Arto Tapio Koskinen, born on 20th March 1947 in Karstula, Finland, is a composer, pianist, and clavichordist, whose music is a synthesis of European, Asian, and African-American traditions. Its main sources are the classical music of North India and Iran, the Western tradition of polyphonic composition, and Afro-American improvised music.
After early studies of classical piano, Arto Koskinen developed an enthusiasm for jazz and blues-oriented rock in his teens, with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Jimi Hendrix as his heroes. In the late 1960s he was pianist and organist in such groups as the rock band Jormas and the experimental ensemble of M.A.Numminen.
From 1970 onwards, having listened extensively to recordings of Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, and other master musicians of India, Koskinen spent most of his time on exploring the possibilities of a new kind of synthesis of Eastern and Western music. He studied composition on his own, benefiting particularly from the great treatise on composition by Ilmari Krohn. He was convinced that, on the deepest level (not on the surface level), the musics of East and West, of North and South, are fully commensurate and that there is ultimately only one aesthetic, one great logic of beauty, which manifests itself in different but mutually complementary forms in the music of various continents and cultural eras.
Starting in the year 1973, Arto Koskinen studied classical Hindustani vocal music under the tuition of S.K.Banerjee in Bharatiya Kala Kendra, the well known college of music and dance in New Delhi. He obtained his diploma in vocal music in 1977.
After his return to Finland, Koskinen formed in Helsinki an ensemble, The Middle-earth Band, which recorded an album called The Thoughtful Bride in 1980. His second band, Karuna, was active in the late 1980s and it recorded an album called Space for Truth in 1990.
By this time, Koskinen felt that, with respect to melody, harmony, and rhythm, he had found his idiom as a composer. On the other hand, however, he realized that, in regard to polyphony, his musical education was still incomplete. During the 1980s, he wrote a number of experimental polyphonic works – mainly for two voices and in small form, as he had not yet found the polyphonic method he was looking for. He has later described this phase of his musical development as follows:
“The wonderful fugues of Beethoven and Shostakovich had proved beyond any doubt that it was possible to express one’s deepest musical thoughts in the language of polyphony even in such times when most other composers could no longer find a living relationship to this idiom. My aim was to find a method of polyphonic composition which, unlike Western polyphony throughout its history, would not have the unfortunate effect of obscuring the individual melodic character of the various modes. In 1992, while making a renewed study of the polyphonic techniques of the Baroque era, I finally discovered the way these techniques had to be modified in order to be fully reconcilable with the melodic principles of Eastern music.”
This discovery formed the foundation for Koskinen’s magnum opus, Fuga indiana, a collection of seven compositions for piano. It was written between 1993 and 2000 and its premier performance, by the pianist Joonas Ahonen, was at the Helsinki Festival in 2003. The composer’s own recording of Fuga indiana was released in 2005.
In recent years, Arto Koskinen has concentrated on the practice of the clavichord and on the composition of vocal music. Contemplation of the reciprocal relationship between poetry and music has inspired him to take up a systematic study of classical Iranian vocal music. He feels that, particularly in the best performances of Gholam Hossein Banan, the towering Iranian vocalist, the intimate mutual relation and balance of these two art forms is realized in an ideal manner. And, in the songs of Rabindranath Tagore, the celebrated Indian poet-musician, the same thing happens.
Inspired by such examples, Arto Koskinen composed Laulu suuresta kaipuusta(Song on the Great Longing), a cycle of seven songs for alto voice and piano on poems of Tagore, Jalaluddin Rumi, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and Niilo Rauhala. This work was first performed in 2010 by the vocalist Sanna Pietiäinen, with the piano accompaniment of the composer. In 2012, the duo gave the premier performance of Koskinen’s second song cycle Kuolematon kevät(Immortal Spring), set to seven poems of Saima Harmaja, the great Finnish poetess.
Note: For a more extensive account of the development of Arto Koskinen as a composer, see the booklet accompanying the album, Fuga indiana (www.amanita.fi/fugaeng.htm). If you want to buy this album, go to the site of Lahjakirjat.