This Suite is arranged from music written for a Finnish television series The Iron Age, based on the famous epic poem Kalevala (Land of Heroes). This takes its title from the three sons of Kalewa (Finland) - Väinämöinen, sage and inventor of the sacred of the sacred harp Kantele; Ilmarinen, the art smith and maker of the magic mill Sampo which grinds out meal, salt and gold; and Lemminkainen - handsome, attractive to ladies and possessed of a versatility (one gathers) which amply complements that attractiveness. The poem was not collated into its present form until the last century; prior to that it had existed in scattered fragments transmitted by oral tradition; ultimately, as a result mainly of much painstaking research by Dr Elias Lönnrot, a version of nearly 23,000 lines (in 50 runes or cantos) was published in 1849. It is written in 8-syllable trochaic verse - the rhythm of Longfellow's "Hiawatha", the style and content of which it closely resembles in many ways. Affinities with other Nordic folklore are readily apparent. Despite their so recent collation, the original songs and poems are of great antiquity.
It is not possible to write too much here about the content of the Kalevala. It contains much that Sibelius also drew upon for his inspiration (eg, in The Sawn of Tuonela). Suffice it to say that the poem opens with a picturesque account of the creation of the world, which at a critical stage involves the wooing (by the first-named son) of the lovely Aino, who unfortunately disappears into space (it is her song which is the second movement of this suite, sung wordlessly by the Soprano soloist, children's chorus and a contribution from the full choir). Pohjola is featured in the next movement - that magic mill falls into the hands of its denizens, and must be recovered because it gives so much prosperity to whoever gets it (grinding out what it does!). The excursions to Pohjola produce epical adventures (reminiscent also of the Odyssey and the Argonauts). Tuonela is the land of death and hell in Finnish mythology - and the orchestration of the fifth movement is therefore suitably wild and bleak. In number 6 of the Suite Väinämöinen's ethereal song is sung by a piccolo with vibraphone accompaniment. Finally, number 7 (which in turn is in 4 sections) narrates, using the main choir to the full plus the children's chorus, an episode reminiscent of the Sirens in the Greek stories abovementioned.
This is the splendid "atmospheric" music, the scoring of which reminds us now and then - especially in the carefully calculated use of the rarer percussion instruments - of the similar handling of the orchestra by our own Benjamin Britten in descriptive music of this nature.
1 The Wedding Procession of Ilmari and the Golden Woman
2 The Song of Aino (Soprano solo, Children's Chorus, Female Chorus)
3 Lemminki in Pohjola
4 Lemminki hunts the devil's elk (Chorus)
5 Lemminki in Tuonela
6 Väinö's song
7 Lemminki and the maidens of the island
I (Children's Chorus)
So the wind shakes the ship onward over the foaming waste of the waters, streaking through shining sea meadows, driving through the dread waters. Long through two moons' changes, moving through a third moon's passing.
II (Male Chorus)
Girls are gazing from the lakeside; the lake with its water blue as heaven. They are looking far and longingly over the boisterous breakers. One is waiting for her brother, for her father waits another. All the others watching, waiting, all of them waiting for a lover.
The handsome Lemminkainen guides his boat up to the island, to the island's very edge where it ends in jutting headland. Then the handsome Lemminkainen wandered into every village. Long-haired island girls await him, they delight in Lemminkainen. Everywhere his handsome head turns there he finds a kiss ready. Everywhere he stretches out his hand, there another hand will clasp it. And at night when he is lying, hidden in the darkest corner, long-haired island girls await him, they delight in Lemminkainen. So the handsome Lemminkainen finds a peaceful pasture, takes his pleasures three summers through the island's happy hamlets.
IV (Chorus and Children's Chorus)
There hasn't been a village yet where three homes he didn't see. He didn't look in any home where three heroes he didn't see. He hasn't seen a hero without a sword which is razor-sharp. No one's weeping, weeping for the mast; no one's weeping for fittings made of iron, not the boat they mourn but the sailor, not the ship but he who made it. So the wind shakes the ship onward over the foaming waste of water. There by the lakeside, the lake with its water blue as heaven.