Estonia 100
Estonia 100
December 10, 2011
December 10, 2011

Vardo Rumessen, piano

The premiere recording of all the piano preludes of two Estonian music classics: Mart Saar and Eduard Tubin.

Mart Saar (1882–1963). Preludes (complete)

1 Prelude in E flat minor. Lento (1908) 1:37
2 Prelude in C sharp minor. Lento (1911) 1:56
3 Prelude. Poetico, con delizio (1911) 1:27
4 Prelude. Precipitamente (1911) 1:12
5 Prelude in E flat major. Precipitamente, feroce (1915, In memoriam of A. Scriabin) 1:14
6 Prelude in A minor. Grave e largamente (1913) 2:08
7 Prelude in F major. Allegretto piacevole (1913) 0:46
8 Prelude in F major. Allegro e leggiero (1916) 0:32
9 Prelude in F major. Poco allegretto (191..) 2:15
10 Prelude in C minor. Andante sostenuto (191..) 0:49
11 Prelude in B major. Andante moderato (1920) 0:50
12 Prelude in D minor. Con moto (1921) 1:34
13 Prelude in C major. Soave (1921) 1:02
14 Prelude in G minor. Tempestoso (1921) 0:53
15 Prelude in D major. Allegro vivace (1921) 0:52
16 Prelude in B minor. Moderato con anima (1921) 1:15
17 Prelude in E flat major. Fiero (1921) 1:07
18 Prelude in A flat major. Allegro (1921–22) 0:58
19 Prelude in B flat major. Sfrenatamente (1921–22) 0:59
20 Prelude in B flat minor. Lento (1921–28) 4:31
21 Prelude in E major. Allegro (1921–28) 2:13
22 Prelude in B major. Languido (1923) 2:24
23 Prelude in B major Allegretto (1918-27, In memoriam of C. Debussy) 2:47
24 Prelude in B major. Vivace (1907) 1:32
25 Prelude in B major. Vivace (1905–27) 1:18
26 Prelude in C sharp minor. Allegro agitato (1908–29) 0:51
27 Prelude in B flat major. Molto allegro (1905–31) 1:13
28 Prelude in E flat major. Vivace (1905–40) 1:33

player Mart Saar, Prelude in F major, 28 sec, mp3

Eduard Tubin (1905–1982). Preludes (complete)

29 Prelude No 1 in B flat minor. Con calmo. ETW 30-1 (1928) 1:53
30 Prelude in F minor. Moderato con espressione. ETW 30-2 (1928) 2:18
31 Prelude No 2 in F minor. Moderato sostenuto. ETW 33-1 (1934) 1:26
32 Prelude No 3 in C major (on Estonian folk melody) Andante. ETW 33-2 (1934) 1:57
33 Prelude in E minor. Marciale sostenuto. ETW 33-3 (1935) 0:32
34 Prelude in D major. Allegretto, con anima. ETW 36 (1937) 1:04
35 Prelude. Andante mesto. ETW 42 (1949) 1:24
36 Prelude No 4. Moderato sostenuto. ETW 46-1 (1976) 2:55
37 Prelude No 5. Allegretto moderato. ETW 46-3 (1976) 2:09
38 Prelude No 6. Allegro molto vivace. ETW 46-3 (1976) 1:19
39 Prelude No 7. Lento moderato. ETW 46-4 (1976) 2:38
40 Prelude No 8 (on an Estonian folk tune). ETW 46-5 (1976) 2:01
41 Prelude No 9. Valse molto lente. ETW 46-6 (1976) 1:39
42 Prelude No 10. Chaconne. ETW 46-7 (1976) 2:25


Mart Saar. Preludes

Although Mart Saar is best known as a composer of choral and solo songs, piano music holds a relatively important place in his oeuvre. These are mostly various short pieces and suites on Estonian folk tunes. Especially noteworthy ones amongst them are his preludes for piano, which undoubtedly belong to the most outstanding achievements of Estonian piano music. They are very poetic and spirited paintings of sound where the clarity of musical images, harmonic richness of colour and excellent piano handling skills characteristic of Mart Saar are expressed.

