Choral works (without orchestra)

A chronological outline

As one can see in the section "Works for choir and orchestra", many of the pieces mentioned there also exist in arrangements for choir and piano. The works for choir without orchestra are outlined below.

The majority of the works are for male choir. There are also over 20 works for mixed choir, and almost as many works for male choir that were later arranged for mixed choir. Sibelius seldom composed for women's or children's choirs.

Sibelius tried to satisfy the need for new among both Swedish-speaking and Finnish-speaking choirs – this despite controversies over language politics. The Finnish texts are often based on Kanteletar and Kalevala. Aleksis Kivi inspired him to some of his best choral compositions, whereas Eino Leino, who belonged to his circle of friends, felt that he had been ignored. Sibelius's great favourite among the Swedish-speaking poets was his childhood ideal, Johan Ludvig Runeberg.

Sibelius's way of writing for choir without orchestra was somewhat freer than in many of his works for choir and orchestra. For example, Venematka and Rakastava (1893-1894) show a composer who did not make compromises.

Soon after these earlier works Sibelius also began to take more account of the technical and artistic limitations of amateurs. The voices are not usually stretched to the extremes of their range, even if the lowest note in Hail O Moon is below the range of many basses. Nor do the harmonies always show Sibelius at his most experimental. In an interesting way, which to some extent anticipates minimalism, the rhythms are often based on the repetition, overlapping lines and development of simple rhythmic motifs.

The limitations in the resources did not restrain the composer's imagination. Sibelius did not keep strictly to traditional choral expression; he used the choir as an instrument and achieved quite unique tone colours.

Many of the choral works still sound fresh today, and the best of them include some of the most impressive moments in the composer's entire output.

Early Choral works

Tanke, se hur fågeln svingar
for mixed choir; words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Completed 1888.

Upp genom luften
for mixed choir and piano; words by Per Atterbom. Completed 1888.

Ensam i dunkla skogarnas famn
for mixed choir; words by Emil von Quanten. Completed 1888.

Hur blekt är allt
for mixed choir; words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Completed 1888.

När sig våren åter föder
for mixed choir; words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Completed 1888.

Ack, hör du fröken Gyllenborg,
folksong arrangement for mixed choir. Completed 1888-89.

Vi kysser du fader min fästmö här?
for female choir and piano; words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Completed 1889-90.

Jean Sibelius's long career as a choral composer started in 1888 with half a dozen choral works in Swedish for mixed choir.

Sibelius completed his earliest choral works at the Helsinki Music Institute. Choir singing was common there, and the first works were either exercises in choral composition for the famous Martin Wegelius or pieces he had written for his friends.

The earliest choral works have not been much studied. For example, Erkki Salmenhaara, Erik Tawaststjerna and Robert Layton do not discuss them in their books on Sibelius. In his excellent article in The Sibelius Companion, Daniel Politoske mentions one of the works, Ensam i dunkla skogarnas famn. Indeed, this is the most famous of these early works. It is a fascinating lyrical piece which catches the atmosphere of a dark forest. It has also been recorded.

Choral works after Kullervo

Venematka 1893 (Boat-ride) (See also opus 18).

Työkansan marssi
for mixed choir; words by Juho Heikki Erkko. Completed 1893.

Soitapas sorea neito
for tenor and mixed choir; words from Kanteletar. Completed 1893-94.

Rakastava, sarja
for male choir. 1. Miss' on kussa minun hyväni, 2. Eilaa, eilaa, 3. Hyvää iltaa lintuseni, 4. Käsi kaulaan, lintuseni. Words from Kanteletar. Completed 1894. Arrangement for male choir and string orchestra, arrangement for mixed choir, 1898. (See also orchestral works op. 14.)

Laulun mahti
For male choir; arrangement of a ballad by Jãzeps Vïtols. Completed 1895.

Op. 21 Hymn (Natus in curas)
for male choir; words by Fridolf Gustafsson. Completed 1896.

Työkansan marssi
for mixed choir; words by Juho Heikki Erkko. Completed 1897. Arrangement for children's choir 1913(?).

Op. 23 Songs for mixed choirs from the Degree Ceremony Cantata of 1897. Arranged in 1898 (?). (See works for choir and orchestra: Cantata for the Graduate and Master's Degree Ceremony of 1897.)

