Sibelius Karelia Suite Program Notes
In 1893, University students in Eastern Finland (Karelia) commissioned Sibelius to compose music for a series of patriotic scenes they were producing. Telling the Finnish history of the region between 1293-1811, the proceeds would fund popular education (that is, in Finnish, which was otherwise not allowed). The Suite’s first movement, Intermezzo, accompanied loyal Karelian woodsmen traveling to pay taxes to a foreign (Lithuanian) Prince. The Ballade concerns Karl Knutsson, Finnishking of Finland and Sweden. Temporarily deposed from his throne, and holed up in his Karelian castle, he listens to a bard’s song. In the purely orchestral Suite, an English horn replaces the singer/French horn duet. The finale, Alla marcia, depicts preparations for an heroic Finnish defensive battle. History has been less kind to Finnish Karelia than Sibelius’ masterful and popular score. Karelia is now a Federal Republic of Russia, with a population (in 2002) that is more than 75% Russian.