Friday, November 11, 2016

Sibelius Takes the Stage

No. 234 of the ongoing  ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

The last post in our 3-part series on Stage works considers three suites based on stage music composed by Jean Sibelius.

A few years ago, I shared a montage of music based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande. The play has been the basis of several pieces of music; perhaps the best known is the 1902 opera by Claude Debussy. In 1898, Gabriel Fauré had written incidental music for performances of the play in London and the story inspired Arnold Schoenberg's early symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande of 1902–03. Jean Sibelius also wrote incidental music for it in 1905.

Sibelius composed ten pieces consisting of overtures to the five acts and five other movements. It was first performed at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki on 17 March 1905. Sibelius later slightly rearranged the music into a nine movement suite, which became one of his most popular concert works.

The second work on today’s montage is incidental music for Adolf Paul ‘s historical play King Christian II (Kuningas Kristian II). The original play deals with the love of King Christian II, ruler of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, for a Dutch girl, Dyvecke, a commoner. Sibelius composed seven movements in 1898 and the following summer, he composed three more movements, Nocturne, Serenade and Ballad. The ballad is a dramatic piece about the 1520 bloodbath which the king ordered in Stockholm. This movement shows already traits of the later First Symphony. Sibelius derived from the incidental music a suite of five movements, first performed in December 1898.

Karelia is in the south-east of Finland, a beautiful wilderness full of history and peasant music (nowadays it's in dispute between Finland and Russia). Sibelius loved the area - he went there on his honeymoon and had traveled all around.

In his early life Sibelius was hugely patriotic. One of his earliest pieces (from 1893) was a 7-part collection of incidental music for a play put on by the Viipuri Students' Association in Karelia (the play was also patriotic). The different musical images depicted historical scenes from the Karelia area. Karelia Music consists of an Overture, 8 Tableaux, and 2 Intermezzi. Later Sibelius took three of the pieces from his incidental music and jammed them together into an orchestral suite - the Karelia suite.

The Intermezzo is the only "original" movement of the suite. Sibelius borrowed the brass theme in the middle of Tableau 3 and made it into its own movement.
The Ballade was based on Tableau 5, and is "sung" by a bard (on cor anglais), reflecting the mood of a fifteenth-century Swedish king, Karl Knutsson, reminiscing in his castle whilst being entertained by a minstrel.

Alla Marcia is an exhilarating march, which was originally incidental to Tableau 5½ and is practically the same as the original music, except for some minor chord changes.

I think you will love this music too.

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