Sibelius: Karelia Suite Op 11

In 1893 Sibelius was invited to write music for a patriotic historical pageant to be presented by students of Helsinki University in Viborg, Karelia. This province lies in the south-eastern corner of Finland, and was dear to Sibelius. In earlier years he had found stimulus in its folk music, and later he was to spend his honeymoon there.

From the pageant’s incidental music he subsequently compiled a “Concert Suite” of three pieces. (An overture was published separately.)

  1. Intermezzo
  2. In 2/4 time, the jaunty Allegro march-like theme begins low down in the orchestra, rising and falling on the wave of an orchestral crescendo-diminuendo. The ‘snap’ of the dotted quaver-semiquaver figuration, and a few syncopated bars, are vital rhythmic elements of the piece.
  3. Ballade
  4. In the Ballade the orchestra is reduced to oboes, clarinets, bassoons and strings, but with addition of the cor anglais which is used to great effect as the piece progresses. This ruminative piece depicts a fifteenth century Swedish king, Karl Knutsson, being entertained by a minstrel.
  5. Alla marcia
  6. As the title suggests, this is a most exhilarating march. Written for the full orchestra, including piccolo but omitting the cor anglais, this music was incidental to a tableau depicting a castle siege.