Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Jefferson Johnson


Estonian composer Veljo Tormis (1930-2017) is one of the most prolific in his country’s history. A significant portion of his writing has been for choirs. Tormis composed most of his works under Soviet rule. During this communist reign of Estonia, Tormis turned to using traditional music. The source material for a large portion of Tormis’ choral output is regilaul, a type of ancient Estonian folk song. In 1991, Estonia gained their independence, thereby allowing Tormis’ compositions to be more easily seen, heard, and performed around the world.

This dissertation presents a conductor’s analysis of a set of choral cycles composed by Tormis between 1964 and 1969, Looduspildid, or Nature Pictures. A set of cycles representing all of the seasons and incorporating prominent Estonian poetry, Loodispuldid represents one of Tormis’ most important works. It illustrates Tormis’ maturing style as he utilized a variety of 20th Century techniques like extended tertian harmonies, modal scales, pandiatonicism, clusters, and mixed meters. Tormis also employs his own orchestrally-derived techniques of carefully constructed simultaneous articulations along with cumulative chording.

Each cycle contains its own unique style and feel. Sügismaastikud is perhaps the most tonal of the four. Most movements are pandiatonic and one uses the whole tone scale. On a macro level, Sügismaastikud moves from soft in the earlier movements to a fff climax on the final chord of the last movement. Talvemustrid also begins at a very soft dynamic level on a unison D4, grows to multiple ff dynamics throughout, and ends back at a soft dynamic on Db. The cycle is more harmonically adventurous than Sügismaastikud, with consistent chromaticism, octatonic scale, and marked dissonance.

Suvenmotiivid only contains three movements, but continues the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of Sügismaastikud. The first movement, Põualim, immediately begins on a tritone with octatonic scale. Different meters occur simultaneously during the second movement, which also moves quickly through 4 keys. The final movement ends with orchestral voicing and a 10-note chord cluster. Kevadkillud contains six very short movements, most of which are pandiatonic like Sügismaastikud. There is far less chromaticism and harmonic complexity than the middle two cycles, almost as if Tormis is bringing the set full circle. Moreover, the final movement of this cycle (and the entire set) is really just one major chord with embellishments.

As a set, Loodispuldid represents a thorough perspective of Tormis’ mature style. The analyses done as a part of this paper reveal an incredible efficiency in his writing. Motives have purpose and context. Each movement possesses a well-defined harmonic language and rhythmic identity. A variety of formal structures exist, from binary to rondo. Even the many through-composed movements are expertly crafted with clear direction.

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