Karelia Suite : Work information

Jean (Julius Christian) Sibelius ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

This work

Work name
Karelia Suite
Work number
Op. 11
1893-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
John H. West
John Timperley
Recording date

Track listing

  • Intermezzo 3:43 min
  • Ballade 7:17 min
  • Alla Marcia 4:32 min


The Karelia Suite was extracted from incidental music written in 1893 to accompany a historical pageant. Presented by students from the University in Vyborg, Karelia, the pageant celebrated the history of their region. Although other vocal and orchestral movements were written, only the overture and this suite were published.

The popular Intermezzo with its Horn calls and stately processional atmosphere is followed by a ballad that depicts King Kart Kuutsson of Finland and Sweden. The final March is unashamedly joyous with a wonderful string theme and brass fanfares, rounding off a charming and much-loved work.

The Composers

Jean (Julius Christian) Sibelius

Sibelius (1865-1957) learned about and loved music and nature from an early age, and he grew to be an exceptional player of the violin he had been given on his fifteenth birthday.  His family didn't approve of his desire for a career in music and composition though, and enrolled him in Helsinki University to study law.  He also enrolled in the Helsinki Academy of Music, and with the later encouragement of an uncle moved over to it full time, composing a String Trio in A major and a String Quartet in A minor among others.  He went on to study in Berlin and Vienna, but on his return to Finland, the country's nationalism (prompted by fears of its Soviet-controlled future) sparked an urge in Sibelius to use his music to express Finnish identity. 

The Kaleva, a Finnish epic, inspired many of Sibelius' works.  The first to bring him fame was a five-movement symphonic poem Kullervo (1892), followed by En Saga, the Karelia Suite, and his most well-known work, Finlandia.  This last was banned by the Russian authorities because of its morale-boosting effect on the population.  His First Symphony in E minor is a romantic work (owing a lot to Tchaikovsky), but the Second Symphony in D minor is more characteristic of Sibelius' technique of constructing movements from small 'cells' which expand and transform.

The tone poem Tapiola marked the end of Sibelius' composing career in 1926, though he lived until 1957.  In his seven symphonies, orchestral, choral and chamber music, the Finnish country and native folk songs inspire a majestic and richly harmonic expression of proud national identity.  Some of Sibelius' works also seem to portray a feeling of animosity, directed at the Russian dominance and restriction of his country. 

Related composers: Tchaikovsky