Eugen Kapp’s extensive oeuvre consists of operas, ballets, large-scale vocal works with symphony orchestra, symphonic music, e. g. three symphonies, instrumental concertos, chamber works and vocal and choral music. His works composed for the stage, especially opera Flames of Revenge and ballet Kalevipoeg, has been staged several times in Estonian theatres and many musical numbers of them has achieved wide popularity. In addition, Kapp has also composed music for the films and plays.
Eugen Kapp, the son of the outstanding composer and composition professor Artur Kapp, started his musical studies in Astrakhan, Russia. In 1920, after the complicated political situation in Russia, caused by the October Revolution and Home War, the Kapp’s family returned back to Estonia. In 1922–1926, Eugen Kapp studied piano with Peeter Ramul and Theodor Lemba at the Tallinn Conservatory, where he graduated his father’s composition class in 1931.
In 1935, Eugen Kapp started working as a pedagogue at the conservatory, continuing teaching after the end of the World War II: in 1947, he was elected as the professor, from 1952–1964 he served asthe rector of the conservatory, from 1949–1957 and 1964–1966 he was the head of the composition department and since 1975, he was a Professor-consultant at the Tallinn Conservatory. Besides teaching composition, he also lectured music theory. Among his composition students there are Gennadi Podelski, Eino Tamberg, Hillar Kareva, Heino Lemmik, Gennadi Taniel, Olav Ehala and others.
In 1941–1944, during the World War II Eugen Kapp was mobilised to the rear area in the Soviet Union. He participated in the founding of the State Artistic Ensembles of the Estonian SSR in Yaroslavl, acted there as a composer and conductor. To expand the repertoire of the ensembles, Kapp composed both patriotic songs and large-scale works, including opera Flames of Revenge and Symphony No. 1 Patriotic.
Being loyal to the communistic regime, Kapp became after the war the member of the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party (1951–1961), ambassador of the ESSR Supreme Council (1947–1955) and USSR Supreme Council (1954–1962). He was also the chairman of the Estonian Composers’ Union (1944–1966).
The central part in Kapp’s output belongs to the music for stage – six operas (including two children’s operas), two ballets, operetta, youth musical and musical fairy-tale. His first opera Flames of Revenge (libretto by Paul Rummo) was composed during the war years, celebrating the 600th anniversary of the St. George’s Night Uprising. Flames of Revenge, the most popular of his operas, has been also staged outside of Estonia (premiered in theatre Estonia in 1945). Because of the tendentious plot and schematic structure, Kapp’s operas are not considered a part of the treasury of Estonian opera literature, although there can be found colorful scenes and beautiful arias and duets.
Eugen Kapp’s ballet Kalevipoeg (1947) was one of the first Estonian ballet next to Kratt by Eduard Tubin (1940). Likewise Tubin, Kapp also used Estonian folk music in his ballet and treated it in very interesting way. Two suites from the ballet have been made by composer, which consist the most popular pieces like Forging the Swords, Kalevipoeg’s Dance with the Maiden of the Lake, Dance of the Wind and others.
Eugen Kapp’s oeuvre is rich in chamber music, he has composed music for different ensembles (including two string quartets, three trios) and also miniatures for piano, violin and other instruments. Kapp’s first violin piece Nocturne, composed during the conservatory years in 1927, has a beautiful melody and romantic sound, also influence of Heino Eller could be heard. Also his early work Trio No. 1 for violin, cello and piano (1930) is the skillful composition influenced by romanticism. Kapp has frequently applied the metaphorical expression in his music, the best example is the piano cycle Pictures of Tallinn, which achieved wide popularity during his lifetime.