Classical Break - Sibelius ll
Mike Burrows reads a short extract from Sibelius’ Vienna Diary.
Intro: Runic Song Interrupted By War-music
Hullo, this is Classical Break and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme is a tribute to the nationalist Finnish Composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), whose birthday falls on December The Eighth (two days after Finnish Independence Day). We’ll be playing music inspired by Finnish national folk-poetry, primarily by the epic, Kalevala. Inspired is the word. Sibelius dedicated his life to what he saw as the heritage of a proud people denied nationhood for some six hundred years. His own life was mythologized by the Finns and Western world until it came to seen as as potent a symbol of determination by self and environment as anything to be found in Kalevala, enchanting in its stories of endeavour, legend and magic.
You have just heard Runic Song Interrupted By War-music, a movement from the Karelia Music, written near the outset of Sibelius’ career, in 1893: it was composed for a festival of folk-poetry and music held by Viborg University, specifically to accompany tableaux vivants of significant events in Finnish history. The province of Karelia, most of which now lies within the Russian Federation, is held by Finns to be the
cradle of Finnish culture and nationalism. The chant heard here is a representation of the peculiar, pentatonic melodic patterns of Kalevala-singing, in which two performers tell a story by statement and reply. Kalevala is written in lines of a trochaic rhythm familiar from Longfellow’s poem Hiawatha, which was written in imitation of it. Sibelius was educated at a Finnish Duchy Grammar School, where he learned Finnish - his first language was Swedish - and first read folk-poetry.
Now, here is Laulu Lemminkaiselle, Song To Lemminkainen. This is a Spring poem, dedicated to a journey made by Lemminkainen, an important character in Kalevala, and often compared to Don Juan! This choral and orchestral work was an offshoot of a vivid group of tone-poems, The Four Legends, completed in 1896, a colouring in musical terms of stories about this character. Originally, it formed a purely orchestral passage found towards the close of the last legend, Lemminkainnen’s Homecoming. Sibelius excised the passage and modified it to create the new work, completed in the same year. By this time, Sibelius had become a master of homophonic Kalevalan singing wedded to techniques of Late Romantic Classical music.
Track Two: Laulu Lemminkaiselle
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. We are presenting a tribute to the Finnish Composer, Jean Sibelius, whose birthday falls on December The Eighth. The Kullervo Symphony was Sibelius’ first large-scale orchestral and choral work, for baritone and soprano soloists as well as choir and orchestra. Massively and powerfully scored, it was completed and performed in 1892. In every sense, it is an extraordinary achievement. In five complex movements, the third and fifth of which are choral, and lasting about 70 minutes, it was later withdrawn by its composer, but never revized.Its style was unique in 1892. The Symphony was written the year after he first heard Kalevalan folk-singing by a mistress of the art, Larin Paraske.
It is a work of instinctive inspiration and imagination as well as study, a unique synthesis of late Romantic grandeur and pictorialism and ancient music usually played on a five-string zither.
Kullervo was the dispossessed hero, his inheritance seized and Parents murdered in his childhood. The Symphony tells his story, culminating in the overwhelming finale, where Kullervo commits suicide: the baritone asks his sword if, now that he has revenged his parents, he can use it to kill himself!). Sibelius’ elemental imagination is fully displayed in depicting the wooded scene of Kullervo’s Death - where he unknowingly committed incest with his sister.. The sister, discovering afterwards that he was her brother, despaired and threw herself into a nearby cataract. Incidentally, their act of love in the third movement is represented with amazing verism for the time. The symphony’s end is dominated by a blazing motif of fate first heard in the first movement.
Track Three, Kullervo’s Death
Lemminkainen’s Homecoming was composed in 1896. In the definitive form found four years later it is a locus classicus of Sibelius orchestral style, particularly his mastery of pacing, economic thematic consequence and judicious scoring. After many adventures concluding in his being torn to pieces and thrown into the river of hell and his reanimation by his mother, Lemminkainen returns exultantly to Kalevala - the domain of the national patriarch, Kaleva - from the land of the North, Pohjola. Sibelius never wrote anything with more élan, humour and understated but true nobility. It has real sweep. As he himself observed, as Finns should, it wears its cap on the side of its head.
Track Four: Lemminkainen’s Homecoming
The tone-poem, Pohjola’s Daughter is a work of Sibelius’ maturity, written in 1906, as he was venturing into a new region in his musical thinking. It tells of how the Maiden of the North, who sits spinning thread above the rainbow, is wooed by the elderly musician-wizard, Vainomoinen. In mockery, she sets him various impossible tasks to prove his suitability as a husband, which he accomplishes easily by his magic: until she challenges him to make a boat from the fragments of her spinning-wheel (a spinning-wheel gloriously portrayed in one of the themes of the tone-poem). He strikes his shin with his axe and departs, unable to stanch the bleeding! There is a Wagnerian quality to the harmony at this point, but physical pain is most effectively expressed! Incredibly, Sibelius originally intended this piece of organic musical argument and seeming pictorial exactness to tell the story of the Daughter of The Air - Luonnotar - who gave birth to creation.
Track Five: Pohjola’s Daughter
Luonnotar is a nine-minute scena for soprano and orchestra written for Aino Acté, and was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in 1913. The Daughter of The Air becomes pregnant and gives birth to the world. This may have a claim to be Sibelius’ most uncanny evocation of the elements and also, of the spirit of Finland. It is like an apotheosis of womanhood and childbirth, its moods strangely and beautifully conveyed by a vast range of vocal and orchestral touches. It has been said that the greatest beauty is always strange. Sibelius is often portrayed as a granitic-faced nordic hero, almost a statue in himself. He was probably the warmest and most sensitive of men, with a strong streak of the feminine in his nature. As an artist, he would have seen obvious parallels between the mother of creation and the creator of music. Certainly, he suffered dreadfully in writing the majority of the pieces in which he sought to do real, lasting justice to his art and country, not to mention himself. The pain drove him to drink, caused a cancer-scare in his forties and silenced him as a major composer for the last 30 years of his life. “You must not join in any race,” he wrote; his artistic ideals must be his own and right for the work in hand. On the other hand, he could describe in music of unforced greatness a unique myth of the creation of the universe. Here is Luonnotar.
Track Six: Luonnotar
Kalevala was a collection of some one hundred and more sequenced (and resequenced) fragments of the poetry of the ancient Finnish people. Its compiler, Elias Lönnrot, also gathered folk-lyrics in a book, Kanteletar, The Daughter of The Kantele. The kantele is the Finnish national instrument, a form of zither; it is the instrument of the wizard Vainomoinen, and accompanies most forms of songs. In 1894, Sibelius wrote a set of part-songs based on poems from Kanteletar: Rakastava - The Lover. One likes to think of the work as being associated with his wife of fifty-five-odd years, Aino Järnefelt, whom he had married in the Summer of 1892, not long after completing Kullervo. Here is the delightful The Path Of The Beloved.
Track Seven: The Path of The Beloved (choir)
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To end this programme celebrating Sibelius’ inspiration by Finnish folk-poetry, let’s hear his setting of verses from Kalevala, Venematka, The Boat Journey of Vainomoinen. This was written in 1893 and re-arranged in 1914. The rearrangement is for mixed choir, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass.
This was Classical Break and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme on the music of Jean Sibelius, was researched and written by Mike Burrows. We hope that you enjoyed it and will join us again soon! Goodbye!
Track Eight: Venematka