The tone poem Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49, was composed by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1906. Originally, Sibelius intended to title the work Väinämöinen, after the character in the Kalevala (the Finnish national epic). The publisher Robert Lienau insisted on the title Pohjola's Daughter, which Sibelius then countered with the new title L'aventure d'un héros. He also considered the title Luonnotar. However, Lienau's suggestion eventually became the work's published title. (The title Luonnotar was given to a later work.) This was Sibelius' first work that he wrote directly for a German music publisher. The first performance was in Saint Petersburg, Russia in December 1906, with the composer himself conducting the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre.
The passage in the Kalevala that inspired this work is from the 8th Runo, known in various English translations as "The Wound" or "Väinämöinen and the maiden of North Farm". The tone poem depicts the "steadfast, old," white-bearded Väinämöinen who spots the beautiful "daughter of the North (Pohjola)", seated on a rainbow, weaving a cloth of gold while he is riding a sleigh through the dusky landscape. Väinämöinen asks her to join him, but she replies that she will only leave with a man who can perform a number of challenging tasks, such as tying an egg into invisible knots and, most notably, building a boat from fragments of her distaff. Väinämöinen attempts to fulfill these tasks through his own expertise in magic; in many of the tasks he succeeds but he is eventually thwarted by evil spirits when attempting to build the boat and injures himself with an axe. He gives up, abandons the tasks and continues on his journey alone.
Pohjola's Daughter is considered one of Sibelius's most colorful scores and scored for a large orchestra: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets; bass clarinet; 2 bassoons; contrabassoon; 4 horns; 2 cornets; 2 trumpets; 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, and strings.
The musical motif with which Sibelius portrays the maiden's derisive laughter as she mocks the failures of Väinämöinen's attempts to meet her challenges has been claimed as the inspiration for Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack in the stabbing scene in Psycho.
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- Erik W. Tawaststjerna (trans. Robert Layton), Sibelius, Volume II: 1904–1914. Faber and Faber (London, 1986), p. 52.
- Erik W. Tawaststjerna (trans. Robert Layton), Sibelius, Volume II: 1904–1914. Faber and Faber (London, 1986), pp. 53–54.
- Elias Lönnrot, The Kalevala, translated by Keith Bosley. Oxford University Press, Oxford World Classics edition (1989).
- Elias Lönnrot, The Kalevala, translated by Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr.. Harvard University Press (1963).