Mart Saar wrote preludes almost all his life. The earliest of them has been dated in 1905, the latest in 1940. It means that he wrote preludes throughout his 35-year period of composition. Unfortunately, a lot of his preludes have been lost or perished in the course of time. 28 preludes have survived to our day but the actual total number of his preludes is unknown. A big part of Saar’s piano music perished unfortunately in a fire in his home in 1921.

Born as a son of a forest keeper in the middle of woods and bogs in the village of Hüpassaare in 1882, Mart Saar became interested in music already at an early age. In 1901 he entered the composition class of Prof Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at St Petersburg Conservatory, studying organ with Prof Louis Homilius at the same time. Mart Saar’s way from a secluded forest keeper’s cottage to the capital of tsarist Russia is somehow symbolic, expressing the endeavours of a youngster, who comes from the Estonian rustic cultural environment, to experience the world’s music culture. After graduating from the conservatoire as an organist, he settled down in Tartu. Shortly after that he continued improving himself in the field of composition with professor Aleksandr Lyadov at St Petersburg Conservatory until 1911. His studies in St Petersburg and his possibilities to take part in those days’ active musical life were of great importance to Mart Saar and influenced considerably on the forming of his creative personality.

Although Mart Saar studied organ besides composition at St Petersburg Conservatory and often performed as an organist, he also became a distinguished pianist. Unfortunately, his performances remained relatively occasional and rare and he mostly played piano accompaniment for the recitals of his solo songs. Nevertheless, the way Mart Saar handled the piano was exciting and attractive, especially when he played his miniatures for piano. The characteristic features of his manner of piano playing were creative impulsiveness, free improvisational manner of performance, sporadically of even certain ecstatic play. Mart Saar was very emotional and very imaginative as a pianist. Especially during his Tartu period he paid special attention to the piano, playing a lot of piano music by Chopin, Scriabin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and others. Mart Saar’s piano playing drew his contemporaries’ attention as well. One of his students, composer Riho Päts has very well characterized it, saying: “Once I had an extraordinary experience. When I arrived at the maestro’s door, I heard admirable piano playing. I dared not interrupt it and thought that I would call him during a pause. When I finally made use of a moment of silence, I found the maestro at home alone. Saar played 20 preludes for piano over again. In my judgement all those preludes where so poetic and quaint, spirited musical poems with short-spoken musical thinking that I would have liked to hear him play all of them. Moreover, for the first time I saw from such a close distance Mart Saar as a full-blooded pianist and it surpassed all my imaginations of a pianist in general sense. It seemed to me back then as if another spirit had settled down in Mart Saar: as soon as he started to play he turned pale, started breathing agitatedly, disconnectedly, even snuffing, his eyes turned extremely big and round and the look in his eyes became somewhat peculiarly concentrated. Every nerve, every muscle, let alone his mind and feeling, seemed to live on the live music alone. It was something like ecstasy that gave his performance admirable fantasy, extraordinary technical virtuosity and ultimate suggestiveness.”

In 1921, Mart Saar went to live in Tallinn where he devoted himself to creating solo and choral songs. However, at the same time he continued writing piano pieces as well. Mart Saar became familiar with the piano music by a lot of distinguished composers and it also influenced him. Although his piano texture is mostly relatively simple it is at the same time very pianistic and characteristic of the piano. We can also find examples that stand out for their technical complicity and virtuosity. As a brilliant pianist and improviser Mart Saar was also an imitator of the style of other composers. Thereby he devoted himself entirely to the object that fascinated him and used randomly his creative imagination. How inventively has he sometimes used an element of texture, a harmonious progression from another composer’s work! By the way we must admit that we can find examples like this with other composers as well.”

