”Chopin pianist”?

Frederic_Chopin_photoAlthough I have played Chopin’s music since I was 10 years old, I never considered myself as a ”Chopin pianist” During my study years in Helsinki and Imola, the “Chopin pianists” were those who performed all etudes in their concerts and took part in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. I never thought I could play Chopin as well as they did. Already in those days, I concentrated to the music of Brahms and the more unknown Finnish composers. I played Chopin with no serious aims, just because it was fun.

When I started my own Soundcloud channel in 2012, I gathered together a group of unedited recordings from the preceding ten years. Most of them were live recordings. I had thought that only my Brahms and maybe Rachmaninoff recordings would be worth publishing in the internet. I was astonished there were also some other nice tapes. I put all acceptable recordings on my Soundcloud account. I soon noticed that especially my Chopin recordings were often listened and liked.

I do not have many videos of my playing, at least videos I could publish – there are almost always some copyright issues. My videos were often made by some TV channels like YLE or SibaTV. That is why I did not publish anything on Youtube before. However, this year (2014) I started an own Youtube channel. My first video contained my own Romantic composition “Ave Maria Mater Dolorosa” performed by Suomen Laulu Choir, Esko Kallio and Pilvi Listo-Tervaportti.

Now I have added two audio tapes to Youtube. These videos contain two Chopin’s polonaises: The more serious Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 No. 2 and the “Heroic” Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53 which belongs to the most admired compositions of Chopin. I added some photos and sincerely preferred to choose pictures of Chopin – I think he is the main character of these videos. But there are also some pictures of myself.

Why polonaises? What is my personal experience of this dance? Polonaise is a Polish national dance which was danced also in other countries – at least in Scandinavia (Swedish “polska”) and Russia – in the 19th century. People still dance polonaise in the festival occassions in my homeland Finland, for instance at the school balls and at the academic celebrations. It is an easy dance and it is fun to start a party with it: When dancing a polonaise, the dancers form a kind of “spiral” and are thereby able to see and greet all guests. This dance really has a social significance! Chopin’s polonaises, however, are not meant to be danced but to be played in the concerts. But if you know the steps, you can dance with this music, too. I know it – I have tried!

I hope you enjoy my new videos.

Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major “Heroic” Op. 53

Chopin: Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 Nr. 1

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Four short films on Johannes Brahms – Project description

Brahms in Vienna

Johannes Brahms

This series of four short films was directed by Paula Saraste. I made the script and performed as a pianist in the films.

The films are about the German composer Johannes Brahms and his relation to the Romantic poetry. Many important themes of the Romanticism intertwine in Brahms’s music: beauty of nature, fanciful Romantic love, admiration of the romanticized Middle Ages and the world of fairytales. The films impart the scientific information on Brahms with multifaceted means: performances of Brahms’s songs, piano and chamber music, played music examples, illustration, multimedia and video art.

Film director Paula Saraste

I got to know the video artist and film director Paula Saraste when I worked at the Finnish Institute in Berlin. We got well along and thought a co-operation project would be a lot of fun. In 2010 I finished my Doctoral Thesis Romantic poetry as inspiration of Brahms. Description and analysis of the early poem collection of the composer. Paula and I decided to make short films on the themes of my Doctoral Thesis and present the information in an easily digestible way. The project was funded by the Sibelius-Academy Development Centre.

We started with planning the themes and writing the scripts. The whole filming process was done in 2013. I was then pregnant with my second child. The project progressed and my belly grew simultaneously. The music performances were the last scene which we filmed. I was then already in the 6th month pregnant and quite chubby. Photos from the project can be seen here.

The music was recorded and filmed at the Music Centre Studio in Helsinki. We had a really great recording and camera team there. Moreover, I had five excellent musicians with whom I was able to perform several major works of Brahms: the singers Annami Hylkilä, Ann-Marie HeinoAarne Pelkonen and Niall Chorell, and the violinist Pauliina Valtasaari.

Terhi Dostal in "Four short films on Johannes Brahms"

Terhi Dostal in “Four short films on Johannes Brahms”

The interviews and many other scenes were filmed at the Ballhaus Rixdorf Studios in Berlin. It is a good address for anybody planning to make a film. We had the chance to work with Daniel Redel who made some magical special effects for the films. Paula Saraste also directed one scene with two actors, Anita Dechamps and Sebastian Wagner.

In addition to all this, we also made a trip to Brandenburg and were kindly let to film at the beautiful Church and the interesting Museum of the Cloister Zinna. We also wanted to film at the Schloss Wiepersdorf, the writer Achim von Arnim’s home, but unfortunately we were not to permitted to do it. However, we were able to visit Arnim’s grave which was covered by snow. Achim von Arnim was one of Brahms’s favorite authors.

The films were premiered in Finland in April 2014. You can watch them on the Siba-TV channel in the internet:

Brahms’s Romantic Nuns

Romantic castle ruins

For the Romanticists, very interested in the Middle Ages and also in the Roman Catholic Church, cloisters were an especially popular setting for their tales. Catholicism fascinated the Romanticists with its dark history, mystic experiences, its miracles and saints. As a true son of German Romanticism, the German composer Johannes Brahms composed several cloister songs. In many of these Brahms songs, the convent is described as a lonely and dismal place. The nuns in Brahms’ compositions are invariably sad and often even unhappily in love.

