Chamber music for trios, quartets and quintets

Chamber music with piano (composed in Hämeenlinna)

Family trio: Jean, Linda and Christian Sibelius

Piano trio (G major?)
for two violins and piano: 1. Andante - Allegro, 2. Adagio, 3. Vivace.
Completed in 1883.

for two violins and piano. Completed in 1883.

Piano trio in A minor
for violin, cello and piano: 1. Allegro con brio, 2. Andante, 3. Menuetto
Completed in 1884.

Piano quartet in D minor
for two violins, cello and piano: 1. Andante molto - Allegro moderato, 2.
Adagio, 3. Menuetto, 4. Grave - Rondo (Vivacissimo) Completed in 1884.

Before Sibelius enrolled at the Music Institute (autumn 1885), he included a piano in nearly all the chamber music works he wrote for at least three musicians. In 1881 Sibelius and his siblings had formed a trio in which Linda played the piano, Christian the cello and Janne the violin. Their mother played the harmonium with the children. "We played together; Janne played the violin, Kitti the cello, mother the piano or the harmonium. Janne composed for piano and violin at a fairly early age, and I had to accompany him from the notes he had written down, which was not easy," Linda Sibelius later recollected.

In 1882 there was a rapid increase in the musicians who took part. At the beginning of the summer Sibelius wrote to his Uncle Pehr that he was playing Kayser's études and duets with Anna Tigerstedt, the daughter of Theodor Tigerstedt, the municipal Officer of Health. In the autumn of 1882 Sibelius joined a string quartet whose repertoire included quartets by Haydn.

The first mention of a composition can be found in a letter Sibelius wrote from Kalalahti, 25th August 1883. He disclosed that he had composed one trio and was working on another. "They are rather poor, but it is nice to have something to do on rainy days," he wrote. The extant trio is the first of Sibelius’s compositions that can be dated with certainty.

Sibelius wrote his earliest works to be played by family members. Erik Furuhjelm and Erik Tawaststjerna have studied the early sketches in detail. In the early works critics have seen influences from the Viennese classical school.

In February 1884, Janne got hold of Johann Christian Lobe's work Lehrbuch der musikalischen Composition, which he called Compositionslehre in a letter to Uncle Pehr. If Sibelius really did wade through the book, he must have acquired a knowledge of musical theory that was exceptional for a youth of his age. Following Lobe's teachings, Sibelius composed a piano quartet and a piano trio. The piano quartet in D minor from August 1884 is reminiscent of Mendelssohn. It is not known whether it was ever actually performed (which is why the performance of the quartet during the Sibelius Weeks in Järvenpää, September 2002, was claimed to be the first public performance). Sibelius himself probably thought that the quartet was good enough, since he showed a fragment of the finale to Erik Furuhjelm, who wrote the first book on Sibelius's life and work in 1916.

These early works must be seen against their background: the music is astonishingly good considering that it was written by a teenager who, apart from a few piano lessons, had received no instruction and who had studied musical theory on his own with the help of just a couple of books.

Chamber music with piano during the composer's student years

Allegro for violin, cello and piano. Completed in 1886.

Piano trio in A minor, “Havträsk trio”
for violin, cello and piano: 1. Allegro maestoso, 2. Andantino, 3. Scherzo
(Vivace), 4. Rondo. Completed in 1886.

Piano trio in D major, “Korpo trio",
for violin, cello and piano. 1. Allegro moderato, 2. Fantasia, 3. Finale (Vivace). Completed in 1887.

for violin, cello and four-hand piano. Completed in 1887. Part of the work is missing.

for violin, cello, harmonium and piano. Completed in 1887.

for violin, cello and piano. Completed in 1887-88.

Piano trio in C major, “Loviisa trio”,
for violin, cello and piano: 1. Allegro, 2. Andante, 3. Lento - Allegro con brio. Completed in 1888.

Andante - Allegro
for string quartet and piano. Completed in 1888-89.

Piano quintet in G minor
for string quartet and piano. 1. Grave - Allegro, 2. Intermezzo (Moderato), 3.
Andante, 4. Scherzo (Vivacissimo), 5. Moderato - Vivace. Completed in 1890.

