The Tempest

Incidental music to the play The Tempest (1925)

4B1.mp3 = 1st number: Ouverture | 4B2.mp3 = 9th number: Oak Tree (Ariel) plays the flute | 4B3.mp3 = 13th number: Caliban’s Song
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, cond.

In May 1925 the Danish publisher Wilhelm Hansen asked Sibelius whether he had written any music for Shakespeare's play The Tempest that the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen could use. Sibelius did not have any ready-made music but the enquiry resulted in a commission, and the composer worked diligently on the score in the summer of 1925.

The incidental music for The Tempest is the largest of Sibelius's scores for the stage. This was not the first time that Sibelius had collaborated with the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and the director Johannes Poulsen: in 1922 Poulsen had directed Sibelius’s ballet-pantomime Scaramouche. The première of The Tempest at the Royal Theatre took place in 1926, and in Sibelius's own words the performance was "a brilliant triumph".

The production of The Tempest was subsequently brought to Finland too, and its première at the National Theatre in Helsinki on 4th November 1927 was a major theatrical event. For the performance at the National Theatre Sibelius composed a new concluding number, a solemn Epilogue, in which he used material from the orchestral work Cassazione (1904). The role of Ariel was played by Sibelius’s daughter Ruth Snellman.

Sibelius empathized with the fates of many his compositions' heroes, but identified himself particularly strongly with Prospero in The Tempest. Perhaps the ageing composer, as he struggled with ever harsher self-criticism, really did see himself as a powerful magician – but one who was renouncing his powers.

Sibelius reworked the theatre music into two orchestral suites, published by Wilhelm Hansen in 1930. Having done this, Sibelius was no longer satisfied with the original theatre version, which Wilhelm Hansen also published, but wanted to correct some of the original movements in accordance with their counterparts in the suites.