No. 1 Me nuoriso Suomen
No. 2 Tuuli tuudittele
No. 3 Oi toivo, toivo sä lietomieli
No. 4 Montapa elon merellä
No. 5 Sammuva sainio maan
No. 6a Soi kiitokseksi Luojan
No. 6b Tuule, tuuli, leppeämmin
No. 7 Oi lempi, sun valtas ääretön on
No. 8 Kuin virta vuolas
No. 9 Oi kallis Suomi, äiti verraton

At the first public performance of Kullervo Sibelius had used the choir in a new way which appealed to the Finnish audience. In the autumn of 1893 he made his real breakthrough with Venematka (Boat-ride), which charmed even those listeners who could not understand Kullervo.

Sibelius wrote the work for the Helsinki Student Singers, at the request of choirmaster Jalmari Hahl. The first public performance in April 1893 was a total success. Sibelius said that the composition exploded like "a bomb". It was the Boat-ride that led the young Leevi Madetoja to become interested in Finnish music. On this occasion Sibelius was not even offended when the critic Oskar Merikanto said that the composition was based on a "Finnish rune melody". Indeed, he later admitted that he had used "the Paraske style" in the Boat-ride, i.e. he had been directly influenced by Larin Paraske's reciting of oral poetry. In theBoat-ride the handling of the choir is more flexible than in Kullervo, and the song has continued to be very popular.

The March of the Labourers is J. H. Erkko's and Sibelius's attempt at a "Marseillaise" for the budding labour movement. Socialism had not yet taken root in Finland, and the movement focused on education and temperance. "We place our hopes on enlightenment, equal rights, open roads and brotherhood," was Erkko's vision of the future of the workers' movement. The work was more four-square and solemn than the Boat-ride and it did not become very popular, although the Vyborg workers' association published it in 1896.

The most significant a cappella choral work of this period is the Rakastava suite from 1894. Sibelius wrote it for a composition competition set by the Helsinki Student Singers. The text is from the love poems of Kanteletar.

The composition competition did not turn out to be a success for Sibelius. His former teacher Emil Genetz won the first prize with his patriotic song Hakkapeliitat, while Sibelius came second with his Rakastava. Karl Flodin and Oskar Merikanto thought that the jury had made a strange decision. Genetz's song was a run-of-the-mill, robust, patriotic piece, while Sibelius had created one of the best and most original works in the Finnish choral repertoire.

Rakastava (in three movements) is one of the peaks of the young Sibelius's melodic inventiveness. Erik Tawaststjerna thought that the first movement resembled a stylised folk song. The 'eilaa' figures of the second movement have a silvery gleam, and the parts must have caused difficulties for the Helsinki Student Singers. The last movement has the atmosphere of a madrigal. The sadness of separation has an element of erotic yearning.

Sibelius prepared a version for male choir and string orchestra, but the version for mixed choir from 1898 turned out to be more popular. In 1911 the composer prepared from the material a fine suite for string orchestra, triangle and timpani.

Aamusumussa (In Morning Mist) from 1897 is interesting in its own right. The February Manifesto and Sibelius's protest compositions were still a few years away, but in Tawaststjerna's opinion there are already "Anti-Russian tendencies" in this text by J. H. Erkko. For a simple poem Sibelius wrote a plain, folksong-like melody.

In 1896 and 1897 Sibelius was striving for a post as music teacher at the University of Helsinki. He wrote the hymn Natus in curas to a Latin text and conducted it at an unveiling ceremony in memory of the university professor Josef Pippingsköld, in 1896.

In the spring of 1897 he worked on a cantata. Ten pieces for mixed choir have survived. They are serviceable pieces, of high quality. The most famous piece is the most frequently performed of all Sibelius's devotional works, Soi kiitokseksi Luojan (Sing out and praise the Lord).

Works from the turn of the century

Two arrangements of Italian songs: Oh! 'Caroli' and Trippole, Trappole
for mixed choir and instruments. Completed 1897-98; Instrumental parts missing.

Kuutamolla (By Moonlight)
for male choir. Completed 1898.

Carminalia, arrangements of three Latin songs for children's choir and piano or harmonium. Completed 1898:
1. Ecce novum gaudium, 2. Angelus emittitur, 3. In stadio laboris.

