Op. 16 Vårsång (Spring Song).
First version (Improvisation) 1894; first performance in Vaasa, 21st June 1894, conductor Jean Sibelius; score missing.
Second version (Kevätlaulu / Spring Song) 1895; first performance in Helsinki, 17th April 1895 (Orchestra of the Helsinki Orchestral Society under Jean Sibelius). Final version: first performance in Helsinki, 12th December 1903 (Orchestra of Helsinki Philharmonic Society under Robert Kajanus)
Sibelius wrote an "Improvisation for orchestra" for the Vaasa National Song Festival of 1894. The first public performance was a disappointment for the composer, as the audience preferred Armas Järnefelt's composition Korsholma. In his review Oskar Merikanto praised Sibelius more than Järnefelt, although he commented that the impressive crescendo of the Improvisation was "completely wasted" out of doors.
In Helsinki the following spring the work was called by its present title, Spring Song. Sibelius rewrote the work in 1902 omitting the Spanish-style climax. When the work was published it was given the subtitle La tristesse du printemps.
The piece has stayed in concert programmes over the decades, but recognition has sometimes beein grudging. According to Erkki Salmenhaara the theme itself is excellent and spacious, but "nothing much is made of it". Gustav Mahler heard the work when he was in Helsinki in 1907 but was not particularly complimentary: "Quite ordinary Kitsch spiced up with certain 'Nordic' harmonic mannerisms to create a national sauce."
It is true that the work was "Nordic" and did not have the Sibelian originality of Kullervo or En Saga. Karl Flodin praised its "charming and fresh Nordic tone" and compared the work to those of Grieg and Sinding.
Yet Spring Song is not without merit. The spacious theme arouses one's expectations, and the climax usually inspires the public. Sibelius liked to conduct the work as late as the 1920s, for example in Vyborg in 1923.