Eduard Tubin was one of the seminal figures in the development of the Estonian national idiom, and the father figure of Estonian symphonic music. In 1930, Tubin graduated from Heino Eller's composition department at Tartu Higher Music School and thereafter served as orchestra and choir conductor, piano accompanist and composer in Tartu, until his work in his homeland was cut short by the Soviet occupation. In 1944, Tubin emigrated to Sweden, Stockholm, where he worked as a restorer of old manuscripts in the archive of the Drottningholm Palace Theatre museum (1945-1972) and was active in local Estonian musical life. In 1961, Tubin gained Swedish citizenship and in 1962, became a member of the Swedish Composers' Union. In 1982, Tubin became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
After the Stalin era ended, the composer restored some ties to his homeland: his Symphony No. 5 was performed in Tallinn in 1956, the third version of the ballet Kratt [The Goblin] was premiered at the Tartu Vanemuine Theatre in 1961. Tubin's ties to his occupied homeland caused him to fall into some disfavour in Estonian émigré circles. At the same time, the spread of his works in Soviet Estonia was restricted. During his lifetime, one of the peak moments was the performance of his Symphony No. 5 in 1952 at New York's Carnegie Hall, conducted by Endel Kalam. Tubin and his music became more widely known posthumously thanks to the performances and recordings of his orchestral works by Estonian conductors Neeme Jarvi, Arvo Volmer and Eri Klas.
Eduard Tubin became a composer at a time when modernist trends became widespread as a reaction to late romanticism. In orchestral music, Tubin continued what Eller had started in chamber music, and Cyrillus Kreek and Mart Saar in choral music developing the national idiom by the use of modernist means of expression.
By the time he emigrated, Tubin had already written his first four symphonies (No. 1 1934, No. 2 Legendary 1937, No. 3 Heroic 1942/1968, No. 4 Sinfonia lirica 1943/1978) and the first Estonian ballet, Kratt (Kratt in Estonian: treasure-bringing goblin), based on Estonian folk belief (1940/1941/1960). In exile, six symphonies followed (No. 5 1946, No. 6 1954/1956, No. 7 1958, No. 8 1966, No. 9 Sinfonia semplice 1969, No. 10 1973). Symphony No. 11 was unfinished.
Tubin's ten symphonies are a reflection of Estonian history and national mythology. In the first ones, the mystery of historical legend entwines with youthful romanticism and national feelings. Isolation and yearning for home strike dramatic notes in his émigré-era symphonies.
From Estonian symphonies, Tubin's Symphony No. 5 is the one that is played most often, having been performed in Europe, USA and Russia more than 60 times until today Boston Philharmonic Orchestra performed his Symphony No. 10 under the baton of Neeme Jarvi during the orchestra's centennial concerts in 1981. In 2002, a CD collection of Tubin's symphonies with Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Neeme Jarvi was published by label BIS, from 1999 to 2003 Alba Records issued 5 CDs with Tubin's symphonies performed by Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and Arvo Volmer.
Besides symphonies, Tubin has also written suites and short pieces for orchestra and songs for choir and solo voice. His major ensemble works are the piano quartet (1930), a string quartet (1979), 2 sonatas for violin and piano (1936/1969, 1949/1976), sonatas for alto saxophone and piano (1951), viola and piano (1965) and for flute and piano (1979), two piano sonatas (1928, 1950) and pieces for violin and piano. Tubin also wrote two violin concertos (1942, 1945/1949), a piano concertino (1945), a double bass concerto (1948) and a balalaika concerto (1964).
Besides the ballet, Tubin's stage works include two taut psychological operas based on works by Aino Kallas: Barbara von Tisenhusen (1968, libretto by Jaan Kross) and The Parson of Reigi (Reigi opetaja, 1971, libretto by Jaan Kross) stories of the fatal conflict between moral freedom and responsibility.
Late Romanticist expression blended with neoclassicist stylistics is characteristic in Tubin's early work. But after 1950 and the turning point of Piano Sonata No. 2, Northern Lights (Virmaliste sonaat), his idiom became more complicated: polyharmony, atonality and twelve-tone technique usher an expressionist style into his music.
The persisting qualities of Tubin's work are the expressive role of rhythm, thematic unity based on persistent interval relations and linear polyphony. Both his melodies and variant development are associated with Estonian folk melody. The tonal freedom and economy of style in Tubin's work are modernist, but his form shaping is conservative. Uniting conservative (folk music sources, classical form) and modernist trends in his work, he was more of a developer and unifier than a rule breaker. Though eschewing the programmatic, Tubin's imagery impart what is mainly a dramatic message. The tragic tone in his music intensified in connection to his life in exile, and in occupied Estonia, his name became a symbol of cultural disruption.
Tubin's symphonic works with their rigorous form and their roots in ostinato and linear voice leading had a great influence on Estonian music also during the period of renewal in the 1960s.
Look also: www.tubinsociety.com