Music of Finland


Much of the music of Finland is influenced by Karelian traditional tunes and lyrics, as comprised in the Kalevala Karelian culture is perceived as the purest expression of the Finnic myths and beliefs, uncontaminated by Germanic influence, in contrast to Finland's position between the East and the West.

Folk music

Common instruments include trumpets, clarinets, horns and whistles, performed by virtuoso's like Leena Joutsenlahti, Teppo Repo and Virpi Forsberg. More traditional Finnish instruments include the kantele, which is a chordophone, and was used in the Kalevala by the hero Väinämöinen. The jouhikko is another instrument with a long Finnish history. Modernized bands composed of these instruments include Primo, Karelia and Tuulenkantajat, many of whom were inspired by early recordings of masters like Feodor Pratsu, a jouhikko player recorded by ethnomusicologist A. O. Väisänen in 1916.

Finnish folk song (laulu) is commonly understood to be runolaulu, a four-footed trochaic form using only the first five notes of a scale. Highly alliterative, runolaulu doesn't rhyme and frequently tells stories about heroes like Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen and Kullervo. These were the songs compiled by Elias Lönnrot in making the Kalevala, which inspired a rise in Finnish nationalism after its second publication in 1848.

A form of rhyming sleigh song called rekilaulu became popular in the 17th century. Despite opposition from most of the churches in Finland, rekilaulu remained popular and is today a common element in pop songs. Since the 1920s, several popular Finnish performers have used rekilaulu as an integral part of their repertoire. Early pioneers in this field of pop rekilaulu included Arthur Kylander, while Erkki Rankaviita and Pinnin Pojat have kept the tradition alive.

By the beginning of the 19th century, foreign dances including polka, mazurka, schottische, minuet and polska were popular throughout Finland. These led to distinctively Finnish forms of these dance musics, including humppa and jenkka; these are collectively known as pelimanni music. Fiddles, harmoniums and accordions had arrived by then, and quickly spread through the country.

Early in the 20th century, the region of Kaustinen became a center of innovation for pelimanni music. Friiti Ojala and Antti Järvelä were influential fiddlers of the period. Konsta Jylhä and the other members of Purppuripelimannit formed in 1946 became perhaps the most influential group of this classical period.

Revival in the modern age

The Savonlinna Opera Festival reopened in 1967; this, with the Ilmajoki Music Festival and Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, quickly became musical centers for the country and helped revitalize traditional Finnish opera and folk music in a roots revival. Runosong was revitalized by a new generation of performers, including Reijo Kela, Kimmo Pohjonen and Heikki Laitinen, who created the Kelavala performance art piece. 1996's critically acclaimed Suden Aika by Tellu Virkkala saw a further return of runosong to the Finnish music scene. The International Folk Music Festival, established in 1968 in Kaustinen, was a major event in the popularization of Finnish folk. The 1970s saw further revival of Finnish folk music, including artists like Konsta Jylhä, JPP and Värttinä.


  • (danze)

  • (stili)  pelimanni

  •  (canti) runolaulu rekilaulu


  • (solisti)  Leena Joutsenlahti, Teppo Repo and Virpi Forsberg, Erkki Rankaviita and Pinnin Pojat, Reijo Kela, Kimmo Pohjonen and Heikki Laitinen, Konsta Jylhä

  • (gruppi) Primo, Karelia and Tuulenkantajat, Purppuripelimannit, Suden Aika , JPP and Värttinä


  • (cordofoni) kantele - jouhikko

  • (aerofoni) whistles, trumpets, clarinets, horns

  • (ancia libera)

  • (membranofoni)

  • (idiofoni)

  back to European Folk Music page