Piano quartet in C minor (also: C major)
for two violins, cello and piano. Completed in 1891.

Jean Sibelius composed a considerable amount of chamber music during his years at the Helsinki Music Institute. He concealed a certain amount of it from his teacher Martin Wegelius, whose stylistic ideals did not entirely correspond to the thoughts of the young composer. Sibelius felt less constrained during the summer, when he composed piano trios. These he also referred to according to the places of their composition; hence we have the "Havträsk", "Korpo" and "Loviisa" trios. Of these, the sunny and unproblematic Loviisa trio is the one performed most frequently.

In these works Sibelius composes works reminiscent of the Scandinavians Grieg and Sinding, the Russian Tchaikovsky and the Austrian Mendelssohn.

Sibelius wrote his final works at the Music Institute without any part for piano (see below), but during his year of study in Berlin 1889-1890 he completed a large-scale piano quintet in G minor. The impulse probably came from the first public performance of Christian Sinding's successful piano quintet, which Sibelius heard in Leipzig in January 1890.

The first and third movements of the piano quintet were performed in a concert given by Busoni and the quartet of the Music Institute on 5th May 1890. The work had a good reception. "Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!" his brother Christian wrote, thrilled by the applause. But Wegelius was of another opinion and was severely critical of the work. Even Sibelius himself wrote to Werner Söderhjelm before the performance that the quintet was "sheer rubbish". 11. Despite this, on 11th October 1890 the piano quintet was performed in Turku. It was the first occasion on which the quintet was performed in its entirety. Adolf Paul played the piano part. For many years after this the piano quintet was rarely performed.

The influence of Sinding is perhaps most apparent in the piano part. The year in Berlin had brought more chromaticism and sense of devilry into Sibelius's music. At this stage the young composer was becoming acquainted with all the vices of young men, and his Weltschmerz was of a typically pathetic variety. Even so, the innocent gentleness of the Loviisa trio can still be sensed, in fact more richly than before. The contrasts are more striking, and the fresh innocence is more pronounced.

The quintet begins with a tremolo of fifths on the piano and chromatic outbursts of despair in the strings. It is as if Sibelius was trying desperately to produce orchestral effects within a quintet. Typically Sibelian is the way in which the main theme grows from the slow introduction. The work, which is in five movements, lasts for over 30 minutes. In it one can find rudiments of Sibelius's "Finnish style" and a way of thinking which breaks with sonata structure while internalising its form.

During his year of study in Vienna Sibelius concentrated on orchestral composition and on songs. Chamber music was represented by the piano quartet in C minor (often referred to as being in C major). It is a greeting to his fiancée Aino Järnefelt, who was a talented pianist. The work was originally a piano piece. Slightly later, Sibelius prepared a piano quartet version from it and added an introduction in C major. The quartet includes a theme and variations, a form that is rather unusual in Sibelius's output. Later, in the slow movement of the fifth symphony this development would lead to a solution in which variations overlap and there is a continuous metamorphosis.

Chamber music without piano

Composed during the composer's student years

String quartet in E flat major:
1. Allegro, 2. Andante molto, 3. Scherzo (Allegretto), 4. Vivace. Completed in 1885.

Molto moderato - Scherzo (Allegretto)
for string quartet. Completed in 1885. Piano arrangement of the scherzo ([E major] and [E minor ]) in 1886.

for two violins and cello. Completed in 1887. Possibly connected with Menuetto [and] Allegro.

Menuetto [and] Allegro (also: Allegro [and] Menuetto)
for two violins and cello. Completed in 1887. Possibly connected with the Serenata (see above).

Alla marcia
for string quartet. Completed in 1888.

Andantino (Cmajor)
for string quartet. Completed in 1888.

Theme and Variations in C sharp minor
for string quartet. Completed in 1888. Part of the work is missing.

Theme and Variations in G minor
for string quartet. Completed in 1888.

Allegretto (D major)
for string quartet. Completed in 1888.

for string quartet. Completed in 1888.

for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Andante - Allegro molto
for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Allegretto (A major)
for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Adagio (F minor)
for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Andante molto sostenuto
for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Moderato - Allegro appassionato
for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Più lento
for string quartet. Completed in 1888-89.

