Today is Finnish Independence Day – Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivää! – and to mark the occasion, behind today’s Advent Calendar door is a short work by Pekka Jalkanen. Kuulen lumen tulon (I hear snow coming) is the first part of Jalkanen’s 2017 triptych November, the three movements of which are for one, two and three kanteles respectively.
Its 4½-minute duration plays out like a loosely-structured, meditative improvisation. The lengthy opening oscillates between two main chords, toying with and noodling around them via various plucked, struck, muted and arpeggiated notes and patterns. This is elaborated further a little to form a climax, followed by a lighter section where a melody emerges, not so much developed as ruminated on, its ideas mulled over almost absent-mindedly, free-wheeling in a relatively narrow harmonic mode. Jalkanen regularly marks sections of the piece “senza tempo” to reinforce their non-strict, flexible character. The alternations between stopped and open notes are ramped up at the end, almost bringing to mind the Japanese koto.
It’s a beautiful, relaxed mix of contemplation and expectation; here in Britain, the chances of snow coming (and actually staying) are often pretty slim, but Kuulen lumen tulon is a lovely way to spend time listening, looking out of the window, and hoping.
This performance of Kuulen lumen tulon was given by Kristi Mühling on a close relative of the kantele, the Estonian kannel, at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn in February 2019. Mühling is one of the most graceful musicians i’ve ever seen, and her rendition of the piece is a masterclass in mellifluous elegance. In addition to the audio recording, a video of the same performance can be viewed on Mühling’s YouTube channel.