Born in Saint Petersburg, Pingoud was a pupil of the Russian composers Anton Rubinstein, Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He also took private lessons with Alexander Siloti, who had come to know the family when he became a neighbour of their summer residence at Tikkala Manor near Viipuri on the Karelian Isthmus. In 1906, he went to Germany to study with the music theorist Hugo Riemann and the composer Max Reger, who considered him one of his best pupils. Perhaps on his father’s instructions, Pingoud also studied non-musical subjects, including philosophy and literature, as well as mining and metallurgy, at Jena, Munich, Bonn and Berlin. He chose to present a thesis on Goethe, which for some reason was never approved. In 1908, while still a student, Pingoud began a writing career by becoming musical correspondent for the St. Petersburger Zeitung; he held the post until 1911 and then subsequently contributed concert and opera reviews from St. Petersburg until 1914.

His first orchestral concert, held in Helsinki in 1918, heralded the arrival of a modernist musical aesthetic in Finland. The music shocked the audience, much like their counterparts at the notorious 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in Paris. Stylistically, the works showed the influence of Richard Strauss, Alexander Scriabin and Claude Debussy. Hostility in Finland towards his music resulted in a string of pejorative labels, including “ultra-modernism” and even “musical Bolshevism”, although his command of orchestration did eventually receive some critical acknowledgement. His open rejection of Finnish nationalism may have been responsible for some of the disapproval he encountered (unlike other Finnish composers of the time he avoided composing works inspired by the Kalevala).

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