About this Recording
2.110273 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - FINLAND: Helsinki and the Art of Akseli Gallen-Kallela (NTSC)

A Musical Visit to Helsinki
With music by Jean Sibelius



National Museum • Cathedral

The origins of Helsinki go back to 1550, when King Gustav Vasa of Sweden established Helsingfors as a rival to the important Hanseatic port of Tallinn. The siting of the new port was later adjusted, to enable its development. Prominent church buildings include Helsinki Cathedral, with its five cupolas and simple interior, and the Russian Orthodox Uspensky Cathedral. The National Museum, its entrance decorated with frescos by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, including a representation of the attack by Ecu Istu against Russian domination, with a book representing Law (Lex), reflects the long history of Finland and the University Library offers a classical façade with Corinthian columns. The University itself occupies buildings on one side of Senate Square and a statue of Tsar Alexander II, erected in 1894, has, below, figures representing Law (Lex), Light (Lux), Labour and Peace (Pax).

Music Sibelius: Finlandia, Op 26

Sibelius originally composed Finlandia for a set of historical tableaux to be performed at a gala in Helsinki to support Finland’s right to free speech under its then Russian domination. Sibelius reworked this material for the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. Its patriotic symbolism has assured it a place in popular repertoire.


National Museum: Fresco from the Kalevala by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The Kalevala is the national epic of Finland, a saga that drew renewed interest as nineteenth-century nationalism grew. Episodes from the epic were the subject of frescos by the painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela on the ceiling of the entrance foyer of the National Museum in Helsinki.

Music Sibelius: Karelia Suite, Op 11 – I. Intermezzo

Among the most popular of the compositions of Sibelius must be the Karelia Suite, derived from music written in 1893 to accompany a series of patriotic tableaux dealing with the history of the Karelia region from the year 1293 to 1811. The Intermezzo had originally appeared as March in the Old Style.


Museum of Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Gallen-Kallela visited Karelia in 1890 and did much to awaken contemporary interest in the region in the search for independence from Russia. The Museum, on the borders of Helsinki, preserves the painter’s working materials and exhibits many of his paintings and sketches.

Music Sibelius: Karelia Suite, Op 11 – II. Ballade

The Ballade was a song used in the patriotic pageant of 1893 and tells its own story.


Ateneum National Art Gallery: Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Gallen-Kallela’s first important large-scale painting was his Boy and Crow of 1894. Spring includes his two children, who watch, while Kullervo’s Curse, based on an episode in the Kalevala, depicts the unfortunate fate of the young man, destined never to succeed at any task, and angry when given a loaf of bread holding a stone, on which he breaks his knife.

Music Sibelius: Karelia Suite, Op 11 – III. Alla Marcia

The Karelia Suite ends with a rousing March.


Ateneum Art Gallery and Gallen-Kallela Gallery: Paintings and Wood Engravings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Paintings and wood engravings by Gallen-Kallela depict events from the Kalevala, including the episode in which young Joukahainen is questioned by his mother, as he prepares to kill his brother Väinämöinen with his crossbow. Something of the Finnish winter landscape is seen in his snow-bound Lair of the Lynx.

Music Sibelius: Lemminkäinen’s Return, Op 22, No 4

The year 1895 saw Sibelius’s first composition of a series of four episodes from the legend of Lemminkäinen, from the epic Kalevala. Lemminkäinen’s Return formed the fourth section of a work that in later life Sibelius was to refer to as a symphony. Lemminkäinen, a young hero, undergoes various adventures with Pohjola, the North Country, where he seeks a wife. He had tried to kill the Swan of Tuoni, but had perished in the attempt, only to be brought to life by the magic power of his mother.


Ateneum Art Gallery: Paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Johannes Takanen and Robert Wilhelm Ekman

Gallen-Kallela’s triptych follows the Kalevala story of Aino and old Väinämöinan’s attempt to seize her, which she avoids by joining the mermaids in the water. His contemporary Robert Wilhelm Ekman’s painting shows Ilmatar, the mother of Väinämöinan, and spirit of the air, and Johannes Takanen created the vivid sculpture of Aino.

Music Sibelius: Pohjola’s Daughter, Op 49

The Symphonic Fantasia Pohjola’s Daughter was written in 1906, and returns once more to the Kalevala for its programmatic source of inspiration. The great Finnish epic had in fact been assembled earlier in the nineteenth century from the oral tradition of the peasants, lays that from 1828, the date of their publication, became more accessible to a literate audience. While Kalevala is the Fatherland of Heroes, Pohja or Pohjola is the back country, Lapland and the North. The heroes of Kalevala seek wives from among the daughters of Pohjola, with varying degrees of success, since the normal state between the two was one of open hostility, particularly under the Lady of Pohjola, Louhi, protectress of the country.


Ateneum Art Gallery: Paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Robert Wilhelm Ekman • Sibelius Park

Gallen-Kallela’s ominous scene by the River Tuonela is a study for a fresco for the Jusélius Mausoleum, in memory of the eleven-year old Sigrid Jusélius. A scene from the Kalevala depicts Lemminkainen’s mother with the re-assembled body of her son, soon to be brought back to life. Ekman’s painting represents the same event, as Lemminkainen’s mother seeks to retrieve his dismembered body from the River Tuonela.

Music Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela, Op 22, No 3

The third of the four tone poems on the subject of Lemminkäinen, The Swan of Tuonela, was envisaged at first as the prelude to an opera, The Burning of the Boat, a project soon abandoned, after a visit by Sibelius to Bayreuth. The Swan of Tuonela, represented by the cor anglais, glides over the black waters that surround Tuonela, the land of the dead.

Keith Anderson


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Kenneth Schermerhorn [Naxos 8.550103]

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