Op. 18 Six songs for male choir

No. 1 Sortunut ääni (The voice now stilled); words from Kanteletar. Completed 1898. Arrangement for mixed choir 1898.
No. 2 Terve kuu (Hail O Moon);
words from Kalevala. Completed 1901.
No. 3 Venematka (The Boat-ride);
words from Kalevala. Completed 1893. Arrangement for mixed choir 1914.
No. 4 Saarella palaa;
words from Kanteletar. Completed 1895. Arrangement for mixed choir 1898.
No. 5 Metsämiehen laulu;
words by Aleksis Kivi. Completed 1899.
No. 6 Sydämeni laulu (The Song of My Heart)words by Aleksis Kivi. Completed 1898. Arrangement for mixed choir 1904.

Min rastas raataa
for mixed choir; words from Kanteletar. Completed 1898.

Isänmaalle for mixed choir;
words by Paavo Cajander. Completed 1900. Arrangement for male choir 1908.

Kotikaipaus (Nostalgia)
for female choir; words by Walter von Konow. Completed 1902.

Till Thérèse Hahl (Lauloit piennä)
for mixed choir: two different compositions; words by Nils Wasastjerna. Completed 1902.

Veljeni vierailla mailla
(My brothers in foreign lands) for male choir; words by Juhani Aho. Completed 1904.

Within opus 18 Sibelius at first included nine of the songs he wrote for male choir, but later he excluded the songs Isänmaalle, Veljeni vierailla mailla and Min rastas raataa from the opus.

The remaining songs show Sibelius at his best. The Boat-ride, the work with which he achieved his breakthrough in 1893, is included. The next oldest song is Saarella palaa, which was written in Vaania in 1895. The groom is lighting fires for his wedding, and the basses repeat the text Fire on the Island like a mantra. The song is sunny and impressionistic, and it tingles with expectation.

Sydämeni laulu (The Song of My Heart) to a text by Aleksis Kivi is a small masterpiece, and one of Sibelius's best-known songs. He composed it when Aino was expecting the third daughter of the family in 1898. The song is about a child's death, and the Sibeliuses' daughter Kirsti died at the start of 1900. This of course brings to mind the events surrounding Mahler's writing of Kindertotenlieder.

In Sydämeni laulu the content, meaning and music of the text form a whole. Death is solace for the child in the poem, life after death better than life in the present. For Kivi, there was something escapist about death: "persecution and discord are far away". When his daughter Kirsti died, Sibelius played this work on the piano in memory of his dead child.

The opus has another excellent work, also with words by Kivi, Metsämiehen laulu. A party of men return to the woods in a joyful mood.

Sortunut ääni (The voice now stilled) progresses in quintuple time and ends splendidly. Terve kuu (Hail O Moon) is the latest of the works in the opus, dating from 1901. The male choir Suomen Laulu (under Klemetti) were given it for their European tour. Klemetti had trained the choir into an elite group, and Sibelius took pleasure in knowing that the basses could manage the stunning fall from a high F to a low B flat. The piece Hail O Moon is demanding in other ways, too, and the song represents one of the peaks of Sibelius's choral works. On the German tour the German critics gave highest praise to the works Venematka and Saarella palaa. "They scarcely have their equal in the entire male choir literature," Berliner Neueste Nachrichten wrote admiringly in June 1901.

Sibelius was aiming very high when he finally dropped three good songs from opus 18. Isänmaa makes good use of dissonances, Min rastas raataa is a beautiful small work and Veljeni vierailla mailla is a rare example of cooperation with the writer Juhani Aho, Sibelius's neighbour at Ainola. The composition is from 1904, just when Sibelius moved to Ainola. Aho's text inspired Sibelius to a heavier mode of expression, and the composer probably thought that it did not suit the more lyrical style of the opus as a whole.

Till Therese Hahl is a beautiful miniature tribute for the 60th birthday of Sibelius's repetiteur, who was the editor of the Sävelistö choral exercise books. Later, Sibelius composed the work all over again to the same text under the name Den 25 Oktober 1902, apparently to please the writer of the text.

The first years at Ainola

Ej med klagan (Not with grief)
for mixed choir; words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Completed 1905.

