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Sibelius: Suite from King Kristian II, Op. 27

Jean Sibelius

Jean Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna, Finland on December 8, 1865 and died in Järvenpää, Finland, on September 20, 1957. He composed the incidental music for Adolf Paul’s play, King Kristian II, in 1898. The suite runs approximately 23 minutes in performance, and is scored for 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, and orchestral strings.

Sibelius’s music for King Kristian II was the first of the 11 highly effective scores he composed to accompany stage plays. A long-time friend, the Swedish playwright Adolf Paul, had been pressing him for years to collaborate on a theatrical production, and this was the project that finally brought them together. Based on historical events, Paul’s play centred on the monarch who ruled Denmark, Norway and Sweden during the sixteenth century. Dyveke, a Dutch woman whom the king loved, was poisoned by one of his political opponents. This led the king to massacre a large number of his enemies.

Sibelius used a small orchestra due to the limited resources available in the theatre. At the première, the score consisted of Musette, Elegy, Minuet, and a vocal work, the Fool’s Song. Paul urged him to compose additional selections, and he responded with the Nocturne, Serenade and Ballade. He prepared a concert suite from the score, and Paul arranged for it to be performed in Leipzig. That event marked the first time that any of Sibelius’s music had been heard in Germany. It became his first orchestral work to appear in print.

It opens with the Nocturne. Its personality may surprise listeners who think of Sibelius solely as the creator of dark and chilly music. Its warm, sweeping themes and luxurious orchestration recall the Italianite opera style of Puccini. It’s followed by a delicately melancholy Elegy (the prelude to the play) that Sibelius scored for strings alone. He featured bassoons and clarinets in the playful Musette, intending them to imitate the sound of bagpipes. Next comes an expressive Serenade, its upbeat mood shadowed only by a few touches of lingering regret. The suite concludes with the animated call to arms of a heroic Ballade.

Programme Note by Don Anderson

© Copyright 2014 Toronto Symphony Orchestra


 

 

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