashioned catalogues and began to focus on publishing new Finnish wind band music. New publishers dedicated solely to contemporary wind band music also emerged in the 1990s.

Blosari (established in 1995) and 7ikko (or Edition 7, established in 1998) began a concentrated effort to promote Finnish composers of wind band music, bringing a number of completely new names to the attention of the field. Both publishers have a catalogue ranging from beginners’ numbers to rhythm music for adolescents to advanced repertoire for the concert hall. It is no accident that the two companies are run by two of Finland’s most prolific and most popular composers of wind band music, Timo Forsström (Blosari) and Jukka Viitasaari (7ikko).

Forsström has a knack for writing music that is sonorous and accessible to amateurs, scoring several hits in the 1990s. His up-tempo concert march Castle Park (1996) and the concert piece Majakkasaari (Lighthouse island, 1992) for euhonium and wind band have been frequently performed in Finland and abroad.

In the course of the 1990s, a handful of classical contemporary composers also became aware of the potential of wind bands and began to write occasional and concert music for them. Some of them developed a prominent profile as wind band composers alongside the other genres in their catalogue. Classical composers writing for wind band in the 1990s included Aulis Sallinen with Palace Rhapsody, 1996 and Kalevi Aho with Tristia (1999).

Some new composer names appeared in the field of wind band music in the 1990s. Jukka Linkola is now known as one of Finland’s most versatile composers, equally at home with jazz as with classical music. Thanks to his vivacious writing, his works quickly gained popularity with amateur and professional wind bands alike. Among the most frequently performed of his works are the playfully rhythmical Tango Tarantella (1995) for trumpet and wind band and the majestic suite Wedding Music (1998). His other wind band works, such as Sisu (1999) and the demanding Saxophone Concerto (1999) have established themselves firmly in the advanced wind band repertoire.

Jukka-Pekka Lehto is perhaps the Finnish classical composer with the strongest wind band music profile. He has written works for adolescents and amateurs as well as for advanced professional ensembles. His music is firmly rooted in tradition, hovering on the borders of tonality and free-tonality. He employs moderate modernist means such as sections with free rhythm even in works intended for amateurs, such as Suita (1991) and Kevätpuhallus (Blowing in the spring, 1996). His Concertino (1995) for trombone and wind band and Fantasia concertante ‘Il sonno’ (1998) for flute and wind band are intended for more advanced performers; they are more modernist in approach and nearer to the mainstream of modern concert music.


2000s: Growth

As the 2000s came around, Finnish amateur wind band music was going from strength to strength. At the same time, Finland’s professional military bands went through a series of radical reforms, culminating in the disbanding of seven of them in 2013. The drastic reduction in the number of professional wind bands from twelve to five ended the long-standing collaboration of military musicians and amateur musicians in many communities. However, the reform did reinforce the operating potential of the military bands that remained, and their lineups were augmented to full symphonic wind band strength. With new types of concerts dedicated to concert music and popular music, military bands have found new audiences, and wind bands are now invited to classical and contemporary music festivals too.

As the standards of wind bands continue to rise and the repertoire continues to grow, a demand for wind band conductor training has emerged. Previously, only military band conducting students had access to professional orchestra conducting studies, but now a need for training among amateur wind band conductors was acknowledged. A major step was taken in 2001 when the Sibelius Academy introduced a training programme for wind band conductors in cooperation with the Defence Forces. Graduates of the wind band conducting class have found work as conductors of both military bands and amateur wind bands.

The number of wind band events and ensembles has also continued to increase. The national Wind Music Conference and the Finnish Wind Band Championships had already established themselves as leading national events, and in 2014 the Wind Music Conference took a step further by declaring itself a Nordic event: the Nordic Wind Band Conference (NWBC) was held under the management of Raine Ampuja, chairman of SPOL, in Järvenpää. Its Conductors Competition brought together 20 contestants from ten countries. Traditional wind band camps and other training events continue to attract large numbers of amateur wind players of various ages.

One of the greatest success stories is the Sisu Symphonic Wind Band, established as a training ensemble in 2001. It has concert periods a few times a year, with advanced amateur musicians, music students and professionals from all over Finland meeting to rehearse and perform challenging and high-quality wind band music. Sisu has an ongoing project of commissioning works from Finnish composers, thereby augmenting the concert repertoire. So far, the ensemble has commissioned works from Atso Almila, Esko Heikkinen, Arttu Sipilä, Kalevi Aho, Kirmo Lintinen, Timo Hietala and Timo Forsström.

In the very recent past, two new professional, periodically operating wind bands have emerged on the Finnish scene: the Academy Winds at the Sibelius Academy and the Finnish Symphonic Wind Professionals, whose members are wind band conductors and wind instrument teachers. The Academy Winds, conducted by Peter Ettrup Larsen (Associate Professor of Conducting at the Sibelius Academy), has already appeared abroad, at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago in 2014.

The increasing demand for and supply of new wind band music has enlivened the sheet music business. Alongside the old-established association-based publishers (SPOL, STM) and more recent enterprises (Blosari, 7ikko) there are now micro-publishers many of which are dedicated to the output of a single composer. These new arrivals include Edition Musact (J–P Lehto), NoteLine, A-Minor Production (Antti Nissilä), Musaneuvo (Juhani Leinonen) and Music Ilari (Ilari Hylkilä).

Recently, a number of active wind band composers and publishers have set their sights on the international market, combining their forces in a consortium named FinnBand. In 2010, FinnBand opened a joint online store for wind band repertoire, FinnBandShop, where sheet music may be purchased and downloaded in PDF format. The Blosari PDF-Store has the same function.

