Lemminkäinen Suite : Work information

Jean (Julius Christian) Sibelius ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

This work

Work name
Lemminkäinen Suite
Work number
Op. 22
1893-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Oliver Davis
Dick Lewzey
Recording date

Track listing

  • The Swan of Tuonela 8:22 min


Sibelius' Lemminkainen Suite consists of four legends from the Kalevala, an epic poem telling the story of three heroes seeking the hand of the Maiden of Pohja. One of the heroes, Lemminkainen, is set the task of shooting the Swan of Tuonela, the bird that swims in the lake between the living and the dead, to prove his worth. The Suite tells this story in four episodes.

Written between 1893 and 1895, and subsequently revised in 1897, 1900 and again in 1939, the Lemminkainen Suite can be considered Sibelius' finest work of the 1890s. In later life, the composer referred to the work as a symphony, and in Lemminkainen's ReturnSibelius the symphonicist makes his first appearance.

The Swan of Tuonela, frequently played separately, was originally conceived as the prelude to an opera. Written in 1893, it is the most popular piece of the Suite and, with its ethereal strings and haunting cor anglais solos, wonderfully evokes the mythic quality of the legend. The Suite was first performed on 13 April 1896 and received a cool reception. Its originality and profundity have since made it one of Sibelius' most popular works.

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