© Michail Dementiev

Series: Places in music (2)

Musicologist Georg Rudiger presents some of the places that are important for certain works performed in Klosters: this time the Karelia Suite op. 11 by Jean Sibelius. 

Karelia is a historical landscape in north-east Europe between the Baltic Sea and the White Sea with 25,000 rivers and 60,000 lakes, which has always been divided between Sweden, Russia and Finland. Today, the Finnish part of Karelia makes up around 85 per cent of the entire area. Historically, the vast landscape is of special significance to Finland because in the 19th century the ancient, orally transmitted Finnish folk poem, Kalevala, which had been passed down by word of mouth, was recorded and published by the physician Elias Lönnrot. Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino also came to Karelia on their honeymoon in 1892 to write down the melodies of the singers who set the verses of this national epic to music in return for a university scholarship. At that time, Karelia was part of the Russian Tsarist Empire – but the inhabitants were striving for independence. In 1893, Sibelius was asked by a patriotic student fraternity to compose so-called tableau music, which was to musically describe a total of seven historical scenes from Karelian history. The three-movement Karelia Suite op. 11, which the composer arranged a year later, is one of his most popular works.

“Intermezzo”, the first movement, is based on the music for the historical scene “Duke Narimont from Lithuania collects taxes in the province of Käkisalmi”. The sound of the horns, sometimes sharp, sometimes muted, tells of the hunters travelling on behalf of the duke. The echoes of the horn calls illustrate the vast landscape. Timpani, bass drum, cymbals and snare drum emphasise the size of the court. At the end, the horns fade into the distance. The second movement, entitled Ballad, refers to the 15th century Swedish King Charles VIII and describes a scene in which he remembers his earlier life. At the end, a bard, embodied here by an English horn, strikes up a plaintive melody. Delicate string pizzicati create the space for this very intimate music. “Alla Marcia” is the name of the third movement, which is conceived as a great climax. “Pontus de la Gardie at the Gates of Käkisalmi 1580” was the title of the accompanying historical painting. The march of the 16th century Swedish commander begins with light tapping in the strings, but is gradually emboldened by the brass and roused by the percussion. With timpani and trumpets, with splendour and glory, the Karelia Suite comes to an end.

28. July 2024, 5 pm, Concert Hall, Arena Klosters
Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor), Jan Lisiecki (piano),
The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen