Sound Fountain



The Helsinki University Chorus - Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat - Cincinnati - 1953


Poster announcing the performances of the Helsinky University Chorus with the Cincinnati Symphony.










Sibelius: Origin of Fire and Pohjolah's Daughter.

Sibelius The Origin Of Fire and Pohjola's Daughter coupled with Violin Concerto of Glazunov on Remington R-199-191 .














Sibelius Songs beautifully sung and very well recorded.

Go to the site of the Helsinki University Chorus - Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat.


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When the Helsinki University Chorus went on tour to North America in 1953, it concertized in more than 30 towns and cities in the US and Canada. In most places the chorus sang a cappella. But in Cincinnati the program contained also a composition written for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra.


Don Gabor and Laszlo Halasz, through their contacts with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and conductor Thor Johnson, saw an opportunity to make recordings of this Finnish wonder of harmony, strength and authenticity. These characterizations were then and still are the hallmarks of this excellent ensemble of male voices.

Soloist, chorus, orchestra and conductor taking their bow. (Photocopy sent by Eso Haapa-Aho.)

The day after the first concert of the Chorus of the Helsinki University in Cincinnati's Music Hall, music critic Arthur Darack reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer of November 21, 1953:

"This Finnish male chorus, 60 in number, produces a brilliant sound, almost a hard sound, but is uncanny in its response to direction and in rapier-like thrusting with musical sound.

The bass sounds reverberate, producing an organ-like ground, and the higher sounds are fused into a unified and exhilarating tonal mass. In a word, the chorus is terrific."
"The (...) Sibelius "Origin of Fire" for the chorus, solo and orchestra, is to be recorded this morning and will duly appear on Remington Records one of these days. As sung and played yesterday, it should be taken up by Sibelius enthusiasts, who will find it in the full Sibelius tradition." - Arthur Darack (Cincinnati Enquirer, November 21, 1953)

The recordings were made during the stay of the chorus in Cincinnati on the 20th and 21st of November 1953.
One recording was of the performance of an early composition of Jean Sibelius entitled The Origin of Fire, the work Arthur Darack was referring to. It is Op. 23 and not the top of Sibelius's oeuvre. It was hardly ever performed in the nineteen fifties and even today there is only one recording of it, conducted by Neëme Järvi

The Origin of Fire is set for baritone, male voices and orchestra. The text is part of the Finnish epos Kalevala and should be seen, or better: heard, in the context of the complete epos. Sibelius was not satisfied with his composition and revised it in 1910. Nevertheless it represents a very authentic Sibelius. Putting it on the program must have been a somewhat daring deed at the time.

During the stay in Cincinnati also tone poems of Finnish composers Unno Kalervo Klami (who studied with Ravel) and Leevi Annti Madetoja (a pupil of Sibelius) were performed by the orchestra.
Through this music, and the a capella pieces, the audience came into contact with the sound of the Finnish language that has by its significant use of vowels a pure and strong impact on the listener. The soloist in the performance of "The Origin of Fire" was Sulo Saarits.

The recording session of the chorus singing a cappella was for a second LP. The program consists of various songs written by several Finnish composers who wrote specifically for male voice choir, complemented by compositions written by Tomás Luis da Victoria, and by Luigi Palestrina. The program also contained Georg Frederic Handel's famous Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah. The Handel piece was possibly included for the purpose of giving the average music lover a reason to buy the record. Gabor was very good at designing strategies for the proliferation of his product.

When recording the chorus a cappella and also together with the Cincinnati Symphony, Robert E. Blake, Don Gabor's recording engineer, did apply the multiple microphone placement as used for the MUSIRAMA releases. Four microphones were used.
Remarkable is that he taped the performance in stereo! Imagine this was in 1953!
1953 was the year of "The Robe", the first motion picture made in the new format of Cinemascope. And it was the time of the introduction of Cinerama. These formats had a multiple channel soundtrack, recorded on special recorders. "What Hollywood can, we can do too" must have been the idea of Donald Gabor, Laszlo Halasz and engineer Robert Blake. Although the stereo gramophone record was not yet launched, many audiophiles were already using two track / binaural / stereo tape recorders in those days. As far as is known, the a capella recordings were never issued on tape. The tracks of the recordings in Cincinnati were mixed down for the release of the recording in mono.

For the recording of the chorus singing a cappella, the men were positioned close to the back wall in front of the door at right on the stage of Cincinnati's Music Hall. The members of the choir had hung their coats and jackets over the back of the chairs of the musicians. Music stands are shown in the foreground as well. It looks like the session was sort of improvised, but not necessarily so as there is no doubt about it that the men were ready to give a good performance as the Remington disk shows. The positioning right in front of the backwall gave a more close up and intimate sound if compared to a position in the middle of the stage or hall, or in an open air recording.

