Heikki Laitinen

Professor Heikki Laitinen was granted the fourth Kalevala Society Award in recognition for his accomplishments as an ethnomusicologist and as an artist. The Award was granted to Laitinen at the 100-year anniversary conference of the Kalevala Society in Helsinki.

Photo Reijo Piispanen

Photo Reijo Piispanen

Heikki Laitinen, born in Raudaskylä at Ylivieska in 1943, is a surprisingly diverse actor in the fields of Finnish folk music, art and culture. He is a PhD and an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology at the Sibelius Academy. In addition, he is a heritage and music researcher, a performer of many talents, a musician, performance artist, composer, poet and pedagogue. Laitinen’s work is always characterised by a deep passion for discovering and applying new information. As a researcher, he generally finds his subjects in the past, in history. As an artist, he is a modernist and a renewer, even if his performances are inspired by heritage and the folk culture of previous generations.

As a researcher, Heikki Laitinen has for five decades foregrounded themes that have later on become central to the replanting of tradition. Laitinen has carried out research, e.g., on the kantele and other folk instruments, on verse song and the earliest examples of folk songs, as well as polska and the early phases of troubadour music. As an artist, he is equally likely to draw inspiration from old körtti hymns, verse songs or early printed songs as from modern vocal inspiration or wild performances. Research and art have for Laitinen always been intimately connected, and consequently the scholar musician / music-making scholar school spearheaded by him has had a key role in forging a place for Finnish art research both in Finland and abroad.

In 1963–1969, Heikki Laitinen studied piano and composing at the Sibelius Academy. At the University of Helsinki, he first studied theology, then music and folklore studies, graduating as a Bachelor of Arts in 1977. He became a PhD at the University of Tampere in 2003, majoring in ethnomusicology. His dissertation deals with the musical history of 19th century Finland from the point of view of an ethnomusicologist.

As a musician, Laitinen has performed, for example, with Heikki Laitinen and the Hundreds (1966–1974), the Isthmus Troubadours (1975–1985), the Four Knees (1977–1987), Primo (1981–), Kelavala (1989–) and the Suomussalmi Group (1990–). With these and many other groups, he has recorded dozens of works. Together with his artist friends and his students, Laitinen has from the 1970s onward produced a great many productions, many of which have been inspired by Kalevala verse songs and archaic music.

Heikki Laitinen acted as the director of the Folk Music institute at Kaustinen in 1974–1983. He was a lecturer in ethnomusicology at the Sibelius Academy in 1983–2001, and a professor in 2001–2008. In 1995–2000 he served as an art professor elected by the Arts Council of Finland. Laitinen has been involved in many different roles in many heritage and culture related positions of trust, for example in the Finnish Literature Society, the Kalevala Society and the M.A. Castrén Society. He has been granted, e.g., the Lönnrot Award (1995), the Kalevala Jewellery Cultural Foundation Award (2000) as well as the State Award for Music (2008).