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The 10 best composers, by Tarja Turunen

Tarja Turunen
(Image credit: Tim Tronckoe)

Tarja Turunen always knew she was going to be a musician. 

"My older brother had a drum set," she says. "My parents had really good singing voices, so there was always music around. We sang together. We went to the theatre together. And when I was six years old my mother saw the talent in me, and I started piano lessons. That was the beginning of my classical education."

Tarja sang in school. Then she sung in high school, studying at the Senior Secondary School of Art and Music in Savonlinna, 350km north-west of Helsinki. Aged 18 she headed north to study at the Sibelius Academy in Kuopio, before joining Nightwish. Now singing was her job. 

"Music was the only way to go for me," says Tarja. "I was singing everywhere. Music gave me the opportunity to get away to the big city, away from the village I grew up in."

20 years after joining Nightwish - and more than a decade after leaving the band - Tarja is still singing. Her latest album is Act II, released on July 27 via earMUSIC, a sequel to 2012's debut live album Act I: Live In Rosario. 

Act II is available across multiple formats, and features audio and video from two live shows: Metropolis Alive, filmed at London’s Metropolis Studios, and a second show filmed at at Milan’s Teatro della Luna Allago. 

Act II is not a live video," says Tarja. "it is a live art video and you are free to discuss it very controversially. Which is exactly what I want. Turn off the lights, volume up and dive into the show!”

Below, Tarja Turunen picks her 10 favourite composers. Act II can be ordered now. 

Puccini

"When it came to the later stages of my classical singing studies, I started to sing Puccini's arias... and especially Mimi's arias from La Boheme. He is a romantic composer, and very demanding when it comes to the vocals. But I'm a romantic person, so it's easier to bring myself to his compositions!"

Sibelius

"Sibelius is Finland's musical father. His work is very melancholic, and melancholy lives inside us Finns, no matter what. Even in my own compositions today, there is always a melancholy involved. There's a lot of happiness as well, but the melancholy lives there. When I listen to Sibelius I feel the connection with Finland, to the country I've spent so many years away from. But that connection and love is always there. It's my roots."

Craig Armstrong

"Craig Armstrong a British film composer whose piano works have really influenced me. I was a pianist - I can still play some piano tunes really badly! - but I still write on the piano. He's done a lot of piano albums, and he's probably composing his scores on piano too. I love soundtracks and movie scores in general."

Peter Gabriel

"I love him. I adore him. I'm a huge fan. He was very influential on me even when I didn't realise it! On my first album, I was using the same make-up that he was during the early days of Genesis. It was completely unintentional! I love Up and So."

Freddie Mercury

"His songwriting was mind-blowingly free. Whenever someone asks me what my favourite song of all time is - or what the most perfect song ever written is - I say Bohemian Rhapsody. Today it would be a very hard to come up with a song like that and get it playing on the radio, but it's such a beautiful piece of music. 

"My own music today is getting more progressive because I'm trying to escape the box that was created as I learnt music over the years. In school they went to they teach you a certain way of writing, but I'm no longer thinking how to be correct, or how to be right. And it's so mind-blowingly beautiful when you get out of it."

Hans Zimmer

"I love his way of being a romantic and emotional score writer. My all-time favourite score from him - even to this day - is the Gladiator soundtrack. It's a very beautiful soundtrack. Without the music the movie would be emotional, but it would not be that emotional. I couldn't move when the film ended - I burst the tears. 

"Nowadays he is very aggressive, with scores like Inception, but it's still emotional. He has an emotional drive. His arrangements are insanely emotional, so even without the beautiful romantic scores he used to write, he's still capturing emotion." 

Regina Spektor

"She's a Russian-American, New York-based singer-songwriter. I love her because she's crazy, she's free, and her songwriting isn't obvious. This makes me love her. She's very strong, and her personality shines through her songs. One of her biggest hits was a song called Fidelity, on her Begin To Hope album, and I love it. It's so nice to have artists who've been there for a long time, and then they break through with songs that aren't obvious."

Roland Orzabal

"I love Tears For Fears, and his songs are so different. Songs like Mad World and Women In Chains are so easy to listen to, but he's very emotional and I'm an emotional girl!"

Matt Bellamy

"Matt Bellamy of Muse is a huge inspiration for me. I even covered one of his songs, Supremacy on my last record [2016's The Shadow Self] It's a very demanding song, vocally. He has this falsetto in his voice, and I enjoy listening to him a lot, but he's also a really talented songwriter. 

"I've been listening to Muse since the The Resistance album, which was a great beginning for me. I love the theatrical aspect of his songs. The theatre connection makes me happy and unafraid to add more stuff to my songs."

Sting

"At high school I was listening to a lot of his songs like Fields of Gold. These songs always reminded me of  my childhood. He uses melodies - and writes melodies for his voice - in a way that means everyone can sing along and memorize the lyrics. 

"I really enjoy the reggae thing he was doing in The Police. They were using a lot of reggae rhythms, and now he's done the same thing with Shaggy and I really enjoyed that too. I enjoy it because it reminds me a lot of The Police. He's a very important songwriter. For me, his attitude is, 'this is what I'm going to do, and you can either take it or leave it,' and that's unbelievable."