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13. Modernism – but that’s already been invented!

The course was completely reversed after the war. Finns turned particularly towards Anglo-Saxon culture. They struggled to shed anti-Soviet attitudes and to build up relations with the great neighbour in the east. Germany was sidelined.

The last trainload of war reparations was sent off to the Soviet Union in 1952, completing the delivery of three hundred million gold dollars’ worth of goods to the victor. The reparations were harsh, but they speeded up Finland’s development. As the 1950s opened, Finland was no crushed beggar but an increasingly prosperous industrial state ready to face the future.

The metamorphosis was complete. A new generation took centre stage, giving short shrift to old formulas. The success of Finnish designers at the Milan triennials raised Finnish self-confidence, and the objects they made were symbolic change: the streamlined vase on the table or the cloak like an abstract painting over the shoulders reflected a new way of thinking. Architects drew visions of a modern utopia, which began to materialize. Nonfigurative art gained ground despite the growls of the older generation and the suspicions of the public. Rhyme and fixed metre disappeared almost entirely from poetry.

The itch for modernity was irresistible, though its progress was not always smooth. The composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) recalls from his student days in the 1950s: “Incredible as it seems, I seriously believed that I had invented keyboard symmetry as a technique of composition in the years that I composed the Three Symmetrical Preludes and even played the at the Jeunesse Musicale festival in Bayreuth. In fact I did invent it, as I didn’t know of any precedent. Not until attending lectures on new music at the Juilliard did I discover that others had been there before.”

Modernism – perhaps it had already been invented elsewhere?

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