Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
- Caliban, The
The world's most famous playwright was born in 1564,
and died in 1616, on his 52nd birthday exactly. The Tempest
was William Shakespeare's last play, written around 1610-11. Sibelius'
music for the play was commissioned after the successful premiere
performances of his final and greatest symphony, the Seventh.
The request came from the Royal Theatre at Copenhagen, and the vocal
parts were done first in Danish (although Sibelius' copy of the
play was Swedish; this recording in Finnish).
(1925), along with the tone poem Tapiola
(1925-6), is the last of Sibelius' major works. From here until
1957 is the period of the composer's life now known as the "The
Silence of Järvenpää". Although he lived for another 32 years until
1957, no more music of this scale or quality came from his hands,
or to be more accurate, has been approved for public eye.
It is fitting, and
a bit ironical, that the play chosen by the Royal Theatre was The
Tempest. In the story, the protagonist is the noble magician
Prospero. Powerful, intelligent, wise, human and yet austere, Prospero
is exiled with his daughter to an island. There, he learns and practises
his great magical powers, controlling the spirits, nature, and the
tiny world of which he is master.
The play is representative
of Shakespeare's own art as a playwright. Prospero is, in essence
- Shakespeare. Just as Prospero controls the actions of the people,
spirits and beasts on his island, he too is their playwright. For
example, he causes the magical storm which shipwrecks his scheming
brother on the island. When the brothers are reconciled, the spirits
set free, and Prospero leaves the island, he renounces his magical
powers by breaking his staff and throwing his magic books into the
sea. Likewise, Shakespeare, coming to the frontiers of playwrighting
with his final play, begs leave of his art by producing a play in
which its central character controls an internal play.
How fitting it is then that the themes of the play are those of
magic, creation, balance of power, humanity, spirituality - and
above all nature. Fitting because all these are exactly the concerns
How fitting it is
that the play opens with a furious storm at sea. The unparalleled
Overture to The Tempest score has been called "the single
most onomatopoetic stretch of music ever composed." (Onomatopoeia
being the imitation of natural sounds). The strings' chromatic augmented
fourths, the keening chords of winds, the humming, growling brass,
the booming thunder of basses and lightningbolts of snare-drums
- all these join to declare Sibelius as Nature's greatest musical
How natural the spiritual
kinship Sibelius had with Nature: listen to the melancholic Chorus
of the Winds, the mists from which The Rainbow arises,
or the mystical song of Ariel in The Oak Tree. In all, the
humanity infused in the embrace of nature is always evident. Try
Ariel's First Song, with Introduction and Choir - after an
orchestral introduction of swimming strings, listen for the enchanted
humming of the wordless chorus - human voices, yet sounding as of
the winds of nature.
Even in the grotesque
signature tune for the 'monster' Caliban, there is a trace of human
yearning. Stepano's Song, sung half-drunk, is in contrast
full of good humour and defiant merriment - remember Sibelius was
a heavy drinker too! There is also the celebrating strains of Juno's
Song and then the absolutely beautiful waltzing Dance of
the Naiads - so soft, gentle, swaying with the dusk of an evening
in 1955, one of the last photos of the composer.
How fitting it is
that the music for Miranda, Prospero's daughter, is so gentle, lyrical,
yet so sad. In it, I hear the sorrow Prospero knows for his innocent
daughter, exiled with him to the island as an infant, barely remembering
her mother. In the music, I hear Sibelius' sorrow for his third
daughter (he had six) Kirsti, who died aged 15 months. This becomes
all too real in the Intermezzo: Alonso mourns, which depicts
him (Alonso) lamenting for his son Ferdinand, presumed dead after
But without doubt,
one of the most human pieces in the score is the Interlude: Prospero.
It begins in deep tragic sorrow - thinking. Thinking of a heroic
past no longer possible, and yet full of pride in the knowledge
of one's place in and contributions to humanity. Thus, the central
section of the piece is a noble but restrained celebration. To the
ennobling heralding of the trumpet, the flights of woodwind and
the hum of the strings, I picture Prospero standing on a high cliff,
basking in the love and honour Nature was bestowing him. Fittingly,
this is a near perfect portrait of the composer himself.
This too is the final
place for Sibelius, who understood, at the end of his compositional
life, that his time was past, and the world was going in other directions.
But as in the greatest of artists, his music will (and did) return.
and disrupted by supporters, fans, critics and conductors alike,
Sibelius struggled with his Eighth Symphony through the 1930s and
the 40s. In 1945, he even said that he had "finished [it] many times",
but was unsatisfied with it.
But how could he,
let alone anyone, write anything after the apotheosis of his symphonic
thought, the awesome Seventh Symphony?
How could one of music history's most self-critical composers, whose
supreme philosophy and technique of organic development was utterly
and irrevocably manifested in the Seventh, compose another symphony?
Can a circle less round than the last one one draws be called a
Around the mid-1940s, Sibelius' wife Aino stumbled across her octogenarian
husband sitting before the fireplace with a laundry basket full
of manuscripts. Sibelius was feeding the papers to the flames, undoubtedly
with much personal pain, discipline but also relief.
my husband became calmer and gradually lighter in mood. It was
a happy time."
By the time you reach
Ariel's final song in The Tempest, that is what you will
hear: happiness and contentment. All problems have been solved:
Prospero is reunited with his kin, Miranda is to wed Ferdinand and
the villains punished. And Ariel is, like Sibelius wanted - set
There remains only
one last thing, and I'm sure it is what Sibelius desired in the
face of those torturing him for the Eighth: let me rest.
Likewise, as Prospero embarks for home, he leaves his magic behind.
No more will he compose with his great art, and no more should anyone
force him to.
The final piece in
the complete music is the Ossia: Epilogue. It is a powerful
and beautifully melancholic work. At 1'20", its resonant nostalgia
is utterly heartbreaking, and breathtakingly brief. Leaving behind
the burden of the world, in its single breath of life, the Ossia
encompasses in total spirit the final and very human farewell of
Shakespeare, Prospero... and Jean Sibelius.
charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint.
... Let me not ... dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Epilogue, The Tempest.
Lahti Opera Chorus · Lahti
Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä
|| The Tempest,
Incidental Music to Shakespeare's Play.
Complete Theatre Score, sung in Finnish.
WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING
Juno Kirsi Tiihonen soprano
Stephano Anssi Hirvonen tenor
Caliban Heikki Keinonen baritone
Trinculo Paavo Kerola tenor
CD-581 (Complete Sibelius Vol.33)
[67:20] full-price. Includes libretto in Finnish with English
music of The Tempest was also rearranged into two orchestral
suites. These are available on BIS-CD-448 and I highly recommend
the Ondine recording by Segerstam (reviewed
here). A full catalogue of BIS records is available in Singapore
at HMV (The Heeren). Selected titles are also available at Borders
Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase is deeply fascinated by soaring birds.
He once played the role of Capulet (Juliet's father) in a little
production of Romeo & Juliet. "Come, musicians! Play!"
respond to this article, please post your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
©Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase
From: Robert Bray (email@example.com / Wednesday, July 14, 1999 at 03:22:00)
Just wanted the Sibelius Nutcase to know that a kindred krazy dropped in, read his/her/its essay on the Tempest music, and thought it thoughtful. Thanks.
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