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- History

Heino Eller 1887-1970

In my opinion, work should be done consistently. Consistently. Inspiration comes when you work hard. If possible, I make an effort to do it in the morning, whether I am in the mood or not, I have to push through the hours. That is what I recommend to everyone…

Heino Eller was born into a music-loving family in Tartu. As a child, he studied the violin. Eller was notably influenced by Rudolf Tobias, who became a music teacher at Tartu School of Science in 1905. Eller played in Tobias’ string quartet and orchestra and also took private lessons from him. In 1907, Eller enrolled in the Saint Petersburg Conservatory to study violin, but due to a hand injury he had to change his speciality and studied law at Saint Petersburg State University. In 1920, he graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory as a composer, not violinist.


From 1920 to 1940, Eller worked at the Tartu Higher Music School as a teacher of composition. As a result of his successful work, the so-called Eller’s Tartu school of thought was formed. From 1940 to 1970, he was a teacher at the Tallinn Conservatoire. Eller was a composer and teacher with a keen interest in contemporary music who also actively supported the pursuits of his students. He was a highly influential and demanding educator, with many of the most renowned Estonian composers emerging from his classes: in Tartu, he taught Eduard Tubin and Eduard Oja, and in Tallinn, his students included Jaan Rääts, Arvo Pärt, Lepo Sumera and others. We owe the current high level of Estonian music to Eller’s 50 years of exceptionally good pedagogic work.  Since 1971, Tartu Music School has borne the name of Eller.


Eller’s oeuvre consists of nearly 300 primarily instrumental compositions: three symphonies, three symphonic suites, symphonic poems, symphonic pictures and other single-movement symphonic pieces, Estonia’s first violin concerto and a wide range of chamber music for different ensembles. This constitutes the most significant part of his oeuvre. The largest part of his legacy comprises piano music, totalling approximately 200 works. Among his most well-known works are the orchestral works ‘Kodumaine viis’, ‘Koit’, ‘Videvik’ and ‘Varjus ja päikesepaistel’, piano pieces ‘Kellad’, ‘Liblikas’ and ‘13 klaveripala eesti motiividel’ as well as the violin pieces ‘Männid’ and ‘Avarused’. Nature was a great source of inspiration for him. His compositions are characterised by a predominantly lyrical and balanced narrative expression. He frequently integrated folk melodies into his compositions and his original themes often echoed folk melodies, establishing him as a pioneer in Estonian folk-style instrumental music.

‘Now that I have reached a similar age as my teacher was at the time, I have discovered for myself one of Eller’s thoughts: ‘It is much more challenging to find a single fitting note than to fill pages with them.’ Although he never said this to me directly, he still successfully managed to instill the same persistent yearning in my soul for that ‘one right note’.’


Arvo Pärt

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