Monday, July 19, 2010

Pacius and Runeberg on Stamps

Fredrik Pacius (March 19, 1809 Hamburg – January 8, 1891 Helsinki) was a German composer and conductor who lived most of his life in Finland. He has been called the "Father of Finnish music".

Pacius was appointed music teacher at the University of Helsinki in 1834. In Helsinki he founded a musical society, a student choir and an orchestra. In 1848 Pacius wrote the music to the poem Vårt land by Johan Ludvig Runeberg, which was to become Finland's national anthem. Pacius’s music was also used for the Estonian national anthem Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm and the Livonian national anthem Min izāmō, min sindimō.

In 1852 he composed Kung Karls jakt (The Hunt of King Charles) which was the first Finnish opera, with a libretto in the style of Romantic nationalism, like the national anthem designed to convince Finland's Grand Duke (i.e. Russia's Emperor) of the total loyalty of his subjects in Finland. The libretto was written by the author and historian Zacharias Topelius in close collaboration with the composer. His compositions also include a violin concerto, a symphony, a string quartet and several other operas.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (5 February 1804, Jakobstad – 6 May 1877, Porvoo) was a Finnish poet, and is the national poet of Finland. He wrote in the Swedish language.

Runeberg studied first in the cities of Vaasa and Oulu, later on at the Imperial Academy of Turku, where he befriended Johan Vilhelm Snellman and Zacharias Topelius. His studies concentrated mainly on the classical languages of Latin and Greek. From 1837 onwards he lived in Porvoo, where he served as professor of Roman literature in the Gymnasium of Porvoo. He was married to his second cousin Fredrika Runeberg, née Tengström, with whom he had eight children and who wrote poems and novels, too.

Many of his poems deal with life in rural Finland. The best known of these is Bonden Paavo, (Farmer Paavo, Saarijärven Paavo in Finnish), about a smallholding peasant farmer in the poor parish of Saarijärvi and his determination, "sisu" (guts) and unwavering faith in providence in the face of a harsh climate and years of bad harvests. Three times, a frosty night destroys his crops. Every time, he mixes double the amount of bark into his bread to stave off starvation and works ever harder to dry off marsh into dryer land that would not be as exposed to the night frost. After the fourth year, Paavo finally gets a rich crop. As his wife exults, thanks God and tells Paavo to enjoy full bread made entirely out of grain, Paavo instructs his wife to mix bark into grain once more, because their neighbour's crop has been lost in a frost and he gives half of his crop to the needy neighbour.

Runeberg's most famous work is Fänrik Ståls sägner (The Tales of Ensign Stål, Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat in Finnish) written between 1848 and 1860. It is considered the greatest Finnish epic poem outside the native Kalevala tradition and contains tales of the Swedish War of 1808-09 with Russia. In the war, Sweden ignominiously lost Finland, which became a Grand Duchy in the Russian empire. The poem, which is composed episodically, emphasizes the common humanity of all sides in the conflict, while principally lauding the heroism of the Finns. The first poem "Vårt land" (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) became the Finnish National Anthem. Runeberg is celebrated on 5 February each year.

Above, a souvenir sheet of Runeberg issued in 2004. Middle and below, Pacius and Runeberg, composer and anthem lyricist, semi-postal together issued in 1948.