Sibelius: Karelia Suite

The South Birmingham Sinfonia will be performing this work as part of the Winter 2017 concert.

Sibelius (1865-1957) was a Finnish national born in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire. Sibelius' nationalism always plays a major part in his music, and one of Sibelius' long lasting inspirations was the epic folkloric and mythological poems, the Kalevala, collected and edited by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral traditions over a period of time between 1828 to 1849. The Kalevala tells of the creation, and the mysterious Sampo, and stories of Väinämöinen and Leminkäinen, including Lemminkäinen's trip to the far north to hunt the Swan of Tuonela.

Karelia is a region to the East of Finland: most of Karelia is politically a Russian Republic, with two small regions in present day Finland to the west of the Russian border. Karelia has its own language, related to Finnish and spoken in the Russian republic. Lönnrot used Karelian sources considerably in the collection of the sources for the Kalevala.

Jean Sibelius's Karelia Suite, Op. 11, was written in 1893 for the Viipuri (Vyborg) Students' Association. A much longer version of it, called Karelia Music, was premiered in the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki. The full score tells the historical story of Karelia from 1293 to 1811 and its ultimate reunion with Finland.

Sibelius extracted and adapted three sections from his Karelia Music to form the suite. An intermezzo, originally set between Tableaux 3 and 4, a Ballade based on Tableau 5 depicting the historical character Baron Pontus De la Gardie at the gates of Käkisalmi in 1580, and "Pontus de la Gardie's March", a second intermezzo.

The Karelia suite is one of Sibelius's earlier works and remains one of his most popular.