Trending News
Subscribe Now
Famous Natives of Saaremaa & Muhumaa
Foto: Erakogu
Text by: Tõnis Kipper, Sirli Tooming, poetry translated by Imre Sooäär

Famous Natives of Saaremaa & Muhumaa 

We invite you to explore four famous natives of Saaremaa and Muhumaa through their music, poetry and linguistic artistry.

Photo: Saaremaa muuseum
Photo: Saaremaa muuseum

Johannes Aavik
The greatest Estonian wordsmith and language innovator

Born in 1880 in Pöide village, Aavik enriched our written language in a variety of ways: by borrowing and mixing and matching words from dialects and other languages or by coming up with completely new words. We use some 30 of these words in our everyday language: consider the Estonian equivalents for words and expressions such as rabbit, to be convinced, to embrace, to feature, murder, to lie on one’s back, forehead, adorable, to remember. If these were abolished from any language, wouldn’t people miss them when uttering sentences? Maybe this musing inspires the readers to explore the Aaviks of their own languages… Every nation has one for sure.

As fate would have it, Johannes Aavik had to call two countries home. In Estonia, his birth country, he worked as a language and secondary school teacher, a lecturer of Estonian language at the University of Tartu, an educational adviser and an editor.

In 1944, he emigrated to Sweden, Stockholm, where he worked as an archivist, translator and author of papers on language and textbooks. Aavik was a member of the representative committee of the Estonian Representation in Sweden.

On 26 September 1992, the Johannes Aavik Society was established in Tallinn, while the summer of that same year saw the inauguration of the house museum of brothers Johannes and Joosep (an organist) Aavik as a subsidiary of the Saaremaa Museum in Aavik’s parental home in Kuressaare. Some years ago, the buildings were completely renovated, and the museum display was also updated. When in Kuressaare, it is certainly worth the eff ort to look up the small museum located on Vallimaa Street. It is like a city oasis, beckoning the visitors to the times when the Aaviks were around. There has been talk of opening a language centre here, maybe even of international scale, one that would serve as a worthy living monument to Aavik and a continuation of his life’s work.

All in the name of keeping our language in good health…

Photo: Tiit Mõtus
Photo: Tiit Mõtus

Villu Veski
The voice of Muhu Island

Villu is perfect proof of at least two notions. Firstly, even if you come from a tiny island such as Muhu, the great world stages are still in your reach. Provided that you have enough talent, willpower and tenacity. Secondly, Villu personifies the complete opposite to the expectation that “once you learn to walk on parquet floors, the common earth is lost to you” (from a poem by the Estonian poet Hando Runnel). He has never forgotten his native island; rather, he has taken the tales and songs of this tiny island with him into the great wide world and, conversely, brought the rhythms and colours of that great wide world to Muhu. In addition to Villu’s personal creative career as a stellar musician, and maybe even preceding it, is the Muhu Future Music Festival JUU JÄÄB, which he launched and which has evolved into one of the musical highlights of the summer.

This year, we are already celebrating the 25th edition of the festival! In recent years, Villu has moved the festival venue to Veskimäe, his childhood home, which now houses the Muhu Music Farm. With his festival, Villu has managed to reach everyone living on Muhu Island, even if jazz is not their music of choice. Everyone wants to be involved with JUU JÄÄB; the whole island identifies with it.

Villu’s famous collaborations include the Sounds of the Nordic Islands, Saxappeal Band and Avicenna, but many locals still remember the clarinet duo with Villu Veski and Ants Oidekivi that Vello Tikerpalu formed at the local Hellamaa 8-grade school… Maybe that is where it all began, although Villu himself has said that music begins where words come to an end.

Photo: Saaremaa muuseum
Photo: Saaremaa muuseum

Debora Vaarandi
The lyricist of our most famous waltz

Although Debora was not born in Saaremaa, the natives have always considered her as one of them. She spent much of her childhood at her father’s home in Laimjala and studied at Saaremaa Coeducational School, and her fi rst poem titled “In the Mist” was published in the local school paper Kume Rivi.

We can credit Debora with the Finns welcoming us into their hearts. Georg Ots, singing the “Saaremaa Waltz” by Raimond Valgre epitomizes Saaremaa for a whole generation of our northern neighbours. Whether performed in major or minor, this song encapsulates the genuine spirit of Saaremaa, the eternal nature of it. The lyrics of the song are taken from Vaarandi’s poem “Working in Lööne Swamp”. Lööne is an actual place in Saaremaa, and a road sign at Valjala crossing points exactly towards the swamp, where the lyrics to the song were born. Debora wrote many beautiful poems and several others of them were made into a song (e.g. “Butterfl y Orchid” and “Collective Farm by the Coast”). She was also a beautiful woman; why else would she be asked to model for a painting of the poet Lydia Koidula. That is how the story goes, at least… Debora was a prolifi c translator, allowing us access to numerous works of world literature with her translations from Finnish, German and Russian. In person, she was down-to-earth and welcoming, as has been attested by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her.

To mark the poet’s 100th birthday, a bronze interpretation of Debora created by the sculptor Simson of Seaküla was unveiled in front of the community centre of Laimjala village. The statue had been a pet project of the Naturalists’ Society of Laimjala. An idea that began as a fl ight of fancy was carried out, bringing joy to the people of Saaremaa and maybe to the poet herself, in her home in the heavens. While the bronze version of Debora is not exactly lifesize, the people of Saaremaa will always be looking up to her…

Debora is our Lydia Koidula. Only Debora’s words about Saaremaa can be compared in beauty to what Lydia has written about Estonia.

Photo: Elvira Glänte
Photo: Elvira Glänte

Britta Virves
A musician with an intrepid spirit

Britta Virves, a young jazz pianist and composer from Saaremaa, is working as a freelance musician mainly in Sweden and is about to conquer the world stage.

Her journey began as a student of the legendary music teacher Tiit Paulus at the Kuressaare School of Music. She went on to study at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, spent a year as an exchange student at the Odense School of Music in Denmark, which was followed by studies at the Skurup School of Folk Music in Sweden. In 2016, Virves moved to Stockholm, where she entered the Master’s programme at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.

But before diving into the Scandinavian musical realm, Virves, together with Maarja Aarma, a singer with roots in Saaremaa, had created a collection of songs in Estonian that were recorded together with the musical collective Gretagrund founded in the spring of 2014. In 2016, the piece “Cold Is An Artist”, recorded with Gretagrund, earned Virves first place at the Uno Naissoo Competition of Music Composition and Interpretation, and her song “Waltz of Kalamaja” received an honourable mention. Virves is currently a member of Swedish bands Mainland Jazz Collective and Norrbotten Big Band and the Danish singer Marie Mørck’s Quartet. She performs her own compositions with Britta Virves Trio, which has a debut album in the works, to be recorded over the summer.

Last year in March, Virves was awarded the annual prize of Stockholm jazz club Faschings Vänners, given to a young up and coming jazz musician. At the award ceremony, Virves was hailed as an exceptionally talented composer, arranger and diverse pianist with a lot to contribute to the Swedish musical scene.

Virves’ sound is multifaceted, and a keen ear always discerns the spirit of Saaremaa in her compelling compositions.


Famous Natives of Saaremaa & Muhumaa

Related posts