En Saga

1B1.mp3 = Early version, theme seen in the manuscript (excerpt) | 1B2.mp3 = Final version, theme seen in the manuscript (excerpt) | 1B3.mp3 = Early version (excerpt)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, cond.
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini, cond.

The symphonic poem En saga (1892) is remarkable because it is the earliest of Sibelius's orchestral pieces to have gained a regular place in the repertoire. It began a series of tone poems that would continue all through Sibelius’s career; his last published tone poem was Tapiola (1926).

Sibelius had sketched themes used in En saga in Vienna in 1891. According to the composer himself, En saga was psychologically one of his most profound works: "I could almost say it encompasses my entire youth. It is an expression of a certain state of mind. When I composed it, I had undergone many shattering experiences. In no other work have I revealed myself so completely."

The sizeable audience at the first performance was enthusiastic, and the reviewers too were well pleased. They praised the work’s originality and ingenuity, and its splendid orchestration. Moreover, the work was felt to possess a strong Finnish identity.

Sibelius himself was evidently fond of En saga: when his friend, the pianist and conductor Ferruccio Busoni asked for an orchestral work that could be performed in Berlin in 1902, En saga was the work that Sibelius chose. Other possible candidates would have been more recent works such as Skogsrået (The Wood-Nymph), Lemminkäinen or the First or Second Symphonies. For the Berlin performance Sibelius decided to revise En saga. He conducted it in Berlin in mid-November 1902.

The revision of En saga brought numerous changes, and the length of the piece was reduced by approximately one sixth. The majority of the work’s thematic material was retained. A new thematic section around half-way through the original version, and the allusion to that section towards the end, were removed. Sibelius also made changes to the work’s orchestration and removed some doublings.

It was to some extent a matter of luck that the early version of En saga still exists, because Sibelius made his revision directly in the score of the original version, removing unwanted pages and writing in changes on top of the previous notation. The early version survives because the conductor Georg Schnéevoigt made a copy for his own use in 1901. In 1935 Schnéevoigt managed to get this copy back from the orchestra in Scheveningen, where it had ended up. Since then the copy been has in the possession of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and has been performed from time to time.