Andantino (A majori)
for violin, viola and cello. Completed in 1889.

Fuga för Martin W[egelius] (Fugue for Martin Wegelius)
for string quartet. Completed in 1889.

String quartet in A minor:
1. Andante - Allegro, 2. Adagio ma non tanto, 3. Vivace, 4. Allegro. Completed in 1889.
Suite (also: Trio) in A major
for violin, viola and cello: 1. Prélude (Vivace), 2. Andante con moto, 3. Menuetto, 4. Air (Andante sostenuto), 5. Gigue. Completed in 1889. The violin part for movements 4 and 5 is missing.

Op. 4 String quartet in B flat major:
1. Allegro, 2. Andante sostenuto, 3. Presto, 4. Allegro. Completed in 1890. (See
also the orchestral work Presto [Scherzo].)

Adagio (D minor)
for string quartet. Completed in 1890.

Jean Sibelius wrote very little chamber music without a piano part during his years in Hämeenlinna. The string quartet in E flat major was composed in Hämeenlinna in the summer of 1885, and it sums up the stage Sibelius had reached before he was taught by Martin Wegelius at the Music Institute. The quartet seems to describe Sibelius's joy in life after he had passed his matriculation examination.

The most apparent model for the quartet is Haydn: Sibelius has the same kind of twinkle in the eye and the same boyishness as the old master. Still, the quartet shows the later original musical genius in embryonic form, and has influences from a more romantic style.

A proportion of the works from the first years of study have only survived as imperfect versions. The most interesting and original works of this period are probably the suite in five movements for violin, viola and cello and the string quartet in A minor. With these works, at the end of his years at the Music Institute in the spring of 1889, Sibelius had confirmed his position as the greatest hope of Finnish music.

The suite was performed for the first time on 13th April 1889. Ferrucio Busoni, who was on the teaching staff of the Music Institute remembered the excitement of the teachers: "We pricked up our ears when we realised that here was something that vastly exceeded the level of a student-work."

For its time, the suite in A major was a bold, and at some points sharply dissonant work. Only the first three movements and a concept for the fifth movement of the suite have survived.
The first public performance was moderately successful.

The Prelude is the most interesting movement of the suite. Sibelius's ideas concerning colour are now breaking through and there is evidence of a bold new style. The cello plays fourths and fifths, the viola is brings impressionistic colour to the mid-range while the violin sounds out a bold melody. However, the contemporary audience liked the more conventional movements better.

The term of the Music Institute ended with the first public performance of Sibelius's string quartet in A minor It had been preceded by the Fugue for Martin Wegelius, which in retrospect is a preliminary work for the last movement of the quartet.

The A minor quartet was performed for the first time on 29th May 1889. The reception in the press was unanimously favourable. "The highlight of the evening," wrote Uusi Suometar admiringly. "At a single stroke he has joined the vanguard of those who have been entrusted with the future of the art of music in Finland," wrote Karl Flodin in Nya Pressen. Sitting in the audience, Robert Kajanus immediately gave up his own dreams of becoming a composer – a renunciation that was to last for many years.

The quartet is one of the most mature works of Sibelius's student years, even if the influences of Beethoven, Grieg and Mendelssohn can be detected. The work includes Sibelian material and ideas that would be developed in future masterpieces .

The string quartet in B flat major is part of the harvest of the summer of 1890, when Jean and Aino became engaged. One can imagine that the classical transparency in the work is connected with the happy mood of the young couple. Sibelius completed it in Loviisa and its first public performance took place in Helsinki. In the middle of the midst of the bright mood of the first movement there are also darker tones and some wild chromaticism. In the second movement the "Finnish atmosphere" and the influence of folk song is already breaking through - a year and a half before Kullervo. The movement also has connections with the Rakastava suite from 1894. Ilmari Krohn was of the opinion that the scherzo, too, contained "true Finnish music". The finale has been considered more conventional, and possibly written in a hurry. However, the quartet is a harmonious whole, and it is the only one of the trios, quartets and quintets of his youth to which Sibelius later gave an opus number.

