Einojuhani Rautavaara

Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds & Orchestra), for orchestra & taped bird songs, Op. 61

    Description by Chris Morrison

    In 1972, Einojuhani Rautavaara was commissioned by the University of Oulu, Finland, to write a piece for its first doctoral degree ceremony. Tradition would have him create a ceremonial festive cantata, but Rautavaara responded instead with the unusual Cantus Arcticus, often referred to as a Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, in which taped bird songs (some recorded in the vicinity of Oulu, others around the Arctic Circle and the marshlands of Liminka) interact with the orchestra.

    The work is in three movements, each of which features a different set of bird songs. The first movement, titled "Suo" ("The Marsh"), opens with an impressionistic melody for two solo flutes, later joined by other woodwinds and by a recording of bog birds in springtime. A slow, rich, melody in the strings is superimposed over the winds and bird songs as the mood mellows, and the movement dies out with a reminiscence of the opening flute melody. The song of the shore lark, lowered by two octaves to turn it into what Rautavaara has called a "ghost bird," opens the second movement, "Melankolia" ("Melancholy"). A quiet melody in the strings enters tentatively and spins itself out, gaining in intensity as it goes. The movement ends as it began, with the shore lark. The final movement, "Joutsenet muuttavat" ("Swans Migrating"), opens with the chaotic sound of a large group of swans, combined with string tremolos and bird imitations in the woodwinds. This complex texture was described by Rautavaara thus:: "I imagined they [the swans] fly straight to the burning sun." As in the first movement, a slow, chorale-like melody in the strings emerges. The swan sounds increase in volume, and after a climactic cymbal crash and brass calls, the music and the swans' songs fade into the distance amid the gentle sounds of harp and percussion.


    1. The Bog
    2. Melancholy
    3. Swans Migrating

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Ondine ODE 13002Q
    2011 Ondine ODE 10812
    2011 Warner Classics 2564671621
    2010 Naxos 8570364
    2009 Ondine ODE1156-2Q
    2009 Apex 2564698908
    2006 Ondine 1079
    2005 Ondine 1041
    2003 BIS 301038
    2001 Ondine ODE989-2
    1999 Ondine ODE937-2
    1999 BIS 1038
    1999 Erato 3984 27003-2
    1999 Naxos 554147
    1997 Finlandia 99969
    1995 Catalyst 09026 62671-2
    1994 BIS 575
    Finlandia 19