This is what America wants
Words of Wisdom from Sinead O'Connor

Music of the Week — July 15, 2007

Sibelius: Kullervo

This choral symphony in five movements was written when Sibelius was only twenty-six and suppressed not long after its premiere, remaining unperformed for many years. As best I can tell from a bit of reading, the suppression was a result of bad reviews and the composer’s own doubts about the work. But it’s really very fine. True enough, it’s not in a class with his mature masterpieces, but it still often carries that sense of depth and mystery that’s so characteristic of this composer, who is one of my favorites. In a broad sort of way it might be compared to Mahler’s orchestral songs, with maybe a bit of Rite of Spring thrown in, not in the sense of technical similarity but in that there seems a similar impulse to evoke the archaic (this is of course the earlier work by twenty years or so). It’s cruder than Mahler, as befits its epic subject, a brutally tragic episode from the Kalevala.

As I don’t have the knowledge and vocabulary to discuss a classical work in much detail, I will direct you here and here for further background and description. If you’re an admirer of Sibelius’s better-known work and don’t know this piece, do yourself a favor and find a recording of it. I’ve been listening to this one. It seems a fine performance, but as a download it doesn’t include the text of the vocal parts, and I haven’t been able to find one on the web. Even without that, though, if you’ve read a synopsis it’s pretty clear what’s going on, and the lament of Kullervo’s sister in the third movement, followed by Kullervo’s cursing of himself, is very powerful even if you can’t follow it word-by-word. The fourth movement, “Kullervo Goes to War,” seems a weak spot to me, thematically: yes, it makes sense that after the shattering events of the third movement Kullervo would go to war “merrily,” but it ought to be a somewhat crazed merriment. The fifth movement re-establishes the atmosphere very effectively.



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)