The beginning of Mart Saar’s musical activity in Tartu synchronizes with the emergence of a literary group “Noor-Eesti” (‘Young Estonia’). The words of the leader of the first literary album published already in 1905, “Let us be Estonians, but let us become also Europeans!” characterize compendiously the Young Estonians’ program. The most noticeable works of Mart Saar’s oeuvre of that period are a piano piece “Skizze” and a song “Black Bird”, which were published as appendixes of a periodical “Noor-Eesti” from 1910 to 1911. In the context of his era they can be considered as extremely radical compositions not only in Estonian music but also in that of entire Europe. Their characteristic features are a harmoniously complex style, abundance of dissonances and tonal instability, which approaches atonality. The same traits can be noticed in some of Mart Saar’s early preludes for piano as well.

Hereby it is interesting to mention that during the 2nd period of Mart Saar’s studies at St Petersburg Conservatory (1909–11) a new star, Alexander Scriabin, had risen into the sky of music. The passion and expansiveness of his music also fascinated young Saar. Considering that Scriabin’s music by nature belongs to the field of romanticism and late romanticism, it became very close to young expansive and passionate Saar. We can also notice A Scriabin’s influence in Saar’s compositions for piano written in the 1920’s. Mart Saar’s Prelude in E flat minor No 5, which he dedicated to the memory of Alexander Scriabin, should be hereby mentioned as one of the most characteristic examples of it. One of Scriabin’s latest preludes Op 74 No 1 can be considered an “example” for this prelude. We can also see similar direct connections with Scriabin’s piano pieces in other preludes by Mart Saar. Saar was also interested in Claude Debussy’s piano music, which fascinated him with its subjectivity, richness in experience, harmonious novelty and colourfulness. After Debussy’s death in 1918, Mart Saar wrote the prelude in B major No 23 in his memory. It is one of the most interesting preludes by Saar, as a “fundamental material” of which he has used in a skilful and interesting way the prelude “The Hills of Anacapri” first fascicle No 5 by Claude Debussy. In addition to the above-mentioned works we can find clear common points with the piano compositions by Edvard Grieg and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

At the same time one may compare Mart Saar’s preludes by the technical aim and sustained form of their texture with Fryderyk Chopin’s preludes and etudes, (eg the preludes in B major No 21 and in B major No 22). In general one must admit that Mart Saar’s preludes are however based on the preludes by Fryderyk Chopin and Alexander Scriabin.

There is no doubt that the certain little exceptional and peculiar examples by Mart Saar mentioned here have a great substantial and artistic value even today, proving how sharply Mart Saar sensed the oeuvre of contemporary composers and how progressive his music was in the context of his era. Using the works and the characteristic means of expression of the above-mentioned composers as a source of inspiration, Mart Saar has always done it in a way that is exclusively characteristic of him, being able to include a lot of experience in a fine artistic style in his works. As for artistry, his works are comparable with the compositions, which have inspired him, and that is why these examples cannot be underestimated in any way.

In order to understand the unconventionality of Mart Saar’s music, one must certainly emphasize his subjective attitude towards life and the inherent cognition of the music of this bard of nature. There is a close connection between Mart Saar’s oeuvre and his home Hüpassaare and its nature where he settled down in 1932. Saar wrote the majority of his compositions here, at his birthplace where he felt a complete homogeneity with the nature. Mart Saar was a romantic of swamps and bogs. For Saar the woods in Hüpassaare were like a temple that fascinated him with its mysteriousness. It is here that he got the inspiration for composing his works. He became engrossed in the essence of life and nature, trying to penetrate the mood of an instant, a moment in order to concentrate on what was important, to see its different nuances of emotion.

During his life only very few preludes performed mostly by Olav Roots and Erika Franz were published. The majority of the preludes have unfortunately remained almost unknown till our day. Most of Mart Saar’s preludes sounded for the first time in 1974 at a concert in Tallinn Museum of Theatre and Music where they were performed by Vardo Rumessen.

All the preludes by Mart Saar that have survived till our day have been published on the present CD whereas the majority of them are being recorded for the first time. The CD is based on The Full Collection of Mart Saar’s Piano Compositions, which was completed by Vardo Rumessen in 1971 and is based on the composer’s original manuscripts and earlier printed works.