The Adagio in D minor is apparently music which Sibelius had intended for his quartet in B flat major.

Voces intimae and Andante festivo

Op. 56 String quartet in D minor (Voces intimae):
1. Andante - Allegro molto moderato, 2. Vivace, 3. Adagio di molto, 4.
Allegretto (ma pesante), 5. Allegro. Completed in 1909.

Andante festivo for string quartet
Completed in 1922. See also the orchestral work Andante festivo.

Although Sibelius wrote dozens of chamber music works in his youth, after the year 1891 he almost completely neglected the composition of trios, quartets and quintets. However, he made an exception in 1909, when he wrote the string quartet in D minor (Voces intimae). It is the only major work for string quartet of Sibelius's mature period.

Sibelius began to write the quartet in earnest in December 1908, after completing Night Ride and Sunrise. At the beginning of 1909 he continued to compose it while he was in London. On the 15th April he presented his quartet Voces intimae to the publisher, Lienau. "It turned out as something wonderful. The kind of thing that brings a smile to your lips at the hour of death. I will say no more," Sibelius wrote self-confidently to Aino.

Voces intimae was performed for the first time at a concert of the Helsinki Music Institute on 25th April 1910, almost a year after it was completed. "The composition attracted a great deal of attention, and it is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant products in its field. It is not a composition for the public at large, it is so eccentric and out of the ordinary," was the verdict in Helsingin Sanomat.

The quartet begins in D minor with a dialogue between violin and cello. Soon the D minor is given Dorian tones and the texture gains orchestral weight. It is as if Sibelius would really like to compose for a string orchestra and not just for a quartet. Moreover, the colouring of the Vivace in A major is orchestral in places and its treatment is aphoristic. Sibelius joked that it was really movement number one-and-a-half, since the composer had linked it seamlessly with the subsidiary theme of the first movement. One could say that this cohesive device prefigures the solution that Sibelius found for the first movement of the fifth symphony.
The beautiful and touching centre of the quartet consists of a slow adagio, and it was on the pages of this movement that Sibelius later wrote the exclamation "Voces intimae!". The minuet-like Allegretto (ma pesante) is in the minor key, and it does not contain the usual trio episode in the major key. The themes have a connection with both the first movement and with the adagio.
Tawaststjerna thought that the last movement was formulaic and written in a hurry. The atmosphere is nevertheless feverish and it easily sweeps the listener along. The inner voices turn into a passionate will to communicate. The movement has interesting reminiscences of the Overture in A minor from 1902, and perhaps even from the Fugue for Martin Wegelius. One can almost fancy that the movement represents a plunge into nothingness, during which life flashes before one's eyes, as if one were watching a film. "Oh, Oh, my, my! A ruined man. What have I done, only composed well," the composer wrote in his diary on the day when he left the quartet with Lienau.

Sibelius also reflected upon the character of his quartet later. "The melodic material is good but the harmonic material could be 'lighter', and even 'more like a quartet,'" he wrote. At the same time the composer thought that he had reached a new level. "I feel that I have passed a qualifying examination with the quartet."

Sibelius continued to work on the style he was developing, but the plans he made at that time for another quartet never came true.

Andante festivo

Just before Christmas 1922 Walter Parviainen commissioned a festive cantata from Sibelius, for the 25-year celebration of the Säynätsalo sawmills. Looking at his sketches, Sibelius quickly decided on a small work of only a few pages, to be played by a string quartet. The work may have been based on very early sketches, perhaps even the plan for the oratorio Marjatta from the beginning of the 20th century.

The thematic material interested Sibelius so much that he also prepared from it an excellent piano piece, The Village Church, in 1924.

Sibelius was not satisfied with the original quartet version. As with Voces intimae, he may have wanted more richness in the string section than four players could offer. In 1929 the composer's niece Riitta Sibelius got married, and Andante festivo was performed at the wedding by two combined string quartets. It is possible that the composer made changes in the work at this point, too.

In 1939 Sibelius conducted his new version of the work for string orchestra and timpani. This is the only recording of Sibelius as a conductor.

See also Orchestral works: Andante festivo.