Photo: Eduard Tubin and Vardo Rumessen in 1981.
Vardo Rumessen (8 August 1941 – 25 August 2015) was born in Tallinn to a family of musicians . He studied in the piano class at the State Conservatory in Tallinn with professors Bruno Lukk and Eugen Kelder, graduating in 1971. For his graduation work Rumessen compiled a three-volume issue of the complete piano works of Mart Saar with commentary. In 1972 his tutor Johannes Jürisson asked him to perform Saar’s preludes for the festivities dedicated to the 90th year of Saar’s birth. This was the beginning of more than four decades of fruitful activities researching and presenting Estonian classical music.
Already during his studies, Rumessen became concert master of the Conservatory’s opera studio (1969-1972). He then worked as music editor at Estonian Radio (1973), piano instructor at the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute (1973-1975), senior piano instructor at the Conservatory (1971-1991), editor of music scores of the Estonian Music Fund (1978-1985), and producer at the Estonian Concert Bureau (1987-1992).
Rumessen was well known as a discoverer and evaluator of the achievements of Estonian classical music, bringing forth the extraordinarily rich musical heritage of a small country. He discovered or brought out of oblivion more than a hundred musical gems and published and performed works of Rudolf Tobias, Mart Saar, Heino Eller, Eduard Oja and Eduard Tubin.
Especially notable is his organizing the performance of Tobias’ oratorio Des Jona Sendung in 1989 at the Estonia concert hall conducted by Peeter Lilje. The score, edited, corrected and completed by Rumessen, was published by Swedish publisher Nordiska Musikförlaget in 1996. Des Jona Sendung is regarded as one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century – not only in Estonian but in the whole of European musical life.
In the beginning, Rumessen considered Tubin’s music as too modernistic, but after studying it closer together with Karl Leichter, he reached the conclusion that there was nothing comparable in Estonian music regarding the depth of the content and the mastery of compositional technique. Rumessen started researching and performing Tubin’s works and met the composer personally in Tallinn in 1976. In 1981 he gave a recital of Tubin’s complete piano music at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, in the presence of the composer. This great success in Stockholm led to a six-year ban in his Communist homeland on performing and travelling abroad. In 2000 Rumessen founded the International Tubin Society and began the publishing of Tubin’s “Collected Works”.
A supporter and co-worker in many of Rumessen’s projects was Neeme Järvi, also a tireless promoter of Estonian music, who shared Rumessen’s conviction that culture is not just entertainment, but a spiritual striving towards higher goals; the foundation of a nation.
Rumessen was a pianist of great diligence, making numerous concert tours to many countries in Europe, to Asia, America and Australia. His piano playing is preserved on some 40 records, of which 22 are solo CDs. His recording in 1988 of Tubin’s complete piano works on three CDs for the Swedish BIS company was his greatest international success.
Rumessen is a pianist of very considerable stature and Tubin is fortunate in having so commanding and sensitive an advocate.
Gramophone 1989 No. 5 (Great Britain)
Vardo Rumessen’s performances seem splendid. He has all the technique in the world, and the ability to get inside the music and make a most persuasive case for it. The piano sound is very open and natural… Recommended with enthusiasm.
Fanfare 1989 No. 5 (USA)
A recognition of Rumessen’s talent was also expressed by British music critic Bob Barnett in 2001, who wrote that Rumessen had abandoned a world career as pianist in order to propagate Estonian music – thereby showing his rare intellectual and artistic range.
In his last years Rumessen produced several magnificent records of the piano works of Bach, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and Scriabin.
With his encyclopaedic knowledge, Rumessen became an internationally recognized authority on Estonian classical music. He lectured on several international musicology conferences in Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, America and Germany, compiled and wrote books on Tobias, Saar, Kapp, Oja and Tubin and wrote a wealth of articles on the most varied subjects. Altogether Rumessen published 120 scores and books.
Rumessen was a member of Soviet Estonian Composers’ Union (from 1973, also of its board), founding member of Union of Estonian Performers (1998), honorary member of Estonian Music Academy (1999) and founding member of Estonian Music Council (1992). He founded the International Eduard Tubin Society in 2000 and was its chairman until his death.
In 1989, two years before restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia, Rumessen started his political life. He had a central role in revolutionary change as an active member of various committees working for independence. In free Estonia he was a member of the basic law assembly, member of a conservative nationalist party and of the Estonian Parliament (1992-1995 and 1999-2003).