Four Legends from the Kalevala on Symphony @ 7

Jean Sibelius in 1913(Photo: Wikipedia)
Jean Sibelius in 1913(Photo: Wikipedia)

On Monday’s Symphony @7, we enter the world of Finnish mythology for the Four Legends from the Kalevala by Jean Sibelius.  He wrote this work, also known as the Lemminkainen Suite, in the early 1890s with the original idea of creating a mythological opera based on Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala.

Instead of a Wagnerian scaled opera, Sibelius finally decided on a four movement orchestral suite depicting adventures of one of the epic’s characters, the hero, Lemminkainen.  Three of the four titled sections directly portray adventures of the hero, while one, The Swan of Tuonela, serves as a slow movement and mysterious interlude.

In the first movement, Lemminkainen and the Maidens of Saari, the hero, a dashing young Don Juan type of character, travels to an island and seduces many women before he eventually marries the one who initially showed no interest in him.

Having grown bored with married life,  Lemminkainen in Tuolela find the hero in the Finnish mythological underworld, the land of the dead, where he intends to shoot the Swan of Tuonela to gain the hand of the Maid of Pohjola, the daughter of the sorceress of Pohjola.  Lemminkainen is killed instead by a blind herdsman, who is the son of Tuoni, the god of the underworld.  His body is dismembered and thrown in the river.  Lemminkainen’s mother learns of this and travels to the island and magically restores him to life.

The Swan of Tuonela, the most famous piece from the set, presents a swan gliding on the waters surrounding the island of the underworld.  The dark, bleak and mysterious atmosphere is relieved only briefly a short glimmer of light.  It is often performed on its own in concert and in recordings.

Lemminkainen’s Return sees the hero coming back, having adventures in battle and returning home.

Join me Monday evening for a musical adventure on Symphony @ 7 on Classical 101.

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