University of Tartu “Contribution to Estonian National Identity” award presented to composer Erkki-Sven Tüür

Today, on 1 December, the University of Tartu celebrates the 102nd anniversary of the founding of the Estonian-language university. On the anniversary, the Rector of the University of Tartu, Professor Toomas Asser announced the laureate of the Contribution to Estonian National Identity award, composer Erkki-Sven Tüür.

The rector presented the award, together with a tapestry by textile artist Anu Raud, and 50 volumes of the essay collection “Eesti mõttelugu” (“The Story of Estonian Thought”), published by Ilmamaa, on the eve of the anniversary of the national university in the Theatre and Music Museum. See video of the presentation of the award.

“It is a great honour for the university to hand over the Contribution to Estonian National Identity award to composer Erkki-Sven Tüür, whose influential work touches the hearts of Estonian audiences and has gained wide resonance among the music public of the world. Erkki-Sven Tüür has made Estonia larger than its geographical borders, connecting the Estonian culture with modern world culture,” the rector said. He added that the impact and the idea of Tüür’s activities are well aligned with the function of the national university – to be a link between their home country and the outside world as an Estonian-language international university.

Tüür’s recent work is a good evidence of his era-sensitive creativity, always in dialogue with the important issues of our time. For example, in his work “Solastalgia” written in 2016 for piccolo and symphony orchestra, Tüür expresses his pain over shifts arising from climate change and the over-exploitation of nature, which bring about the disappearance and changing of familiar landscapes. In addition to the global measure, Tüür also points to the anthropogenic environmental changes at his home on the island of Hiiumaa. Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Symphony no. 9 “Mythos”, which was composed for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, drew attention to myths and stories related to the birth of Estonian statehood and national self-determination. The symphony includes metaphoric references to present-day Estonia but also, more broadly, to the world where societies stand at the crossroads of many opposing forces. A memorable work from 1989, the beginning of Tüür's prolific creative career, is his first major international success, "Insula Deserta”, in which one can perceive a human soul’s personal search for meaning, haunted by insular isolation and the tension of the historical events of that time.

Tüür’s orchestral music captivates with its abundance of means. It reveals influences of the legendary prog rock ensemble In Spe, which he founded, while on the other hand, he combines the classical symphonic approach with the searching and more avant-garde spirit of new music. In his creative work, he touches the most universal themes that resonate with audiences regardless of their belonging or ethnos. This is evidenced by commissions from the world's top ensembles and orchestras, and performances in the world's best concert halls.

“Erkki-Sven Tüür’s works are like a precious treasure, from which we have much to learn, both for a deeper understanding of our roots, of the nature and environment of Estonia, and of the cultural processes here. With his works, he invites his listeners to think in universal, all-embracing categories,” said Rector Toomas Asser.

Since 2004, on the anniversary of the national university, the University of Tartu has recognised individuals whose creative work has made an outstanding contribution to promoting the national identity of Estonians and Estonia. Erkki-Sven Tüür is the 18th laureate of the Contribution to Estonian National Identity award.

The 11-member committee issuing this year’s Contribution to Estonian National Identity award comprised the 2020 laureate of the Contribution to Estonian National Identity award, theatre historian and researcher Lea Tormis; Rector of the University of Tartu, Professor Toomas Asser; Associate Professor of Comparative Politics Piret Ehin, Professor emeritus Jaak Kikas, Professor of Estonian Literature Arne Merilai, Professor of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Joel Starkopf, TV journalist and TV and film critic Joonas Hellermaa, Rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts Mart Kalm, Director of Tartu City Museum Sirje Karis, Editor-in-Chief of the Teater. Muusika. Kino magazine Madis Kolk, and textile artist Anu Raud.

Message from Erkki-Sven Tüür, laureate of the „Contribution to Estonian National Identity” award

I am moved to the bottom of my heart and filled with gratitude to receive such recognition. The list of previous laureates of the award is awe-inspiring, and it feels somewhat strange to think that I am now among these great people. For me, national self-awareness is primarily related to the language in which I think and what I speak to people closest to me, the language of the poems and prose that touch me to the core. It is also, and not less, related to the place we live in, the sense of home that I, due to the change of the seasons inherent in our latitude, perceive in the context of nature that is in an unstoppable, constant and incredible cycle of rebirth. Most probably, a part of all this and many other things get transferred to even the most abstract sound paintings. I find it important that this award highlights a field that is easy to regard as a global phenomenon — as the language of music does not need a translation. Nevertheless, the entire professional music culture is part of national self-awareness. I want to quote Professor Jaak Kangilaski, who, before the first „Contribution to Estonian National Identity” award was announced in 2004, wrote the following: “Nation is not a state, but a process. It should not be compared to a house that has once been finished and may only need minor repairs, but rather with fire that constantly needs fuel to be added.”

Proceeding from that, here’s my wish: may the music by Estonian composers be one kind of this fuel both today and in the future!”


Composer Erkki-Sven Tüür, the 2021 laureate of the Contribution to Estonian National Identity award. Photo: Johanna Mägin

Further information: Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu, Professor, 516 6849, toomas.asser [ät] ut.ee

See video of the presentation of the award: