Op. 71 Scaramouche
Music for Poul Knudsen's tragic pantomime of the same name. Completed in 1913; first performance in Copenhagen, 12th May 1922 (Det Kongelige Teater, conducted by Georg Höeberg). Arrangement for two pianos of Danse élégiaque and Scène d’amour, 1914; arrangement for violin and piano of Scène d’amour, 1925.
In the autumn of 1912 Sibelius was commissioned by the Danish publisher Wilhelm Hansen to compose the music for Poul Knudsen's tragic pantomime. Around the beginning of 1913 he received a new libretto, which to the astonishment of the composer also included dialogue. Sibelius was not happy about this, but he decided to fulfil the contract, although the work was more extensive than he had imagined: music for a complete pantomime instead of just a few dance pieces.
The work was completed in December 1913, but no one knew when it would be performed. Consequently, Sibelius also made a piano arrangement of a couple of scenes at the beginning of 1914. After that he forgot about the score for years, but in 1921 he had the idea of preparing an orchestral suite from the best parts of the music. This in its turn was forgotten when the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen finally gave the pantomime its premiere in May 1922. The critics praised the music as "sweet and strange". According to the Berlingske Tidende critic, "The most elevating and dignified part was the music of the performance." The critic of Politiken admired "the stamp of genius", commenting also on the composer's resourcefulness, his devilry and the strange perversity of the music. "Scaramouche great success in Copenhagen" was Sibelius's own comment in his diary.
The following year (1923) Sibelius saw the work performed at the Finnish National Theatre. The critics liked the "expressionist" realisation, but they too were annoyed by the spoken lines, which were felt to be out of keeping with the idea of a pantomime.
The plot involves a wandering hunchbacked dwarf, Scaramouche, whose viola has magical powers. With his music he sends the beautiful Blondelaine into a trance, during which the she leaves her husband, Leilon, in the middle of a great feast. Sibelius writes decadent dance rhythms into the festive music, and Scaramouche's viola plays slow chromatic figures that have a demonic flavour. Leilon's longing is depicted by music of real beauty; from this Sibelius later prepared the melancholy Scène d'amour for violin and piano. The drama reaches its culmination when the remorseful Blondelaine kills Scaramouche. The husband and wife are together again, and the wife dances to the music of her husband, until she is frightened by the sight of blood flowing from behind the curtain. Scaramouche's viola melody is heard, literally, from beyond the grave, Blondelaine dies of shock, falling on Scaramouche's body, and Leilon goes mad at the sight.
Scaramouche was written for a small orchestra. The music does not use an entire complement of brass instruments, and it includes a part for piano. In addition, the composer ingeniously divides the orchestra into three elements: we have the musicians who are on the stage, the principal character who at times plays from behind the stage, and the orchestra itself. The music is translucent, refined, dreamlike and at times demonic in tone.
Scaramouche had many performances in the 1920s. The pianist Wilhelm Kempff saw it in Christiania (now Oslo) and expressed his admiration for it. In 1927 the Danish company performed the work in Paris.The music received very good reviews there as well.
The composer accepted Jussi Jalas's version of the orchestral suite, which preserves the original orchestration and condenses the drama of the pantomime into about twenty minutes. But even more interesting is the original music of Scaramouche, which lasts over an hour. It was recorded for the first time in 1990, in Gothenburg under Neeme Järvi.