The Finnish repertoire for wind band has continued to increase in the 2000s with the emergence of new composer names. Thanks to an increasing number of commissions and composition competitions, composers who had not previously written for wind band now include wind band works in their catalogues; wind bands have been adventurous in commissioning composers who are not known for writing wind band music. Sisu and various military bands, particularly the Guards Band, have commissioned concert works from Finnish contemporary composers such as Paavo Heininen, Mikko Heiniö, Uljas Pulkkis, Olli Virtaperko, Sampo Haapamäki and Juha T. Koskinen. Works written by former military band conductor Raine Ampuja, e.g. Turbo Express (2014) and the current Chief Conductor of the Defence Forces, Jyrki Koskinen, e.g. Katse tulevaisuuteen (Face the Future, 2002), have proved popular.

Fortunately for the wide field of amateur wind musicians, concert works for professional ensembles are not the only kind of music being commissioned. Military and amateur wind bands have also commissioned occasional music and concert music specifically for amateurs from popular wind band composers such as Janne Ikonen, e.g. From the Woods (2007), and Esko Heikkinen.

Composition competitions have inspired various composers to write new music for winds. For instance, in the competition named after K.H. Pentti in 2007, prizes went not only to traditional wind band composers but also to classical contemporary composers such as Riikka Talvitie, Lotta Wennäkoski and Pasi Lyytikäinen. The winner, Juha Pisto, made a name for himself on the wind band scene with his winning work Leu’dd, based on a Sámi yoik.

Many of the composers of classical music who had written for wind band in the 1990s continued to do so in the 2000s, now expanding their idiom even in works intended for amateurs. Atso Almila, for instance, has broadened his palette towards the style of modern concert music. On occasion he has used a wind band instead of a symphony orchestra in concert works such as his Second Symphony (2003), Tuba Concerto no. 2 (2004) and Oboe Concerto (2009).

Jukka-Pekka Lehto’s works for wind band are approaching modernist classical music, and some of them have received international recognition. He won two international composition competitions with his symphonic wind band works Cur? (2008) and Motus contrarius (2013). Most Finnish wind band musicians, however, know Lehto through his Suita III (2008), much performed by amateur ensembles. Lehto signed a publishing agreement with Metropolis-music in Belgium in 2014. So far, this agreement mainly concerns his flute music, and his wind band works continue to be available through Edition Musact.

Almila and Lehto are not the only contemporary composers to have written for wind band more than once. Harri Ahmas entered the genre in the early 2000s, inspired by the wind band of the Lahti Conservatory, and has subsequently written interesting concert music for professional and amateur wind bands alike. In addition to works for full band such as Hic et nunc (2000) and the Sinfonietta (2002), he has successfully combined soloist and wind band in Three Movements (2005) for violin and wind band and in his Piano Concerto (2013).

Composers occupying both jazz and classical music spheres have also found it natural to use the wind band. Like Jukka Linkola, jazz pianist Kirmo Lintinen and vibraphonist Arttu Takalo have written wind band works that fall within the domain of concert music, such as Lintinen’s YTY (2000) and Concertino for horn and wind band (2008) and Takalo’s cinematic works The Wastelands (2000) and Sci-Fi (2006) and his more Romantic works Sinfonia (2005) and Music for percussion and concert band (2005).

Pertti Jalava has a background in jazz and rock music, and his output includes a number of pieces for wind band alongside his orchestral works, such as Nest of Winds (2001, 2nd prize in a competition in Belgium in 2002), his Third Symphony (2003–2008) and Meditation (2008).

Having said all that, the core of the Finnish contemporary wind band repertoire consists of the works written by a handful of long-standing wind band composers. Most Finnish wind bands have at least a couple of pieces by Timo Forsström and Jukka Viitasaari in their standard repertoire. Both composers have been writing music for both professionals and amateurs for about a quarter of a century, and both have achieved international recognition with their works.

Timo Forsström’s compositional style has evolved from entertaining small pieces to more extensive concert works, but he has retained his original idiom and his wonderful feeling for melody. His major recent achievements include the three-movement suite Life in the Capital City (2010), the tuba concerto Sirkus (Circus, 2014) and the trombone concerto Puusta veistetty (Carved out of wood, 2015).

Jukka Viitasaari, initially known for his music for young performers and rhythm music, has also expanded his catalogue towards concert music. His international merits include prizes from nine international composition competitions, including 1st prize in the USA for Dance of the Epiphytes in 2013 and in Italy for Light up the Sky! in 2006. He also has publishing agreements with international wind music publishers (BRS Music, Grand Mesa Music, TRN Music Publisher  and Potenza Music).

Finland’s most recent wind band music exports are Metalfare by Ilari Hylkilä, published by C. Alan in the USA in 2014, and Vinjettejä Suomesta (Vignettes from Finland), a joint commission by the Finnish Navy Band and Georgia State University, premiered in Atlanta in spring 2015. Belgian publisher Hafabra Music has begun publishing the music of Raine Ampuja, the chairman of SPOL.

With a population of only 5.4 million yet with almost 200 wind bands including six professional ensembles, Finland has produced an astounding volume of new and inventive wind band music over the past quarter of a century.


Kari Laitinen (works at Music Finland as information manager, also an enthusiastic wind music historian)

English translation by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi



Finnish Windband Association SPOL (also on Facebook) www.spolli.com

FinnBandShop PDF-store www.finnbandshop.com

Blosari PDF-store www.blosari.com/blosari

Music Finland http://musicfinland.fi/

Music Ilari www.ilarihylkila.com

A-Minor Production http://www.a-minor.fi/

Noteline (you can find some Sibelius here) http://www.noteline.fi

Musaneuvo (Hamina Tattoo march) http://www.musaneuvo.net/

STM http://www.musiikkiliitto.fi/index.php/fi/nuotit

Musact Oy http://www.musact.net/