Tapiola (Sibelius)

Tone poem by Jean Sibelius

The composer in 1923
Catalogue Op. 112
Duration 17 minutes
Date 26 December 1926 (1926-12-26)
Location New York, New York
Conductor Walter Damrosch

Tapiola (literally, "Realm of Tapio"), Op. 112, is a tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, written in 1926 on a commission from Walter Damrosch for the New York Philharmonic Society. Tapiola portrays Tapio, the animating forest spirit mentioned throughout the Kalevala. It was premiered by Damrosch on 26 December 1926.


Walter Damrosch commissioned the work for the New York Philharmonic Society. Tapiola portrays Tapio, the animating forest spirit mentioned throughout the Kalevala, lurking behind the stark Finnish pine-forests that enveloped the composer's isolated home Ainola outside Järvenpää.

When asked by the publisher to clarify the work's program, Sibelius responded by supplying a quatrain:

In Pohjola there are thick, dark forests
that dream wild dreams, forever secret.
Tapio's eerie dwellings are there
and half-glimpsed spirits, and the voices of twilight.

Tapiola was premiered by Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphonic Society on 26 December 1926.[1][2]

The first performance in Finland on 25 April 1927 was conducted by Robert Kajanus, when the overture to The Tempest and the Seventh Symphony were also introduced to Finland. The composer Leevi Madetoja noted, "At times we hear the melancholy, repeated call of an elf, at times a lonely wanderer in the woods is giving vent to the pain of life. A beautiful work, technically close to the seventh symphony."[2]

The original publisher was Breitkopf & Härtel, who published most of the composer's works. Tapiola was Sibelius's last major work, though he lived for another thirty years. He began working on an Eighth Symphony, but he is said to have burned the sketches after becoming unhappy with the work.


A typical performance of Tapiola lasts between fifteen and twenty minutes. It is scored for three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

The opening melodic gesture from which the whole piece develops:

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key b \minor \numericTimeSignature \time 2/2 \tempo "Largamente" r4 b2\f ais8--\< b-- | cis\!-- b-- b4 b\> ais\! | \slashedGrace { gis,8( } gis'4)-. }

Karl Ekman wrote in the Hufvudstadsbladet: "Indeed, Tapiola is a monothematic whole – although there has been disagreement as to whether the core motif can actually be considered a theme. Erkki Salmenhaara argues that it is not. In his view, the "core" motif gives rise to at least four central, interconnected basic motifs. These, in their turn, produce "around thirty highly characteristic, original and inimitably Sibelian musical motifs".[2]

Selected recordings

Kajanus, who conducted the Finnish premiere, conducted the first recording with the London Symphony Orchestra for HMV on 29 June 1932 at Abbey Road Studio 1.[3] In 1953 Herbert von Karajan conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in the first of his four recordings of the work. (Sibelius regarded Karajan as "the only one who truly understands my work.")[4] Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded the music in 1955; it was one of the first stereophonic recordings made by EMI Classics. Both before and since then, numerous conductors and orchestras have recorded the work.


  1. "List of Sibelius' Works of the 1920s". Retrieved 18 April 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 "Other orchestral works / The Dryad". Tapiola. Finnish Club of Helsinki. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  3. Search from CHARM Discography, Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, <http://www.charm.kcl.ac.uk/about/about_structure>, accessed 1 April 2013.
  4. BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week program – "Sibelius – The Rest is Silence?" (17 January 2011)

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