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A Special Joy

The Sibelius tone poems -
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'... so sparely wrought and of such integrity ...'

The Sibelius Edition: Tone Poems. © 2007 BIS Records AB

This is the first in a series of thirteen Sibelius volumes designed to cover his complete works. Nothing could be more timely. The moral and financial fibres of the world need badly a stiffening draught such as this music, so sparely wrought and of such integrity, can readily provide. If appointed world dictator, I would ban all other music for the next five years, so that BIS could reap the rewards it so richly deserves with these fine performances, and world leaders might recover some of the vision their predecessors entertained before deceptive Mammon became the supreme god of all five continents.

When listening to some of these tone poems, it is impossible not to regret that Sibelius did not work out the Kalevala opera and oratorio he had in mind. The fault is probably Wagner's. The Finnish epic that looms behind so much Sibelius music was compiled by Elias Lönnrot as the result of eleven field trips, many in Karelia. His arrangement of the poems into fifty cantos, and indeed his adjustments and additions to the material, have become standard ever since the Old Kalevala came out (1835-6), and his final conflation appeared in 1849. The metre is that used by Longfellow in Hiawatha. Despite their titles, the Sibelius tone poems have sometimes only an atmospheric connection to the epic.

Sibelius himself adapted the Kalevala creation story for Luonnotar, in which the daughter of the air lets fall the nest of a teal from her lap and breaks an egg. The result is the solar system rather than an omelette. The exacting vocal line was first heard at the 1913 Gloucester Festival.

Listen -- Sibelius: Luonnotar
(CD5 track 1, 1:04-2:41) © 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

A special joy of these discs is the chance to hear Sibelius constantly revising his music. The epic has two Lemminkäinen cycles, both of which Sibelius treated and revised at various times from 1896 to 1939. The Mistress of the North has frozen the seas, so the reluctant hero must return home, as Sibelius originally imagined in 1896.

Listen -- Sibelius: Lemminkäinen's Return (original version)
(CD1 track 4, 0:02-1:55) © 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

The most elusive of the Kalevala themes tackled by Sibelius was Tapiola of 1926. The title concerns the domain of the god Tapio, where 'Wide-spread they stand, the Northland's dusky forests.' It is a work of intense thematic concentration, such as may eventually have made completion of an Eighth Symphony virtually impossible. It is both weirdly atmospheric, and mysteriously laconic so as to illustrate aptly Sibelius's advice to younger composers never to waste a note in their music. It was followed by no major Sibelius orchestral work.

Listen -- Sibelius: Tapiola
(CD4 track 7, 10:38-12:13) © 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

From a very different cultural tradition comes The Oceanides, though it began as essentially a nature piece with the title 'Rondo of the Waves'. But in Greek mythology these daughters of the sea-god are intimately connected with one of humanity's greatest benefactors, the Titan Prometheus. In the play by Aeschylus they visit the stricken Prometheus, offering what comfort they can to the hero chained to a crag in the Caucasus. Even more tellingly, in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, the watch over Jupiter's victim until the moment the supreme god is dethroned, and the world can regain its pristine innocence.

Listen -- Sibelius: The Oceanides (1914 final version)
(CD4 track 6, 1:55-3:15) © 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

Two works sprang from music Sibelius originally wrote in 1899 to support a campaign for press freedom from Russian censorship. A series of historical tableaux resulted in three Scènes historiques, the last of which, a bolero, describes festivities at the court of Duke Johan (later King Johan III) in the 1550s.

Listen -- Sibelius: Festivo (Scènes historiques)
(CD5 track 7, 0:02-1:35) © 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

Of more lasting significance has been 'Finland Awakes', an early version of Finlandia.

Listen -- Sibelius: Finland Awakes
(CD2 track 6, 2:33-4:35) © 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

I can recall boyish bewilderment about the piece: while gallant Finland fought the brutal Russian bear, we could love it; when Russia joined us, and Finland fell in with Hitler, what should one think?

Copyright © 23 October 2008 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


The Sibelius Edition - 1: Tone Poems

BIS-CD-1900/02 DDD Stereo COMPILATION (5 CDs) 82'27"/76'49"/77'38"/74'49"/77'13" - TT 382'56" 1986-2007 BIS Records AB

Ilkka Pälli, cello (The Wood Nymph)
Jukka Hirvikangas, cor anglais (The Swan of Tuonela)
Leena Saarenpää, harp (The Bard)
Helena Juntunen, soprano (Luonnotar)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra (Sinfonia Lahti) (all except detailed below)
Osmo Vänskä, conductor (all except detailed below)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (Cassazione; Scènes historiques I and II)
Neeme Järvi, conductor (Cassazione; Scènes historiques I and II)

