Lemminkäinen in Tuonela

2A1.mp3 = First version (excerpt from the beginning)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, cond.

Sibelius's enthusiasm for the national epic Kalevala developed when he read it in Vienna in 1890; he wrote to Aino: "I'm reading the Kalevala diligently... In my view the Kalevala is very modern. I think it is all music, a theme with variations."

Very little documentary evidence has survived pertaining to the composition process of Lemminkäinen. In 1893 Sibelius had been planning an opera, Veneen luominen (The Building of the Boat), but when this project came to nothing he transferred the music he had written for it so far to Lemminkäinen – the prelude to the opera became The Swan of Tuonela.

The first version of Lemminkäinen, "four symphonic poems for orchestra", was first performed in Helsinki in 1896, conducted by Sibelius himself. The audience was enthusiastic about the new work, and the newspaper reviews too were positive. Sibelius revised Lemminkäinen the following year. The melodic material of the original was retained, but he thinned down the orchestration and made some cuts. After the concert the audience was enthusiastic, as were most critics – the exception being Karl Flodin in Nya Pressen.

A further performance of Lemminkäinen was planned, but Sibelius withdrew Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island and Lemminkäinen in Tuonela; they were not to appear again until forty years later. By contrast the remaining movements, The Swan of Tuonela and Lemminkäinen's Return, soon claimed a regular place in concert programmes and were published in 1901. Before publication Sibelius revised them once again, and Lemminkäinen's Return in particular was shortened considerably.