Decompressing Sibelius’s Swan of Tuonela: Reconstructing a lost version (1896/97) (NewMAC)

Newcastle Music Analysis Conference, Society for Music Analysis, Newcastle University, July 2022


On 4 December 1943, an RAF bombing raid left Leipzig’s bookseller’s quarter in ruins. Many of the musical manuscripts kept at Breitkopf & Härtel’s original headquarters were destroyed. These included the early version(s) of Jean Sibelius’s tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela, from his symphonic suite, Lemminkäinen, Op. 22. The work was completed by early spring of 1896, but after negative reviews Sibelius revised the whole suite and reversed the order of its inner movements. He also shortened The Swan by a fourth of its length before its publication in 1901. Though early versions of the other three tone poems in the suitehave been reconstructed, performed, and recorded, the early version of the Swan remained obscure. In 2013, however, editors of Sibelius’s complete works made an exciting discovery: two early Violin I parts for the Swan were found in the Helsinki Philharmonic Archives. These contain passages later omitted from the final version. The structural use of upper string textures in a divisi ‘soundsheet’ throughout the work make possible an analytically informed reconstruction that is, in equal part, an orchestral reimagining and posthumous collaboration.

Utilizing the recent recording of my reconstruction’s premiere (MUMS Chamber Orchestra, 23.03.2022), this presentation will discuss the analytical and compositional insights gained from the process of reconstruction. These include Sibelius’s compression of harmonic progressions to create maximally efficient voice leading in the published version, the almost complete suppression of the tonic major, and the surprising removal of this runic variation form’s rotational qualities.