Johan (Jean) Christian Julius Sibelius (1865-1957):


1 En Saga Op 9
Tone Poem for large orchestra
Original version - 1892
Andante assai - Largamente - Allegro - Molto moderato - Allegro - Tranquillo

from Lemminkäinen Suite Op 22 (Four Legends from the Kalevala)

2 I Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island
1896 - original version(?)
Allegro assai - Allegro

3 II Lemminkäinen in Tuonela
1896 version - reconstruction based on the performing edition by Colin Davis (2004)
Largamente - Molto lento - Largamente

4 III Lemminkäinen's Return
1896 - original version(?)
Allegro con fuoco - Molto vivace

5 IV Lemminkäinen's Return
1896, revised 1897 - intermediate version(?)
Allegro con fuoco - Molto vivace - [Quasi presto / vivacissimo]

CD 2:

1 Improvisation / Spring Song [Op 16]
Preliminary version of Spring Song - 1894
Moderato e molto sostenuto

2 The Wood-Nymph Op 15
Ballad for orchestra - 1894/5
Alla marcia - Vivace assai - Molto vivace - Tempo I - Moderato - Molto lento

3 En saga Op 9
Tone Poem for Large Orchestra
1892, revised 1902 - final version
Moderato assai - Allegro - Lento assai - Allegro molto - Moderato e tranquillo

4 Cassazione Op 6
1904 - original version
Allegro moderato - Molto moderato - Un poco lento - Allegro moderato

5 Musik zu einer Scène
Preliminary version of Dance-Intermezzo - 1904
Andante di molto - Allegretto

6 Finland Awakes
Preliminary version of 'Finlandia' - 1899(?)
Allegro moderato - Allegro - Poco allegro - Un poco stretto

CD 3:

1 Finlandia Op 26
1899, revised 1900 - final version
Andante sostenuto - Allegro moderato - Allegro

2 Spring Song Op 16
1894, revised 1895
Tempo moderato e sostenuto

3 In memoriam Op 59
Funeral March for Large Orchestra
1909, revised 1910 - final version
Grave e maestoso

from Lemminkäinen Suite Op 22 (Four Legends from the Kalevala)

4 I Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island
1896, revised 1897 and 1939 - final version
Allegro molto moderato - Allegro moderato

5 II The Swan of Tuonela
1893, revised 1897 and 1900 - final [only surviving] version
Andante molto sostenuto

6 III Lemminkäinen in Tuonela
1896, revised 1897 and 1939 - final version
Il tempo largamente - Molto lento - Largo assai

7 IV Lemminkäinen's Return
1896, revised 1897 and 1900 - final version
Allegro con fuoco (poco a poco più energico) - Quasi Presto - Presto

CD 4:

1 Pohjola's Daughter Op 49
Symphonic Fantasia - 1906
Largo - Moderato - Largamente - Tranquillo molto - Allegro - Largamente

2 Night Ride and Sunrise Op 55
Tone Poem for Orchestra - 1908
Allegro - Moderato assai - Largamente - Largo (ma non troppo lento)

3 The Dryad Op 45 No 1
Tone Picture for Orchestra - 1910
Lento - Meno lento - Un pochettino con moto - Lento assai - Un pochettino con moto - Stretto assai - Commodo - Vivace - Largamente

4 Dance-Intermezzo Op 45 No 2
1904, revised 1907
Andante - Commodo e tranquillo - Con moto

5 The Bard Op 64
Tone Poem - 1913
Lento assai - Largamente

6 The Oceanides Op 73
Tone Poem for Large Orchestra - 1914 - final version
Sostenuto assai - Largamente

7 Tapiola Op 112
Symphonic Poem for Orchestra - 1926
Largamente - Allegro moderato - Allegro

CD 5:

1 Luonnotar Op 70
for Soprano and Orchestra (text: Kalevala) - 1913
Tempo moderato - Tranquillo assai

2 The Oceanides Op 73
Tone Poem for Large Orchestra - 1914 - Yale version

3 In memoriam Op 59
Tone Poem for Large Orchestra - 1909 - original version
Andante con moto

4 Cassazione Op 6
1904, revised 1905 - final version
Allegro - Molto moderato - Un poco lento - Allegro moderato

Scènes historiques I Op 25
Suite for Orchestra - 1899, revised 1911

5 I All'Overtura
Grave - Allegro - Grave - Allegro

6 II Scena
Tempo di menuetto - Allegro moderato - Allegro, poco a poco più

7 III Festivo
Tempo di Bolero

Scènes historiques II Op 66
Suite for Orchestra - 1912

8 I La Chasse
Andante - Allegro con brio - Doppio più lento

9 II Love Song

10 III At the Draw-Bridge
Allegro moderato - Andante


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