This short documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Klosterfräulein Op. 61/2 (soprano, alto, piano)
Brahms (arr.): Gunhilde WoO 33/7, Folk Song (soprano, piano)
Brahms: Die Nonne und der Ritter op. 28/1 (mezzo-soprano, baritone)

Brahms’s Fairy Tale Romanticism

Annami Hylkilä and Ann-Marie Heino in Brahms's song "Walpurgisnacht".

Annami Hylkilä and Ann-Marie Heino perform Brahms’s song “Walpurgisnacht”.

The Romanticists loved fairy tales and their fantasy characters. The Grimm brothers were among the best-known storytellers of European folk tales. As a true son of the Romantic ideals, the German composer Johannes Brahms grew up with these fairy tales. Even as a mature man, he had many similar books in his library. The 1816 edition of Grimm’s fairy tales remained in Brahms’ library almost all his life. Brahms adored ballads, songs which tell a dramatic story. Many Brahms’ songs contain fairytale-like characters or supernatural elements.

This short documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Walpurgisnacht opus 75/4 (soprano, soprano, piano)
Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 10/3 from „Four Ballades” (piano)

Brahms’s Rain Songs

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

Most pianists and violinists know Brahms’s song Regenlied Op. 59/3 because he quotes it in the final movement of his G major violin sonata. He used the same melody also in his song Nachklang. The Regenlied describes rain which brings to mind a flood of childhood memories. Childhood is an unusual song theme for Brahms who preferred to compose songs of unhappy love or of longing. In this Rain Song, the refreshing purity of the rain is compared with the innocence of a child.

Brahms returned to this Rain Song five years later in 1879, in his first published violin sonata, Op. 78 in G major. The work may have been some kind of memorial to his godson Felix Schumann who had played violin as a hobby. Felix, the son of Brahms’ dearest friend Clara Schumann, died of tuberculosis in February 1879, at the early age of 24.

This documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Regenlied Op. 59/3
Brahms: Nachklang Op. 59/4
Brahms: Violin sonata in G major Op. 78, 3rd movement

Brahms’s Edward Ballade

Knight Edward and his mother.

Knight Edward and his mother.

One of Johannes Brahms’s favourite ballads was a Scottish folk poem called “Edward”. Brahms wrote two separate compositions based on this piece; a solo piano piece, and a duet for two singers and piano. It was unusual for Brahms to use the same text for two different compositions. He was obviously very fascinated by this dramatic poem.

The poem is a dialogue between a mother and her son. Edward has killed his father and returns home with bloodstained sword. Her mother questions him. In the end, the dark secret of this patricide is revealed.

This documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Ballade Op. 10/1 “Edward”
Brahms: Duet Op. 75/1 “Edward”

Film details


Annami Hylkilä, soprano
Ann-Marie Heino, mezzo-soprano
Niall Chorell, tenor
Aarne Pelkonen, baritone
Paulina Valtasaari, violin
Terhi Dostal, piano

Sebastian Wagner
Anita Dechamps

Concept and script: Terhi Dostal
Direction, screenplay, video art and editing: Paula Saraste
Camera: Matti Strahlendorf, Daniel Redel, Paula Saraste
Special Effects: Daniel Redel
Sound engineer: Jon-Patrik Kuhlefelt

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“Women cannot compose”

After deciding to become a musician at the age of five, I composed all the time. Everything I learnt on my piano or theory lessons soon became part of a composition. I improvised a lot, too. My first composition was called “In the cave of a dragon” which I wrote at the age of six.

From a really early age, I was fond of a couple of things. First, polyphony. Second, Romantic music. Third, Latin texts. I wrote a composition in three movements for a girls’ choir at the age of 13. It included Latin texts and a fugue, although I had not yet studied counterpoint. My music teacher at school was overwhelmed. I wrote several instrumental compositions, choir works, even a Romantic violin sonata.

However, soon after that an important person of my life told me that the women cannot compose. This happened in Finland in the 1990s. I still remember how I was told it – word for word:

“Women cannot compose. There have never been interesting female composers. There have been some who have tried. Clara Schumann, Kaija Saariaho… They have never created anything important. Women are good for nothing as composers. They can succeed only as performers. It is better you do not waste your time with composition. Concentrate to the piano playing.”

After this, I stopped composing and improvising for more than ten years.

Another reason for not composing was that I simply liked – and I still like – triads and tonal harmonies. I yearn for beauty. The Romantic music of the 19th and 20th century has been my home land for decades. Knowing that triads were nearly banned in the contemporary music for a long time, I thought nobody would take my music seriously, because it was written in a wrong style. No matter if its quality was good or not.

Don’t get me wrong. I do like contemporary music, too. I played it even on some important platforms like at the Ultraschall Festival in Berlin. I truly admire many contemporary composers and enjoy playing their music. But the completely atonal language has simply never been my mother tongue. I noticed I always played better contemporary compositions by close friends or by people who I had loved in a special way. Even when playing atonal music, I was a Romanticist.

After writing all this, I could add modifying Galileo Galilei: “And yet she composes.” My composition Ave Maria Mater Dolorosa was premiered by the well-known Finnish choir Suomen Laulu, Esko Kallio and Pilvi Listo-Tervaportti in the 7th of May 2014. It was not my first composition, but it was the first to be performed in public. It was just a start and maybe I will compose something completely different in the future. But this piece is from the reality I love most. It is Romantic, polyphonic and its text is in Latin.

Terhi Dostal

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