Lemminkäinen Suite

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Lemminkäinen Suite
Tone poem by Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius, 1913.jpg
The composer in 1913
Other name Four Legends
Catalogue Op. 22
Period Late-Romantic
Composed 1895 (r. 1897, 1939)
Movements 4
Date 13 April 1896 (1896-04-13)
Location Helsinki, Finland
Conductor Jean Sibelius

The Lemminkäinen Suite (also called the Four Legends, or Four Legends from the Kalevala), Op. 22, is a work written by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in the 1890s and subsequently revised by him decades later. Originally conceived as a mythological opera, Veneen luominen (The Building of the Boat), on a scale matching those by Richard Wagner, Sibelius later changed his musical goals and the work became an orchestral piece in four movements.[citation needed] The suite is based on the character Lemminkäinen from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. The piece can also be considered a collection of symphonic poems. The second/third section, The Swan of Tuonela, is often heard separately (the work's inner movements are often reversed as their order is a subject of disagreement among scholars).

  • Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island: this is based on Runo 29 ("Conquests"[1]) of the Kalevala, where Lemminkäinen travels to an island and seduces many of the women there, before fleeing the rage of the men on the island. The movement is also known as Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari, Saari being the Finnish word for island.
  • The Swan of Tuonela: this is the most popular of the four tone poems and often is featured alone from the suite in orchestral programs. It has a prominent cor anglais solo. The music paints a gossamer, transcendental image of a mystical swan swimming around Tuonela, the island of the dead. Lemminkäinen has been tasked with killing the sacred swan, but on the way he is shot with a poisoned arrow, and dies himself.
  • Lemminkäinen in Tuonela: this is based on Runos 14 ("Elk, horse, swan"[2]) and 15 ("Resurrection"[3]). Lemminkäinen is in Tuonela, the land of the dead, to shoot the Swan of Tuonela to be able to claim the daughter of Louhi, mistress of the Pohjola or Northland, in marriage. However, the blind man of the Northland kills Lemminkäinen, whose body is then tossed in the river and then dismembered. Lemminkäinen's mother learns of his death, travels to Tuonela, recovers his body parts, reassembles him and restores him to life.
  • Lemminkäinen's Return: the storyline in the score roughly parallels the end of Runo 30 ("Pakkanen"[4]), where after his adventures in battle, Lemminkäinen journeys home.

The above order of the movements matches their numbering within opus 22. However, Sibelius revised the order in 1947, transposing the middle two movements, which is the order in which most concert performances are played.[citation needed]

The suite is scored for two flutes (one doubling on the piccolo), two oboes (one doubling on the cor anglais), two clarinets (in B) (one doubling on bass clarinet), two bassoons, four horns (in E and F), three trumpets (in E and F), three trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, harp, and strings.

Tristan Murail's Gondwana incorporates a substantial passage directly modelled upon Lemminkäinen in Tuonela.[5]


The original versions of Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island and Lemminkäinen's Return have been recorded by Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (BIS CD-1015). Other recordings of the full published suite are by the Helsinki Radio Symphony Orchestra under Okko Kamu, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi, The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, and The London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Petri Sakari)


  1. ^ Elias Lönnrot, The Kalevala, translated by Keith Bosley. Oxford University Press, Oxford World Classics edition (1989), pp. 401–417. ISBN 978-0-19-281700-6.
  2. ^ Lönnrot, (1989) pp. 155-167. Bosley, trans.
  3. ^ Lönnrot (1989), pp.168–186.
  4. ^ Lönnrot (1989), p. 431.
  5. ^ Grimley, Daniel M., ed. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius, p.200. ISBN 978-0-521-89460-9.

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