In a message dated 14/06/2007 02:48:55 GMT Standard Time, NABOKV-L@HOLYCROSS.EDU writes:
Aino Ackté
Given the allusions to the Kalevala in "Pale Fire", the following may be of interest. Luonnotar is a marvellous work.
Anthony Stadlen
<< Cori Ellison
New York City Opera
Luonnotar”, Creation, and the Yin of Sibelius

Luonnotar”, Op. 70, though only ten minutes long, is surely one of Sibelius’ greatest and most original works, and perhaps his most singularly “feminine” work. Delving into it can shed unique light on Sibelius and his creative process. Composed during the same period as many of his most inspired vocal works (including the masterful songs of Op. 35), “Luonnotar” displays the expressive intensity and the bold imaginative sweep of such great Sibelian orchestral works as Tapiola, Op. 112 (1926). Yet the virtually unclassifiable “Luonnotar”—fully a symphonic tone poem in conception and design, yet fully a song—is one of Sibelius’ least-known and most infrequently performed major works.

As one of his few large-scale solo vocal works in the Finnish language, “Luonnotar” also stands apart from the bulk of his solo vocal works, which are set chiefly to Swedish texts. With the orchestra, his favored “instrument”, taking the piano’s customary role, Sibelius was freed in “Luonnotar” to reach heights of song previously inaccessible to him. Yet “Luonnotar” is, ironically, relatively unknown outside of Finland not only due to its language (set here with unusual grace), but to the obscurity of the tale it tells.

Sibelius himself selected and freely adapted the text of “Luonnotar” from the first poem of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic whose publication sparked the nation’s phenomenal cultural blossoming, not to mention its independence. The character of Luonnotar had fascinated Sibelius as far back as 1893, when he had planned to make her the heroine of his projected opera Veneen luominen. Later, in the early 20th century, Sibelius mentioned several times in his notebooks the idea of composing a piece based on the Kalevala’s first poem, the ethnic Finnish version of the creation myth. This ancient Finnish account of the creation differs from those found in most of Western mythology in that its central figure, the “air-daughter” Luonnotar, is female. Aptly enough, Sibelius’ first Luonnotar venture boasted a strong feminine hand: in 1905, the composer and his wife Aino began what he called their “joint enterprise”, a projected symphony or symphonic poem to be entitled “Luonnotar”. Though this project was abandoned in 1906, its musical materials were absorbed into the symphonic fantasy Pohjolan tytär, Op. 49 (1906) and also the Fourth Symphony, Op. 63 (1911). And in 1912, Sibelius once again planned a symphony to be called “Luonnotar”, according to his diary. Obviously, the Finnish tale of the birth of the world resonated deeply within Sibelius, echoing perhaps not only the genesis of his beloved nation but his own experience as a creator.

It was indeed a female “muse” who finally brought Sibelius’ “Luonnotar” to fruition. In 1913, Aino Ackté, the great Finnish operatic soprano who had vigorously championed the composer’s songs outside of Finland since 1890, asked Sibelius to compose a solo piece with orchestra for her to sing at the Gloucester Festival in England. In writing this strikingly original work, and in revising it after its premiere on September 10, 1913, Sibelius greatly deepened his understanding of the human voice as a musical instrument through his collaboration with Ackté.

Luonnotar” nevertheless remains a vocally daunting work, with its two-octave range, wide leaps, and sustained pianissimo high C-flat, not to mention its dramatic and almost instrumental treatment of the voice. Ackté herself called the work “absurdly difficult”, and this is perhaps another reason that “Luonnotar” has not enjoyed the worldwide popularity its brilliance deserves. >>