Aleksander Eduard Thomson

b. January 31, 1845 Sangaste parish – d. 20.10.1917 Petrograd

Composer, founder of Estonian national choral music.

Aleksander Thomson was born in Sangaste parish as son of a mill leaseholder. He studied in Valga elementary school and Tartu district school. He got his musical education from Cimze seminar in Valga, which he graduated in 1865. Thomson has also studied mathematics in University of Tartu from 1870 to 1872. In the year 1865 he became the teacher of Kanepi parish school. He formed a mixed choir in Kanepi that allegedly made from up to 60 singers. In the years 1866–1870 he worked as a home tutor in Vana-Võidu manor near Viljandi where he had plenty of free time and access to a rich library where it was possible to read and study by himself. In 1872 he was offered a job as a German church school in Peterhof which he accepted. After Peterhof he worked as a home tutor in the family of Anton Rubinstein where he wrote his first compositions. Meantime he also studied mathematics in the University of St. Petersburg. From the year 1876 until his death he was a mathematics teacher in the German high school of St. Petersburg. During that time he sang in various choirs, including in Franz Czerny choir for nearly 30 years.

While living in Saint Petersburg he remained his connections with Estonia, collecting folk tunes in many summers with Mihkel Veske and Johan Köler. His connections with Carl Robert Jakobson became closer, whose sister Ida, who was a singer was the first wife of Thomson. Both being very anti German they were searching for the national spirit. From there Thomson's intrest agains Estonian folk tunes grew deeper. He used the collected folk tunes in his choir pieces being one of the founder of Estonian national choral music. He has written around 70 choral pieces from which 40 are extant and best known songs are “Kantele” and “Sing, sing o mouth”. Majority of his works are arrangements of folk tunes (“Spin Liisu”, “Wedding song”, “Billy-Goat” and “Cowardly Suitor”). Being among the first musically educated collector of folk tunes, he tried to focus on the character of the folk tunes and avoid anything German while arranging them. Instead of harmonizing the melody in simple manner he tried to use more complicated techniques like imitation (“Spin Liisu”). In some arragements he followed the old traditions of singing folk tunes like contrasting the foresinger and the choir. He took the texts mostly from folklore but also used the texts of his contemporaries (Koidula, Jakobson, Faehlmann).
The main thematics of his songs were nature and love. Poetic sensibility was mainly heard also in his patriotic songs. His main purpose was seeking nationality in music and he succeeded in it before others who were even more educated in music than him. His interest in folk tunes was also heard in his original compositions where only text come from folklore.

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