Rare gems by Sibelius
In the 1990s a number of formerly unpublished Sibelius works were made available - before that they had remained practically unknown to musicians and the general public. This important move ensured international distribution for a substantial body of new repertoire from the pen of this great composer. The works include items by the young Sibelius as well as forgotten compositions from his mature period, such as the Suite in D Minor for violin and orchestra [op. 117] which was written in 1928-29 and so dates from his late period. The most recent discovery is the Concert Overture by Sibelius, a 12 minute piece for chamber orchestra. Based on material found when studying the manuscript of the opera The Maiden in the Tower, it was discovered by the conductor Tuomas Hannikainen, following references made by Sibelius himself.
About the first publications
During the past decades the image of Jean Sibelius (1965-1957) has undergone a radical change with the rediscovery of his music for stage and the reappearance of early versions of some of his works in the concert repertoire. The most penetrating insight into his development as a composer has, however, been provided by the discovery of works he wrote as a young man.
Sibelius was already a chamber music composer of some distinction even before he turned to his first great orchestral work, Kullervo. A dozen or so large-scale works and several dozen small pieces have been preserved from the years 1883-91. All the works written towards the end of this period contain the seeds of musical features that were to burst into flower in his later music.
Most of the works that have been published for the first time date from the latter part of the chamber music period. There are also some miscellaneous items written in later years, such as the incidental music for the play Ödlan (The Lizard) for orchestra (1909) and the very first piece known to have been composed by Sibelius, Vesipisaroita (Water Droplets, 1875). The fact that these works are now being published is of the utmost importance, because they well deserve a place in the basic concert repertoire.
The Overture in E Major and the Scène de Ballet, both dating from 1891, are among the earliest works written by Sibelius for orchestra. Infused with all the freshness of youth, they also hint at the great symphonist to come. The Scène de ballet astonished contemporary audiences with its subtle distancing, the serious undercurrent looking ahead to the Valse triste, its minor key and its predilection for low strings and wind. Sibelius's handling of the orchestra is surprisingly refined and colourful, including oboe and cor anglais solos, a triangle and castanets. The airiness and fanfares of the enchanting Overture in A Minor herald a new, less inhibited classical period in the works of Sibelius. The lively main section in the major and the classical orchestration bear features that suggest an admiration for Mendelssohn.
Like the serenade and the divertimento, the cassazione was originally a piece of music for performance in the open air. The Cassazione Op. 6 by Sibelius, sometimes known as "Fantasia for Orchestra", was premiered in 1904 with the composer conducting. The world of sound in this one-movement piece comes very close to that of the violin concerto and the second symphony.
The Countess's Portrait is a charming, shortish work for reciter and string orchestra based on a text by the Swedish writer Anna Maria Lenngren with an addition by Zachris Topelius. The narration is optional and the work can be performed by string orchestra only. Music for the Play "The Lizard" (Ödlan, 1909) contains two items, the symbolic-expressive idiom of which shows Sibelius at his most enchanting. The second of the two, lasting about a quarter of an hour and depicting the death of the maiden, makes a magic impression. The chromatic and whole-note motifs and mysterious string tremolos are a direct forerunner of Tapiola. Sibelius himself looked upon The Lizard as one of his most delicate works.
The Wedding March, composed in 1911 for Adolf Paul's play "The Language of the Birds", is anything but a traditional wedding march, being highly colourful and more in the nature of chamber music.
Having composed Tapiola and the incidental music to The Tempest, Sibelius became engulfed in the "silence of Järvenpää". During that time he was not, however, completely idle, composing a host of small-scale pieces and revising some of his earlier ones. It is from this period that the Suite for Violin and String Orchestra [Op. 117] dates, though it was not discovered until 25 years after the composer's death. The suite is in three movements: Country Scenery, Serenade, Evening in Spring, and In the Summer.
Water Droplets and the Canon are early chamber pieces by Sibelius: short and fairly easy to play. Water Droplets was the first piece he ever wrote, at the age of nine. The Duo for violin and viola is a later, slightly longer piece of melodic charm probably written as an exercise. All three pieces are excellent repertoire for young students and amateur musicians.
Sibelius composed the three early cello pieces (Andantino in C Major, Andante Molto in F Minor and Tempo di Valse, "Lulu Waltz") towards the end of his chamber music period. The longest of them, the Andante molto, has a solo cadenza and was written for his brother Christian. Jean Sibelius premiered the Tempo di valse with his brother in Loviisa in August 1889. Sibelius wrote the beautiful Suite in E Major for Violin and Piano for his own use; in the 1880s he was still mainly studying the violin and entertaining hopes of a career as a violinist. The suite does indeed demand a considerable display of skill, containing difficult passages and a long solo cadenza in the first movement.
The Fugue for Martin Wegelius was originally to have been the finale to Sibelius's A minor quartet but in the end he abandoned it. Its tension lies in the syncopated theme that presses impetuously towards its chromatic climax. Nothing is known of how the Adagio for string quartet came to be written. It would, however, appear from the manuscripts that Sibelius originally intended it as the slow movement of his quartet in B flat major (1890). This would explain why, for example, it does not have a final climax, simply ending with a recapitulation and cadenza.
The Suite in A Major for string trio was written as a student exercise and first performed at a concert given at the Helsinki Music Institute in 1889. Ferrucio Busoni described the performance as follows: "We soon pricked up our ears on realising that the music taking the air was far above the standard of the usual student exercise..." For the first time timbre becomes a major factor in Sibelius's idiom in the A major suite, which also makes somewhat bold use of rhythm and harmony for such a youthful work. The G major trio is a product of Sibelius's mature chamber music period. It was never finished, but the version published by Warner/Chappell Music Finland has been constructed purely from Sibelius's own material. The only complete movement, Lento, is a combination of various forms and in itself traces a symphonic span. Sibelius uses a similar one-movement construction in his seventh symphony.
The F major sonata is the last and the most mature of the violin works written by Sibelius in his youth. The young Sibelius was strongly influenced by composers such as Grieg, as can clearly be heard in the F major sonata. The structure of the work is also more romantic than any of his earlier works rooted in the classical tradition. In the Andante he introduces aspects of folk music for the first time in his music, thereby anticipating the "Finnish stamp" of many of his works of the 1890s.
The Piano Quartet in C Minor is in variation form - rare in early Sibelius. The introduction already reveals that he was thinking along orchestral lines even as a young student in Vienna. The piano quartet is, apart from a few small pieces written in 1891, the last completed work of the chamber music period. From then onwards Sibelius concentrated solely on his Kullervo for nearly a year.
Theme and Variations in D Minor for solo cello is a beautiful, virtuosic work composed by Sibelius at the age of 22. In it he makes wide use of trills, double stopping and spectacular runs. The three piano pieces (To Longing, The Cavalier and Spagnuolo) are published together, though they originally appeared in magazines. The Cavalier is in the nature of a military march in which the piano imitates the instruments in the band from the tuba to the piccolo. Florestan is a piano suite in four movements dedicated to Adolf Paul and is accompanied by programme notes written by the composer.