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Veljo Tormis Biography

Veljo Tormis

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Born: 1930. Living in: Estonia

Tormis had a profound experience with choral music starting at an early age. His father was a choral director, organist, and music teacher. His delight in the contrasting timbres provided by the organ stops may also be connected to his later orchestration of choral textures, a hallmark of his mature style.

Tormis began his formal musical education in 1943 at the Tallinn Music School, but was interrupted by World War II and illness. In 1949, he entered the Tallinn Conservatory and continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatory (1951-1956). He quickly acquired teaching positions at the Tallinn Music School (1955-60) and the Tallinn Music High School (1962-66), but by 1969 was supporting himself exclusively as a freelance composer.

From that time up until his retirement from composition in 2000, Tormis composed over 500 individual choral songs, as well as other vocal and instrumental pieces, film scores, and an opera. Despite the censorship of several of his more politically provocative works in the late 1970s and the 1980s, he remained an incredibly celebrated composer whose works were performed throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, he is regarded as one of the great contributors to the 20th century repertory of choral music. Currently, his work is beginning to gain wider recognition in the United States as well (a country which has traditionally had limited awareness of the choral prominence of the Baltic region).