Karelia Music, Overture and Suite
[Op. 10/11] Karelia music. Tableau music for a "lottery organised by the Vyborg Students’ Association to promote the education of the people of Vyborg Province"; overture (see orchestral works op. 10) and eight tableaux (arrangement: see orchestral works op. 11). Completed in 1893; first public performance at a social evening of the Vyborg Students’ Association, 13th November 1893 (conductor: Jean Sibelius).
Op. 10 Karelia Overture. Completed in 1893 for a " lottery organised by the Vyborg Students’ Association to promote the education of the people of Vyborg Province"; first public performance at a social evening of the Vyborg Students’ Association, 13th November 1893 (Orchestra of the Helsinki Orchestra Society(?) under Jean Sibelius).
Op. 11 Karelia Suite: 1. Intermezzo, 2. Ballade, 3. Alla marcia. Completed in 1894. Composition based on the music for a "lottery organised by the Vyborg Students’ Association to promote the education of the people of Vyborg Province" (1893). See also op. 10. The first and the second movements arranged for piano in 1897(?)
In 1893 the Vyborg Students’ Association commissioned Sibelius to write music for scenes from the history of Karelia. The fee for the commission was 500 marks, which helped to pay the composer's rent for six months. The commission gave Sibelius a reason to resume his study of Karelian rune singing and Swedish medieval ballads.
On 13th November 1893 people heard - or at least saw - Sibelius conduct his music as an accompaniment to historical tableaux. The tableaux dealt with the history of Karelia, and Larin Paraske, a famous rune-singer, actually appeared on the stage. The overture was followed by eight tableaux:
1. A Karelian Home. A Message about War (the year 1293).
2. The Founding of the Castle of Vyborg (1293).
3. Duke Narimont of Lithuania Collecting Taxes in the Province of Kexholm (1333).
4. Charles Knutson in the Castle of Vyborg. A ballad (1446).
5. Pontus de la Gardie in front of Kexholm in 1580.
6. The Siege of Vyborg (1770).
7. (and 8.) Karelia is reincorporated into The Grand Duchy of Finland (1811).
The tableaux ended with Sibelius's splendid arrangement of the Finnish national anthem.
Ernst Lampén later recollected the first public performance:
"The noise in the hall was like an ocean in a storm. I was at the opposite end of the hall and could not distinguish a single note. The audience did not have the patience to listen and was hardly aware of the music. The orchestra was actually there, behind the pillars. I thrust my way through the crowd and managed to reach the orchestra after a good deal of effort. There were a few listeners. Just a handful.
I arrived just when they were playing the march. What a extraordinarily charming and varied melody! What a springy rhythm! I think that the Carelia movements had different names than they have today. As far as I can remember, one of the movements was named after the Lithuanian Prince Narimont. That was the movement that had the strict rhythm. I hadn't heard such attractive music from Sibelius before."
Lampén remembered right. "Duke Narimont of Lithuania Collecting Taxes in the Province of Kexholm" contains an episode which is practically the same as the Intermezzo in the Karelia Suite, which Sibelius prepared later. As for the Ballad of the Karelia Suite, it was originally the fourth tableau, "Charles Knutsson in the Castle of Vyborg". Charles listens to a melody sung by a troubadour, but in the Karelia Suite the singer is replaced by a cor anglais. The main episode of the fifth tableau, "Pontius de la Gardie in front of Kexholm", is virtually the same as the Alla marcia which concludes the Karelia Suite
The first tableau included Kalevala rune singing, and the melody is exactly the same as the one which Sibelius wrote down from Pedri Shemeikka in Korpiselkä, in July 1892.
About one week after the first public performance Sibelius conducted a concert of his compositions; these included an orchestral suite in eight movements prepared from the Karelia music. It ended once again with the Finnish national anthem. Among the critics, Karl Flodin was exultant. According to him Sibelius had moved closer to general European trends. Oskar Merikanto thought that Sibelius's music was easier to understand than before. On 21st November 1893 he wrote that the suite was a "significant step forward".
On 23rd November 1893, at a popular concert, Sibelius conducted the overture and the three movements from which he later prepared his well-loved Karelia Suite. Kajanus subsequently conducted the same selection.
Sibelius probably regarded Karelia music as a minor work. "I think I have been brought down really low when I have been forced to compose for money," he wrote at the beginning of November, before the first public performance of the Karelia music.
Yet the great popularity of the work made him realise its value. He sold the Overture and the three movements which had been prepared as a suite to Fazer in 1899. However,
the other pieces, which had not been printed, ended up in the possession of Breitkopf & Härtel in 1905.
At Sibelius's request they published the work in 1906 as two separate opuses. The reason was that the composer had come to regard the overture as "almost too youthful".
And indeed, opus number 11, or the Karelia Suite, started to sell better than the Overture. Because of its unforgettable melodies and rhythmic drive the Karelia Suite continues to be one of Sibelius's most popular orchestral works. In the 1990s the original Karelia Music was rediscovered, for performance in recordings and concerts. Audiences could again admire the inventiveness of the young Sibelius.