King Christian II (incidental music and orchestral suite)
[Op. 27] Kung Kristian II (King Christian II). Music for the play of the same name by Adolf Paul: 1. Elegie, 2. Musette, 3. Menuetto, 4. Lied des Narren: Sången om korsspindeln (The Song of the Cross-Spider), 5. Nocturne, 6. Serenade, 7. Ballade. Completed in 1898. The first public performance of parts 1-4 at the Swedish theatre in Helsinki on 24th February 1898 (conducted by Jean Sibelius); parts 5-7 were completed after this.
Op. 27 Kung Kristian II (King Christian II). From the music for the play of the same name by Adolf Paul: 1. Elegie, 2. Menuetto, 3. Musette, 4. The Song of the Cross-Spider. Completed in 1898. Arrangement for piano 1898, including song text for no. 4.
At the start of 1898 Sibelius quickly composed the music for the play King Christian II, written by his friend Adolf Paul. Paul's play takes place in the 16th century. It tells the story of King Christian II, the ruler of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and his mistress Dyveke. Paul left a vivid description of the composing process. According to him Sibelius completed the piano versions of The Song of the Cross-Spider, Dyveke's Dance and Menuetto in a single day.
However, the complete orchestration probably took a little longer. The original incidental music had four movements. The Elegy for string orchestra contains one of Sibelius's most beautiful depictions of a mood. It forms the overture to the play. The Musette became popular with the people of Helsinki, who sang mocking words to it, "Now I'm going off to Kämp again" – a reference to Sibelius's regular drinking bouts at the Kämp Restaurant. In the play the piece is played under Dyveke's window. The Menuetto was based on a minor orchestral work from 1894. It is played at the beginning of the third act, before the scene at the royal court in Copenhagen. The Song of the Cross-Spider refers to the old age of the king – a man steeped in blood, who spent the last years of his life in captivity. The jester sings to him in his cell.
Immediately after the first public performance Karl Fredrik Wasenius, who was writing in Hufvudstadsbladet under the pseudonym "Bis", offered to publish the works as piano arrangements. He paid for the music to be printed by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig.
Breitkopf & Härtel also bought the rights to the stage music for distribution in Germany. The latter deal was straightforward from the publishers' point of view, as they were already printing the piano arrangements for Wasenius.
In the summer the composer wrote additional pieces for the incidental music, namely the Nocturne, Serenade and Ballad. The Nocturne was placed between the first and the second act. In some performances the Serenade replaced the minuet; in others it was performed as an interlude between the second and the third act. The Ballad depicts the bloodbath ordered by the king in Stockholm in 1520. The stylistic transition towards the musical language of the first symphony is particularly evident in The Ballad.
After composing these additional pieces Sibelius also prepared an orchestral suite from the music, making small changes to the incidental music. He considered the Nocturne, Elegy, Musette, Serenade and Ballad (in that order) good enough for the suite. The Musette was given a light string accompaniment. Sibelius left out the small Minuet and The Song of the Cross-Spider, which became very popular as a separate vocal piece.
Although Wasenius was horrified at the expenses he was incurring, he decided to have (in addition to the piano arrangements) the expensive orchestral scores printed for both theatre and concert use - again with Breitkopf & Härtel.
At the beginning of December 1898 Kajanus conducted the King Christian II suite a couple of times. This was its first public performance. The pseudonymous critic "E" (Evert Katila), writing in Päivälehti, referred to the music as a "pleasant new acquaintance" and praised the "superb orchestral setting" of the suite.
Sibelius, too, was satisfied. “The music sounded excellent and the tempi seem to be right. I think this is the first time that I have managed to make something complete,” he wrote to Paul.
The orchestral suite quickly began to tour the world. Hans Windersten conducted the suite in Leipzig as early as 1899. Kajanus's orchestra performed it on their European tour in 1900, and Henry Wood conducted it at his promenade concerts in London in 1901.
During his whole active period as a conductor Sibelius himself liked to conduct the suite, whose catchy melodies went down well with the audience. For instance, he conducted it in his last concert abroad, in Copenhagen (1926).