Sibelius’s Kullervo is an undoubted masterpiece… but boy, is it a quirky one. By all conventional rules of classical musicdom, it simply should not be. Consider:
- It was the first significant orchestral work Sibelius ever wrote.
- It came from Finland, which at the time was distant corner of the Russian Empire that did not have a particularly strong or well-developed classical musical infrastructure.
- It featured singers singing in Finnish—a language that was looked down upon as being low-brow at the time.
- It chronicled the adventures of a decidedly unconventional hero from Finnish mythology.
- It was only performed five times before Sibelius withdrew it and banned all future performances of the work; it was only after his death that his heirs authorized the work to be performed again.
In short, Kullervo is an oddity, an enigma… much like the legendary figure upon which it is based.
But make no mistake, it is a masterpiece that is as startling today as it was at its premiere in 1892. It is the work that created Sibelius’s reputation. And it is a work I love to distraction. Continue reading