Eduard Tubin.Preludes

ImagetextAlthough Eduard Tubin is best known as a remarkable symphonist, short pieces in various genres also have an important place among his works. Beside many other musical pieces his piano preludes stand out. They reveal Tubin’s brilliant ability to express moods and impressions in a short, compressed form. Tubin wrote preludes during almost his whole creative span. The earliest were written while he was still Heino Eller’s student at the Tartu Music College in 1928, the last during his late creative period in 1976. Many preludes remain as sketches or creative intentions; altogether 14 have been preserved.

The first two – B flat minor and F minor (#29, #30) – were written in 1928. They reveal the composer’s poetic and youthfully romantic feelings. Both preludes show some spiritual affinity to the early preludes by Alexandr Scriabin and Heino Eller.

The next two preludes (#31, #32) were written in 1934. They already show more of the creative independence of the young composer. The second prelude is especially remarkable, presenting variations on an Estonian folk tune, and therefore being rather unique in the art of preludes. These two preludes were printed, the first was somewhat corrected by the composer before it went into print.

In the 1930s Tubin wrote two more preludes for piano. The first one (#33), which was later named a prelude by the composer himself, also carries the title “Moment” in the manuscript. Tubin himself regarded this prelude as one of his most successful short pieces. The second one, D major (#34) was written in 1937 and it is obviously meant for children.

After fleeing from Estonia in 1944, Tubin settled in Stockholm. There he developed his final personal style, which was above all revealed in his great works. In 1949 he started drafting a cycle of piano preludes. Unfortunately only one prelude (#35) survives in finished form, carrying the manuscript number 1. This piece, written in a short and laconic form, draws attention to the ostinato-like rhythmic movement, reminding of striding, which is a characteristic of Tubin’s later works.

ImagetextTubin’s last major piano work is the collection of “10 Preludes” from 1976. At first the composer intended to create a cycle of 12 preludes. “I talked about 12, but only 10 came out. It would be a bit too long to play them in succession, now they are more like a whole”, the composer wrote. Here Tubin used three preludes from earlier times, which might appear to spoil the cycle. The distance in time and style between the earlier and later preludes is rather great indeed. But their inclusion, whereby the earliest samples of the composer’s works are put together with the latest, reflects the composer’s purpose to show a synthesis of his style changes. The prelude before the last even shows the use of the principles of 12-tone technique, which is rather exceptional in Tubin’s music. The seven preludes (#36–42) created in 1976 are bound by a unified style. In comparison with the earlier preludes they are characterized by limited means of expression and a certain harshness, even asceticism. Tubin’s treatment of the harmony here is highly personal, telling in its simplicity and laconism compared with the complicated works of his middle period.

In this edition all Tubin’s 14 preludes are included, in chronological order. As Tubin has himself compiled the collection “10 Preludes”, his own numbers from this collection are marked after the titles to avoid confusion. In addition the numbers from the Eduard Tubin Catalogue of Works (ETW) are marked next to all preludes.


Vardo Rumessen

Vardo RumessenVardo Rumessen (1942-2015) graduated from Prof Bruno Lukk and Eugen Kelder’s piano faculty at Tallinn Conservatory in 1971. Today he is one of the best known performers and promoters of Estonian piano music. Rumessen, who has frequently performed abroad – in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, the USA, Turkey, and Australia.

Rumessen has recorded piano and chamber music by Rudolf Tobias, Mart Saar, Heino Eller, Eduard Oja and Eduard Tubin. Vardo Rumessen is recognized as a master performer of Eduard Tubin’s piano music. He recorded a set of 3 CDs with piano music by Eduard Tubin for the Swedish company BIS in 1988. Rumessen was a personal friend of Tubin and had the opportunity to discuss the composer’s intentions in depth. Eduard Tubin has to a high degree authorized Vardo Rumessen’s interpretations of his music. Rumessen performed the American première of Tubin’s Piano Concertino in 1993 with the Longview Symphony Orchestra. Rumessen has performed works by Beethoven, Franck, Tobias and Tubin for piano and orchestra with the Estonian and Göteborg Symphony Orchestras, conducted by the late Peeter Lilje and Neeme Järvi. He has also performed frequently in ensemble with numerous singers, violinists, cellists, string quartets and other musicians.

