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Kullervo, Op. 7 is an early symphonic poem for soloists, chorus and orchestra, written by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–-1957).

The work, based on the character of Kullervo from the epic poem Kalevala, premiered to great critical acclaim on 28 April 1892. The soloists at the premiere were Emmy Achté and Abraham Ojanperä. Kullervo had only four more performances in Sibelius' lifetime, the last one taking place on 12 March 1893. Sibelius never published it and it was only at the very end of his life that he considered revising it, having re-orchestrated the final section (Kullervo's Lament) of its third movement in 1957. There were performances of isolated movements before Sibelius' death (the fourth movement two days after the premiere and again in 1905 and in 1955; the third movement for a centenary celebration of the "Kalevala" in 1935). It was next performed in 1958, a year after Sibelius' death, with Jussi Jalas, Sibelius's son-in-law, conducting the work. A limited edition release of the 1958 Jalas live performance became available in the early 1970s. The first studio recording was made by Paavo Berglund and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1971.

The first performance in the United States was given in Milwaukee with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Schermerhorn. Schermerhorn took his orchestra on tour and performed it in Washington, D.C. and at Carnegie Hall in New York. Since then many orchestras have performed and recorded the work.

The music

The work is in five movements, each chronicling a different part of Kullervo's life, based on verses from the Kalevala. The third and fifth movements contain passages of dialogue from the epic, sung by a baritone (Kullervo), a soprano (the 3 successive women Kullervo tries to seduce), and a male chorus (the narrative verses). Movements one, two and four are purely instrumental.

1. Introduction This movement sets up the work. It evokes the heroic sweep of the legendary Finnish setting, as well as the character Kullervo, who is a complex, tragic figure.

2. Kullervo's Youth This movement reflects the contents of Runos 31 through 33 of the Kalevala, with a somber tone; Kullervo is marked for tragedy from birth onwards, and he spends his youth largely in slavery.

3. Kullervo and his Sister Scored for male chorus as well as male and female soloists, this movement (which Sibelius allowed to be performed as a separate work) chronicles how Kullervo encounters three women; he attempts, unsuccessfully, to seduce them. After failing three times, he ravishes the third woman, only to realize too late that it is his long lost sister, who commits suicide when she learns the truth; she leaps into a stream and drowns herself. The movement ends with Kullervo's lament at his sister's death, and his own crime.

4. Kullervo Goes to Battle Kullervo attempts to atone for his crime by seeking death on the battle field.

5. Kullervo's Death A haunting male chorus tells of Kullervo's death; he inadvertently comes to the site of his sister's ravishment, marked by dead grass and bare earth, where nature has refused to renew itself. He addresses his magic sword, asking if it will slay him; the sword answers, and he commits suicide.

The work runs something over an hour. The duration depends very much upon the conductor. Seven recent recordings range from 69 minutes, 48 seconds to 80 minutes, 46 seconds in length.

Selected discography

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