Kansakoululaisten marssi
for children's choir; words by 'Onnen Pekka' (pen name) Completed 1910.

Cantata (Härliga gåvor)
for female choir; words by Walter von Konow. Completed 1911.

Op. 65a Män från slätten och havet
for mixed choir; words by Ernst V. Knape. Completed 1911.

Op. 65b The Bell Melody of Kallio Church
Arrangement for mixed choir of the Bell Melody of Kallio Church (1912), 1912. Words by Julius Engström; also with other words (Päättyy työ, joutuu yö) by Heikki Klemetti. Piano arrangement (The Bell Melody of Kallio Church) 1912.

Uusmaalaisten laulu (Song of the people of Uusimaa)
for male or mixed choir; words by Kaarlo Terhi. Completed 1912.

Three Songs for American Schools
1. Autumn Song; words by Richard Dixon; 2. The Sun Upon the Lake Is Low; words by Walter Scott; 3. A Cavalry Catch; words by Fiona McLeod. For choir and piano. Completed 1913.

During the first years at Ainola Sibelius completed only two choral works which he considered good enough to be included in his opus list. Män från slätten och havet was completed for Svenska Folkskolans Vänner (Friends of the Swedish Elementary School) at the request of Colonel Axel Stenius. The work is demanding, and at the first public performance it had to be performed with the support of a string orchestra. The arrangement for mixed choir of Kallion kirkon kellosävelmä (The Bell Melody of Kallio Church), which is familiar to the people of Helsinki, ended up in the same opus.

Ej med klagan (Not With Grief) is an emotional dedication to Albert Edelfelt and it was performed for the first time at his funeral. Uusmaalaisten laulu (Song of the People of Uusimaa) has received surprisingly few performances in Uusimaa. Sibelius composed it to the words of the winning poem in a song contest arranged by the Students’ Association of Southern Finland. The aim of the contest was to find lyrics for a new provincial song.

A few works for children's choir also fall within this period. These are Kansakoululaisten marssi and Three Songs for American Schools, which were written to bring in dollars from abroad. It was Horatio Parker who commissioned both these songs from Sibelius. He also arranged the commission of The Oceanides for the Norfolk Music Festival.

The First World War and the year 1918

Op. 84 Five songs for male choir

No. 1 Herr Lager och Skön fager;
words by Gustav Fröding. Completed 1914.
No. 2 På berget;
words by Bertel Gripenberg. Completed 1915.

No. 3 Ett drömackord;
words by Gustav Fröding. Completed 1915
No. 4 Evige Eros;
words by Bertel Gripenberg. Valmistui 1915.

Nro 5 Till havs;
words by Jonathan Reuter. Completed 1917.

Drömmarna (Dreams) for mixed choir; words by Jonatan Reuter. Completed 1917.

Fridolins dårskap
for male choir; words by Erik Axel Karlfeldt. Completed 1917.

Jone havsfärd (Jonah's sea journey)
for male choir; words by Erik Axel Karlfeldt. Completed 1918.

Brusande rusar en våg
for male choir; words by Gösta Schybergson. Completed 1918.

Ute hörs stormen
for male choir; words by Gösta Schybergson. Completed 1918.

Op. 91b Partiolaisten marssi
for piano with text; words by Jalmari Finne. Completed 1918. Arrangement for mixed choir and orchestra 1918, arrangement for mixed choir and piano 1921, arrangement for two female voices and piano (The World Song of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) 1951-52.

The First World War did not greatly influence the tone of the opus 84 songs for male choir. The first two songs were performed for the first time on 27th April 1915, at a concert of the choir Muntra Musikanter. The demanding Herr Lager och Skön fager seems to have been unsuccessful at the first public performance, but the simpler På berget became popular immediately. Ett drömackord and Evige Eros were also completed in the summer. The sea image Till havs, which was completed in 1917, was added to the suite as a fifth piece. "The choral songs for M. M. are like doing my homework again. But I don't pin my hopes on them!" the composer wrote in his diary.

Fridolins dårskap shows some of the comical sides of the fateful year, 1917. Sibelius received in the mail a smoked leg of mutton (referred to as "mutton fiddle") inside a violin case from the architect Torkel Nordman who was living in Pori. The composer wanted to thank Nordman, whom he had known as a quartet-singer, and he composed a humorous quartet song for him. Jone havsfärd (Jonah's Sea Journey) from the year of the Civil War, 1918, is equally humorous.