ImagetextAlthough Rumessen has achieved his success mainly as a performer of Estonian classical music, he has performed a lot of music from other parts of the world. His largest undertakings have been such as the complete Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier I”, Scriabin’s 10 sonatas, Chopin’s 27 etudes, Rachmaninoff’s 15 etudes-tableaux, etc.

Rumessen is not only the foremost performer of Estonian piano music but also a musicologist with a vast knowledge of Estonian music. He has published a lot of Estonian music, by R Tobias, M Saar, E Oja and H Eller, which have naturally found a place in Rumessen’s repertoire as both soloist and ensemble player. Among other works he restored and published R Tobias’s oratorio “Jonah’s Mission”. In addition, Rumessen has written many articles and has served as an editor of several books about R Tobias, M Saar, A Kapp, E Oja, E Tubin and others.


  • The piano sound is very open and natural… Recommended with enthusiasm. (Fanfare, USA)
  • Vardo Rumessen does not fit under any ordinary pianistic standard. (Sirp ja Vasar, Estonia)
  • Undoubtedly Rumessen is unparalleled as a performer of Tubin… (Aftonbladet, Sweden)
  • Rumessen is a pianist of very considerable stature and Tubin is fortunate in having so commanding and sensitive an advocate. (Gramophone, UK)
  • Vardo Rumessen, himself an Estonian, is as Tubin seems to have acknowledged, a master of the music. (Hi-Fi News)
  • Rumessen’s visit was not only a great musical event; it was a reminder for us to keep alive in our minds the struggle for Iceland’s independence and culture. (Morgunbladid, Iceland)
  • A master pianist… one of the most notable interpreters of Tubin… (Länstidningen, Sweden)
  • It would hardly be possible to play the music any better… (Goteborgs-Posten, Sweden)
  • The world will largely depend upon Rumessen for interpretive insight into Eller’s work, as he is one of the best known advocates not only Eller, but of Estonian music in general. (The Morning Journal, USA)
  • He plays them here with extraordinary sensitivity and poetic freedom… (American Record Guid, USA)

Download: Vardo Rumessen in 2005, photo by P Vähi, jpg, 300 dpi, 1235 KB

Instrument: “Steinway & Sons” D-274 tuned by Ants Saluraid
Recorded in Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn,
Recording dates: 18th–20th Nov and 10th Dec 2002
Engineered by Maido Maadik / Estonian Radio
Co-engineered by Priit Karind and Jaan Tsadurjan / Estonian Radio
Liner notes by Vardo Rumessen
Booklet edited by Tiina Jokinen
Photos by Harri Rospu, Vardo Rumessen and private archives
Produced by Vardo Rumessen and Peeter Vähi
Licensed from Estonian Record Productions
Executive producer – Jari Tiessalo
Published by Estonian Classics (1–28), Carl Gehrmans Musikförlag (29–42)
Total time 67:41
Stereo, DDD
2003 Finlandia Records. Warner Music Finland. A Warner Music Group Company

Press resonance

See also other recordings of Tubin by ERP: 100 Years Of Estonian SymphonyKratt, Musica triste, Tubin, Eduard Tubin And His Time, Northern Lights Sonata, Works for Violin and Piano Vol 1, Works for Violin and Piano Vol 2
See also other recordings of Vardo Rumessen by ERP: Koidust Kodumaise viisini, Wiegenlieder der Schmerzen, The Call of the Stars, Eduard Tubin And His Time, Northern Lights Sonata, The Well-Tempered Clavier I, Sergei Rahmaninov. Piano Works