Sibelius’ “Lemminkäinen” Suite: Four Legends from the Kalevala

Lemminkäinen is a shamanistic figure from the frigid depths of Finnish mythology. Throughout the epic poetry of the Kalevala, where he represents an amalgamation of characters, Lemminkäinen takes the form of a young, heroic warrior. Occasionally described as a “handsome, arrogant and reckless” seducer, he is the son of Lempi, the Finnish goddess of love and fertility. The adventures of this epic hero provided the inspiration for Jean Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite, a collection of four symphonic …

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“The Swan of Tuonela”: Sibelius’ Voyage into Hades

Tuonela, the Kingdom of Death, the Hades of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a broad river of black water and rapid current, on which the Swan of Tuonela glides in majestic fashion and sings. Jean Sibelius inscribed these words in the early editions of his searing 1895 tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela. Originally conceived as the prelude to an opera, this atmospheric music came to life, instead, as part of the Lemminkäinen Suite, inspired by the Finnish …

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Sibelius’ Second: Beyond Finnish Nationalism

Jean Sibelius completed his Second Symphony in 1902 at a turbulent moment in Finnish history. Amid a surge of nationalism and renewed cultural unity, a growing movement called for Finnish independence from Russia. As Tsar Nicholas II sought to suppress Finnish language and culture, Sibelius’ music played an important role in the cultural reawakening of his homeland.  Finlandia, the majestic nationalist hymn written in 1899 as a covert protest against Russian censorship, emerged as a …

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