Martti Turunen (1902-1979) conducting the chorus singing a cappella during the recording session for Remington Records. Left from center in foreground baritone Sulus Saarits. (Photocopy sent by Eso Haapa-Aho.)

The photograph taken during the recording session suggests that there are at least four microphones discernable. That number is correct as it was mentioned that for the new MUSIRAMA recordings 4 microphones were used. One microphone is positioned relatively high and close to the back wall - as the shadow indicates - for capturing the right section of the choir. One microphone is placed in the left section of the chorus, relatively close to the wall as well, and just above head level. A third microphone captures the right section, but is placed in front of the singers, also slightly above the heads of the singers, close to conductor Martti Turunen. In front of the soloist there is one microphone clamped to a short horizontal bar (not easily discernable in the picture).

These stereo recordings of the Cincinnati Symphony and the Helsinki University Chorus were made in November 1953 and were issued in mono. Apart from Emory Cook who recorded sound, Remington was the first to make stereo recordings of an orchestra. RCA made their first stereo recording in 1954.

REMINGTON R-199-167:  A Recital of The Helsinki University Chorus (Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat), conductor Martti Turunen. Soloists: Rafael Sora and Veikko Tyrvainen. Recorded during the second tour to North America in Cincennati in 1953.

The program:
#1 Finlandia (Sibelius),
#2 Sydämeni Laulu (The Song of My Heart) (Sibelius),
#3 Paan (Haapalainen),
#4 Karjalan Kunnailla (Turunen),
#5 Laululle (Kilpinen),
#6 Tuutulaulu (Palmgren),
#7 Soliseva Vesi (Sonninen),
#8 Kit-kat Kat-kat (Törnudd),
#9 Kotimaani Ompi Suomi (Turunen),
#10 Disciplinae Filius (Klemetti),
#11 Amoris Opulentiam (Klemetti),
#12 O vos Omnes (Tomás Luis da Victoria),
#13. Sanctus (Palestrina),
#14. Halleluja (Hallelujah) Chorus from "The Messiah" (Handel).

Paul Affelder evaluated this disk in a Sibelius discography in High Fidelity Magazine of November 1955. He restricted himself to the two Sibelius works: Finlandia and The Song Of My Heart.

"Of all Sibelius' fine works for chorus, these two for male voices are the only ones in the LP catalogue. Finlandia Hymn is the composer's own arrangement of the hymn section from his symphonic poem Finlandia. It is the last number of a suite of Masonic Ritual Music, put together over a period of years - Finlandia Hymn was arranged in 1938 - and revised in 1948. Though the original calls for piano or organ accompaniment, it is presented here in what must surely be a more appropriate form: a cappella. It is delivered with both reverence and enthusiasm, also some choppy phrasing. Dating from 1895, The Song of My Heart is a work full of simple beauty and deep feeling. It is sung here with great sensitivity. Except for a little distortion in the loudest spots, this is a fine, realistic recorded presentation of a superior male chorus." - Paul Affelder (High Fidelity Magazine, November, 1955)

The chorus as it is today has a vast repertory and has made many CD-recordings but I only could discover "Sydämeni Laulu", Turunen's beautiful "Karjalan Kunailla" and Palmgren's sweet "Tuutulaulu" (Lullaby) on the Compact Disc recordings.

REMINGTON R-199-191: Helsinki University Chorus with The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conductor Thor Johnson. Sulo Saarits, baritone. Sibelius: The Origin of Fire, op. 32; Sibelius: Pohjola’s Daughter, op. 49. Recorded during the second tour to North America (1953).

The Origin of Fire, Pohjola's Daughter and Songs A Capella released on Varèse-Sarabande VC 81041 in Stereo.

These performances on R-199-191 were coupled with Glazunov's Violin Concerto performed by André Gabriel - a pseudonymn for violinist Roman Totenberg - and the RIAS Symphony conducted by Georg Ludwig Jochum (brother of conductor Eugen Jochum). The records were released in 1955.

The Origin of Fire, Pohjola's Daughter and two songs a capella - Song of My Heart, Finlandia - were issued by AV High Fidelity Recorded Tape in stereo.
Image provided by Philip Chance
See for more info on AV Tape th
e Thor Johnson page.

NOTE The Origin of Fire was also performed during the first American tour in 1938 in Boston and New York with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Sergei Koussevitzky (ref. Martti Turunen's article from 1938 on

Charles D. Sigsbee reviewed the A-V Tape Libraries issue (reel-to-reel tape) of orchestral works and the a capella "Finlandia" and "Song of my Heart" in Tape Recording Magazine in 1954.