The background of Brusande rusas en våg and Ute hörs stormen is simply tragic. A vagrant robber band, one of those rampaging during the Civil War, had executed Doctor Gösta Schybergson, and even the commanders of the Red Guard denounced the event. Sibelius was deeply shocked and set two of the doctor's poems to music. Here Sibelius's expression is somewhat more chromatic than in many of his earlier works.

Jalmari Finne had often wanted Sibelius to write music to his texts. In Partiolaisten marssi (March of the Scouts) his wish was granted. Of course, the work has frequently been performed within the Scout movement.

Choral works 1920-1930

for male choir; words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Completed 1922.

Three liturgical works:1. For Palm Sunday; liturgist and organ. 2. For All Saints' Day or funeral services; liturgist, choir and organ. 3. For Christian youth festivities; liturgist, congregation (choir) and organ. Words from the Bible. Completed 1925.

for mixed choir; words by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi. Completed 1924.

for mixed choir; words by Nino Runeberg. Completed 1925.

for male choir, piano ad lib.; words by Nino Runeberg. Completed 1925.

Op. 108 Two songs for male choir

No. 1 Humoreski;
words by Larin Kyösti. Completed 1925.

No. 2 Ne pitkän matkan kulkijat;
words by Larin Kyösti. Completed 1925.

Den höga himlen
for mixed choir or organ. Written in 1927 on the basis of his Freemasonry Ritual Music op. 113 part 11 (Suur’ olet Herra); words by Jacob Tegengren.

Siltavahti (The Bridge Keeper)
for male choir; words by Wäinö Sola. Completed 1928. Arrangement for solo song (with piano) 1928.

Jouluna (On lapsonen syntynyt meille)
for mixed choir; words by August Verner Jaakkola (other words by Väinö Ilmari Forsman: Nyt seimelle pienoisen lapsen). Completed 1929.

Viipurin lauluveikkojen kunniamarssi two different compositions,
both for male choir; words by Eero Eerola. The first composition in 1920, the second composition to the same words in 1929.

Karjalan osa (Karelia's Fate)
for male voices (unison) and piano; words by A. Nurminen. Completed 1930.

As regards male-choir songs, only two were finally approved by the composer out of the choral works he composed in the 1920s. These were songs set to the words of Larin Kyösti. At the first public performance, the Helsingin Sanomat critic was struck by the technical demands of the songs. He thought that the difficulties came close to making the songs unperformable. These songs belong to the absolute summit of Sibelius's choral works.

The two school songs from the years 1924-1925 are more traditional. One of them is in Finnish and the other in Swedish. Among Sibelius's Christmas songs Jouluna is unusual in so far as Sibelius wrote it directly for a mixed choir.

Den höga himlen for mixed choir or organ was written for a Swedish-language hymnal in 1927. The arrangement for male choir and organ is included in Sibelius's Freemasonry Music. The work is also known under the name Suur' olet herra, which is the title of Simo Korpela's original Finnish poem.

The most interesting, and in retrospect the most ideologically dubious piece, is Karjalan osa (Karelia's Fate), which Sibelius composed when he was inspired by the Peasants' March and the right-wing Lapua Movement. Sibelius was attracted by the patriotism of the movement in its early stages, its anti-communism and its tolerance in terms of language politics. When the movement moved increasingly to the extreme right and began to organise the violent abduction of prominent figures, Sibelius became alienated from the movement and turned his back on it.

The silence of Ainola

In the middle of the silence of Ainola Sibelius made a few arrangements for choir. En etsi valtaa, loistoa (Give me no splendour, gold or pomp) was arranged for male choir in 1935, for female choir in 1932 and for children's choir in 1954, when the composer was nearly 90 years old. On hanget korkeat, nietokset (High are the snowdrifts) was arranged for female voices in 1942. Suur' olet herra led him to make a new arrangement in 1944, and Veljesvirsi and Ylistyshymni are – amazingly enough – completely new works, dating from the year 1946.

In 1948 the composer made several choral arrangements and revisions, e.g. of the Freemasonry Music for male choir and the Finlandia Hymn for mixed choir.