Sibelius Karelia Suite, Opus 11
The original version, with 7 musical tableaux, was written in 1893, which was one of the most patriotic times of Sibelius’ life.
The Opus 11 Suite was published in 1906, when some of the Karelia music was published as an Overture (Op. 10) and Suite.
The tableaux are based on scenes in the history of the Karelia region – an area of Finland rich in history and folk melodies, which Sibelius has visited on his honeymoon in 1892. For example, the scenes depict a Karelian home in 1293, followed by scenes from a castle through the 15th to early 19th centuries.
Sibelius’ music paints pictures of the Finnish landscapes – close your eyes and see if you can picture the landscape whilst listening.
Listen to the way Sibelius creates a nationalistic feeling in the Karelia Suite – which sections do you think sound particularly Finnish and why?
Movement I: Intermezzo
The opening theme was taken from the third tableaux of the1893 version – a scene of a Lithuanian prince collecting tributes from a procession of Karelian citizens.
The Intermezzo opens with a quiet accompaniment in the strings. The theme, based on triads, is played by the horns and repeats throughout the movement.
Listen out for the faster section with a violin ostinato and trumpet melody based on the opening horn theme.
Listen out for the percussion in this section – especially cymbals and tambourine.
The slow section returns with the horn theme
Movement II: Ballade
The Ballade was taken from the fourth tableaux, which depicts the Regent of Sweden (Karl Knutsson) listening to a ballad singer in a castle.
This Ballade is a slow, sad song beginning in the woodwind, followed by the strings. Listen out for the high oboe interjections and quiet accompanying cello scales.
The middle section is slower, patriotic and sound like an anthem. Listen out for when a phrase is repeated at a quieter dynamic, which sounds like an echo.
Listen out for the Cor Anglais melody towards the end of the movement, which is accompanied by pizzicato strings.
Movement III: Alla Marcia
Alla Marcia was taken from the fifth tableaux, which was designed to accompany the war-like scenario of the capture of the town of Kakiholma.
The bright character of this movement contrasts with the previous movement – listen for the change from minor keys (Ballade) to the major (Alla Marcia).
The opening violin melody is dance-like with lots of dotted rhythms.
Listen out for the loud section dominated by brass – this sounds patriotic and march-like.
The opening theme returns, initially played by the piccolo.
JEAN SIBELIUS 1865 – 1957
Finnish, nationalistic composer.
Sibelius came from a musical family and learnt the violin from the age of 14.
Whilst a music student in Helsinki, Sibelius adopted his first name ‘Jean’ as his music-name, having been christened Johan Christian Julius Sibelius.
Sibelius pursued his study as a violinist with the intention of becoming a soloist, until composition gradually took over as his major interest. He initially composed studies for the violin and chamber music.
The majority of Sibelius’ later compositions are orchestral. He often addressed nationalistic and political subjects in his works.
Sibelius was a central figure in creating a voice for Finnish music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nationalism was thriving in Finland around this time following release from Swedish control (from 12th to early 19th century) and the threat from the Russian Revolution in 1917. Sibelius was seen as a national hero.
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