A -V TAPE LIBRARIES, INC. 730 Fifth Ave., New York 19 Concert Classics, No. 1027
Monaural: 7.5 IPS, Dual Track, 1 reel Binaural: 7.5 IPS, I reel

Sibelius -Choral and Orchestral Works Helsinki Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Thor Johnson, Conductor "The Origin of Fire" Tone poem for Baritone, Male chorus and Orchestra, Opus 32 -Sulu Saarits, Baritone "Song of My Heart" (a cappella) " Finlandia" (a cappella) "Pohjola's Daughter," a Symphonic Fantasy, Opus 49

If you don't like Sibelius, you won't like this. If you do like Sibelius, get it by all means. An intensely interesting recording of some of his shorter, and lesser known works. Musically, this is good stuff, performed by people who obviously have great feeling and respect for the Finnish giant. Both "The Origin of Fire" and "Pohjola's Daughter" are typical of the composer's work and the opening bars of the latter, in the cellos and double -basses, will raise many a goose -bump among owners of wide -range equipment. A-V has put a gold label on this recording, and well they might have, as it is worth its weight in the precious metal.
I heard it on monaural equipment and it sounded excellent. But the thought of what it must sound like binaurally has caused me to get out the catalogues. In spite of the fact that there were only three tapes available for review this issue, the caliber of all three was such as to convince me that tape is here to stay.
I understand there is a clamor for more of the popular songs of today and "Pop" music, waltzes, etc. Hack Swain has been producing tapes in this category (see last two issues) on the electric organ. I hope the tape companies will react to this growing demand, and as soon as they do, it will be my pleasure to review them and pass along any information which may be of help. As I said in the November-December issue, commercial tape recordings are not widespread at the moment. The pioneer companies are increasing their output and new companies are coming into this field all the time. The public is demanding, and getting, more realism in home music reproduction the same thing will apply to the type of music desired; if you, the public, desire more of the popular music, then the companies will see that your wishes are granted. If you have any ideas, sugges- tions or particular music in regard to the tape field let it be known, to us and /or to the companies. In this way the companies will be releasing what you, the consumer, want to hear and the one sure way of their knowing what is wanted is by letting them know. - Charles D. Sigsbee

The stereo-tapes of "The Origin of Fire", "Pohjola's Daughter" and 8 selections from the original recital recording of R-199-167 were reissued by Tom Null on Varèse-Sarabande stereo Lp, reference VC 81041. "Some equalization had to be applied to match the modern RIAA equalization curve", Tom Null writes on the back of the cover. The Varèse-Sarabande release shows all too well that the Remington discs did not fully show the quality of the original tapes made in 1953 by Robert Blake, nor did the Remington discs show the full impact which the performances must have had on the audience. The recordings were supervised by Don Gabor and Laszlo Halasz.

Click on the image to view a larger map.

Map drawn by hand (as published in the book about the history of the Helsinki University Chorus) with the names of cities and dates of the American Tour in 1953. The tour took place from November 1, 1953 (when they arrived by plane at Boston Airport), till December 22, 1953. The last concert was given in New York on December 20, 1953.

At the occasion of the visit of the chorus in 1953, a vase was designed by Kaj Francke and manufactured by the Nuutajarvi-Notsjo company. Francke was their top designer in the 50's.

This vase was acquired by Rita Tanguay Bissonnette who also sent the picture she made of the glass vase set against a colorful background. The inscription reads University Chorus Helsinki 1953.

The Helsinki University Chorus (YL), founded in 1883, is the oldest Finnish-language choir in Finland. The chorus made many recordings on CD. If you want to get acquainted with the expressive and both strong and refined singing of this chorus, I would recommend the Finlandia CD of Songs for Male Voice Choir by Jean Sibelius. The CD contains 25 songs and opens with a powerful Finlandia, followed by the famous Rakastava. The recording sounds very well because multibit AD-conversion -the magnificent Sony PCM-1610 Digital Audio Processor - and not a low bit converter was used. The reference number is FACD-205-S.

More recently the chorus recorded the "Complete Songs for Male Voice Choir" by Selim Palmgren. These recordings are especially of interest to lovers of choral singing and to choruses searching for new material to extend their repertory.

Rudolf A. Bruil, page first published in the Fall of 2000.

(Photos of the chorus courtesy The Helsinki University Chorus, Finland)

NOTE In May 2003 YL and Ondine Records signed an exclusive recording contract. And on March 29 and April 5, 2008 the YL Male Voice Choir gave concerts to celebrate its 125th anniversary.




Copyright 1995-2009 by Rudolf A. Bruil