Finnish through and through – Kullervo by Jean Sibelius
On 28 April  it was one hundred years since the first performance of Sibelius’s Kullervo Symphony. After two performances, the composer forbade further performance of the work, but as early as 1958, less than a year after his death, the husband of Sibelius’s daughter Margareta, Jussi Jalas, then conductor in chief of the National Opera, brought the work to public attention in the Helsinki Sibelius Weeks. Since then Kullervo has gradually established its position in the repertoire of Finnish orchestras. Last February Kullervo was played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra immediately before Aulis Sallinen‘s opera Kullervo, which received its first performance in the orchestra’s home city.
In the spirit of the centenary, FMQ is taking a trip one hundred years back in time and publishing the advertisement for the Kullervo concert that appeared in the Amusements section of the Päivälehti newspaper on 28 April 1892, and extracts from the review of the concert that appeared in the same paper two days later.
“Jean Sibelius is an artist with his own scope and freedoms. He does not think how others have interpreted this or that; he knows how he himself wishes to interpret it, and he does it whether he must then break old customs and appear to be somehow ‘lording it over’ others, or not. (…)
Kullervo is a five-movement composition which depicts the main events from the (Kalevala) hero’s life. The depiction is so vivid and so completely Finnish that at every point the work overflows with the grave and melancholy spirit of old Finland. We must marvel at the fact that Mr Sibelius has kept to the same very Finnish style from beginning to end of his work. At the same time as giving the work as a whole a lasting value, it impresses on the work a certain strangely moving and, for us Finns, so familiar and pleasing, stamp. And here is the reason why our public, which has found it difficult from the beginning to understand Sibelius’s work, has fallen in love with this work at first hearing. (…)
This is the first really Finnish composition.”
This article was first published in FMQ 2/1992.