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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Nationalist Era > Symphonic Poem, "The Swan of Tuonela" - Sibelius


Symphonic Poem, "The Swan of Tuonela"

Jean Sibelius
(1865-1957)



The "Swan of Tounela" is the third part of the symphonic poem "Lemminkäinen" which is rarely played in its entirety. The score inscription sets forth "Tuonela, the Kingdom of Death, the Hades of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a broad river of black water and rapid current, in which the Swan of Tuonela glides in majestic fashion and sings." Rosa Newmarch in her biography of the composer has sufficiently described the composition:

"The majestic but intensely sad, swan-like melody is heard as a solo for cor-anglais, accompanied at first by muted strings and the soft roll of drums. Now and then this melody is answered by a phrase given to first cello or viola, which might be interpreted as the farewell sigh of some soul passing to Tuonela. For many bars the brass is silent, until suddenly the first horn (muted) echoes a few notes of the swan melody with the most poignant effect. Gradually the music works up to a great climax, indicated con gran suono, followed by a treble pianissimo, the strings playing with the back of the bow. To this accompaniment, which suggests the faint flapping of pinions, the swan's final phrases are sung. The strings return to the natural bowing and the work ends in one of the characteristic, sighing phrases for cello."





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