Aulis Sallinen: Sunrise Serenade


Finnish contemporary composer Aulis Sallinen began to learn music from a young age. He attended the prestigious Sibelius Academy and after graduating became a composition tutor there. His works have been labelled as ‘neo-romantic’ with many blurring the lines between genres that were popular in the 20th century. 

Sallinen has composed seven operas, eight symphonies, a collection of concertos, chamber works and small orchestral works. Sunrise Serenade was composed in 1989 and is scored for 2 trumpets, 1 piano and string orchestra.


The Music

The ambiguous title leads one to make assumptions as to what the work might represent. Around the time this work was completed, Sallinen had also just completed his fourth opera Kullervo, which explored hard-hitting themes like suicide. Sallinen has often struggled with trusting his own talent due to contemplating the amount of cruelty in the world. This has caused much unhappiness for him, however works like Sunrise Serenade show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

The work is melancholy in character, with a haunting spirit surrounding the music. Sallinen marks for one trumpet to be on stage, the other offstage, which creates a really interesting dialogue in the middle of the work. The permeating spirit in Sunrise Serenade adds to its general appeal. 

The onstage trumpet marks the main theme from the beginning, with pulsating strings accompanying with a melancholy theme. The two trumpets then play a call and response section that begins to overlap, creating dissonance and intrigue. The strings and piano then take over and begin to add on the subdued atmosphere. 

The onstage trumpet reinstates the theme, this time in a more bouncy and frolicking manner. The piano then takes over as pizzicato strings ping out. The piano then plays a solo interlude before the trumpet joins in again. 

The three parts of the ensemble begin to bounce off one another, creating a really interesting dialogue. The onstage trumpet is always at the forefront, however. The angular melody soars above the orchestra, leading to the offstage trumpet joining back in with the conversation. 

Sunrise Serenade begins to come to a close, with the onstage trumpet playing the theme in its lower register. This adds richness to the texture, and also creates a mysterious and haunting atmosphere. The strings take over the end of this chord and slowly die off, leaving us wondering what could have been. 


Final Thoughts

Aulis Sallinen’s Sunrise Serenade is ambiguous in title and content. One thing’s for sure – communication is at the heart of this piece. From the two trumpets to how Sallinen weaves the piano and strings together, the work is full of call and response sections. A truly mesmerising work that champions the beauty of the trumpet. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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