Open main menu

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his musical goals and the work became an orchestral piece in four movements.[citation needed] The first two though were withdrawn by the composer soon after the premiere and were neither performed, nor added to the published score of the suite until 1935. (In 1947, Sibelius would switch the positions of the second and third movement, but in this article they are discussed in their original order.) The suite is based on the heroic character Lemminkäinen from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. The piece can also be considered a collection of symphonic poems. The description below lists the four movements in Sibelius's original order; The Swan of Tuonela is often heard separately.

  • Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island 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.
  • Lemminkäinen in Tuonela 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.
  • The Swan of Tuonela 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'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.
Lemminkäinen Suite
Tone poem by Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius, 1913.jpg
The composer in 1913
Other nameFour Legends
CatalogueOp. 22
Composed1895 (r. 1897, 1939)
Date13 April 1896 (1896-04-13)
LocationHelsinki, Finland
ConductorJean Sibelius

Sibelius changed the order of the movements when he made his final revisions in 1939, placing The Swan of Tuonela second, and Lemminkäinen in Tuonela third. [5][6]

The suite is scored for two flutes (one doubling piccolo), two oboes (one doubling 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.[7]


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. ^ Barnett, Andrew, Sibelius (2007), p.341. ISBN 978-0-300-11159-0.
  6. ^ Grimley 2011, p. 56.
  7. ^ Grimley, Daniel M., ed. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius, p.200. ISBN 978-0-521-89460-9.


External linksEdit