What does Moominvalley sound like? How do you interpret a universe already complete, like Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories, into music? Three musicians with unique insight into Tove Jansson’s Moomin music shared their thoughts at the Tove festival in Helsinki, in September 2021. It became a discussion about inspiration, fear and – parts of lamb…
Composer and percussionist Samuli Kosminen has written the score for the praised Moominvalley animated tv series. According to him, he and his fellow-composer Pekka Kuusisto and Jarmo Saari tried to give the music a homemade feeling.
“As a guiding principle, we wanted the music to sound like it was played on instruments that Moominpappa has brought back from his trips around the world, bits and pieces gathered from the basement and attic.”
Composer and bass player Lauri Porra is currently making music for the Moomin brand. He describes his journey into interpreting Moomin into music as some kind of detective work.
“Tove Jansson was an artist that created a universe. The purpose of the music has been to support the world created by Tove Jansson. We have a lot of information, illustrations, text and thoughts and from there we try to find something that honours and fits that world. It´s important to concentrate on Tove Jansson´s vision and try to make music according to it without disturbing that clear core of her world.”
Watch the video below to get a taste of Lauri Porra’s Moomin music and his concert “Seasons in Moominvalley”, which premiered at the Tove Festival in Helsinki 2021:
Weird instruments making the Moomin Music
Interestingly enough, both Kosminen and Porra have a weakness for somewhat weird instruments. As Kosminen describes: the weirder the better.
“When we have composed the music, we start thinking of how to record it and we usually start trying out weird things. Weirder than what ends up on the final score. But you have to start somewhere in the extremes.”
Watch this video in order to see how weird it can get:
For some reason, both Kosminen and Porra frequently use parts of lamb in their recordings. At the Tove festival in Helsinki, the two of them had also brought their favourite parts of lamb, which ended up being hazardous. Scroll down to watch the full recording of their discussion at the festival and see what happens.
The songwriter Tove Jansson
Swedish-Finnish singer and actress Emma Klingenberg has her own unique perspective on music in Tove Jansson’s world: she is the first one to collect and study the songs written by Tove Jansson. Some Tove Jansson fans might know she wrote music for Moomin plays together with Erna Tauro, and have maybe even heard her famous Autumn song (Höstvisa), but the extent of her written music was news even to the researcher.
For two whole years, Emma Klingenberg got access to Tove Jansson’s protected studio home, and went through her binders, papers, drawers for material relating to music. And her findings were stunning!
“It was very inspiring and I felt like life had given me a huge gift. I also thought that [Tove Jansson biographer] Boel Westin had probably found these lyrics before and written about them, could it really be possible that no one had done this before me, but I realised no one had, so I went to work”, Emma Klingenberg tells.
Klingenberg has found four different categories of songs by Tove Jansson. Firstly, The Moomin songs, where almost every character has their own song. Then there are individual lyrics like the collection “Visor till min dam” (Songs to my lady) which are love songs, mostly written to Vivica Bandler, but also a song to Atos Wirtanen. There are also songs written for friends and songs written for plays.
Watch the video of Emma Klingenberg sing Snusmumrikens vårvisa (Snufkin’s Spring Song) here:
Read more about Emma Klingenberg’s findings on tovejansson.com.
No “funeral Moomin music”
Both Moomin composers Porra and Kosminen at times felt pressured in the process of their work with Tove Jansson’s iconic Moomin stories.
“On a personal level, I was stuck in this fear of not respecting Tove´s work enough and I realised that my own interpretation of her work was not really what they were looking for in the score”, Samuli Kosminen tells and refers to that the music he first created was doomed as “too dark and melancholic” by the director and the broadcasters.
“In the first meetings with the British director he asked what in the world we were doing, this is a prime time series and your score sounds like funeral music – this cannot be the theme music for a Moomin series. We tried to say that he just didn´t understand the melancholy of the Nordics, that it should be like this. We had to be reminded to cheer it up a bit. Parts of those ideas are still there, but just less melancholic. And we thought we were doing very cheerful music!
“Fear is a part of creating. If you don´t feel the fear, you´re not trying hard enough.”
Lauri Porra can relate to the fear.
“As experienced composers, I think we can establish that we are always afraid when we make music, but that fear is never of any use, we always do our best and when that does not work, we do something differently. Or then we say that this is how I wanted it. Fair enough. Fear is a part of creating. If you don´t feel the fear, you´re not trying hard enough.
Why does Tove Jansson continue to inspire?
All three musicians have their own take on why Tove Jansson’s art continues to inspire artist, readers and viewers still today, some twenty years after her passing.
“I think the reason her Moomin stories have been so popular and impactful is that they have such a personal tone, but the stories are so universal and deal with deeply humanistic dilemmas and are so diverse and vulnerable. For me, the imperfections of the characters and the acceptance of others, these kinds of aspects of the stories, have been very important. And she did this in a very touching, brave and original way… And the Nordic melancholy that we might take for granted is probably seen as weird, in a good way, abroad.
Emma Klingenberg is impressed by Tove Jansson’s devotion to work: “She loved working and she was not afraid to use her own experience in her work”, she says, and concludes by quoting Tove Jansson herself, from one of her letters to Vivica Bandler.
“You cannot try to find your strength in people.
It cannot be found there.
It is within you and in what you create.
I know you are immensely strong
and you need that strength to come alive,
without it being charged by someone else.
You will get it and then you will never be alone again.”
Lauri Porra replies by quoting his own great grandfather, perhaps the most famous Finnish composers of all time, Jean Sibelius:
“I am never alone, I have my music”.
Watch the discussion between Emma Klingenberg, Lauri Porra and Samuli Kosminen at the Tove festival in Helsinki September 2021 here – including some improvised music-making with weird instruments on stage.