When Toivo Kuula met with a violent death in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War in May 1918, he became the tragic romantic hero of Finnish music. Born at Vaasa in 1883, he was a pupil of Novek, Wegelius and Jrnefelt at the Helsinki Music Institute, before further study abroad in Bologna, Leipzig, Paris and, finally in 1911–12, in Berlin. During his years of continuing study he had served as a teacher and conductor in Vaasa, and conducted the orchestra in Oulu. In 1912 he became assistant conductor of the Native Orchestra and from 1916 to 1918 held a similar position with the Helsinki Town Orchestra. His work as a composer was inevitably influenced by Sibelius, drawing in particular on the folk-music of his native region. It is in particular for his songs and vocal writing that he is remembered. Kuula died at the early age of 35, and was a full-blooded national romantic. His music breathes the spirit of his own country, Ostrobothnia. Kuula left 24 solo songs for voice and piano. Typical features include a strong melodic flow and Slavic pathos, and many songs are in a minor key and a melancholy mood. It would be too simple, however, to claim that Kuula was an ardent hothead whose songs embody the rougher traditions of Ostrobothnia. Alongside local passions, his songs also carry a quite different vein of refined and nuanced sensuality, as in Sinipiika (Blue Maiden) or Jkukkia (Ice Flowers), which comes close to impressionism.
In Kuula’s songs the piano often merely provides an accompaniment. The piano texture has no independence, as in the Central European Lieder tradition. His piano writing is sonorous, with thick chords somewhat reminiscent of Brahms. Kuula wrote numerous folk-song arrangements. The choices of text show his fervent patriotism. Over half of his songs are settings of Eino Leino or VA Koskenniemi, great Finnish poets of his time. Many of Kuula’s solo songs were first performed by his wife, Alma Kuula, a singer and a source of inspiration.