Voces intimae (Sibelius)

Voces intimae
String quartet by Jean Sibelius

The composer in 1913
Key D minor
Catalogue Op. 56
Composed 1909 (1909)
Performed 25 April 1910 (1910-04-25)
Movements 5
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • cello

Voces intimae ("Intimate voices" or "Inner voices"), Op. 56, is the title of a string quartet by Jean Sibelius. He composed the work in D minor, structured in five movements, in 1909. It is the only major work for string quartet of his mature period.[1]


As a student, Sibelius composed several works for string quartet. In 1885 he finished a string quartet in E-flat major, followed in 1889, after quite a few individual movements for this combination, by a string quartet in A minor. The first string quartet to receive an opus number was in 1890 the quartet Op. 4 in B-flat major.[1] Afterwards he wrote no string quartets until Voces intimae in 1909. Composed between his Third and Fourth Symphony,[2] it remained "the only major work for string quartet of Sibelius's mature period".[1]

Sibelius composed the quartet from December 1908, working on it in London in early 1909. The Latin title, translating to "Intimate Voices" or "Inner voices", marks a "conversational quality"[2] and "inwardness" of the music. The composer wrote about his work in a letter to his wife: "It turned out as something wonderful. The kind of thing that brings a smile to your lips at the hour of death. I will say no more."[1] Sibelius showed it to his publisher Lienau on 15 April 1909.[1]

The first performance was on 25 April 1910 at the Helsinki Music Institute on 25 April 1910. A review in the Helsingin Sanomat noted: "The composition attracted a great deal of attention, and it is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant products in its field. It is not a composition for the public at large, it is so eccentric and out of the ordinary."[1] Sibelius later wrote about the composition: "The melodic material is good but the harmonic material could be 'lighter', and even 'more like a quartet.'"[1]

Structure and music

Sibelius structured the quartet in five movements:[1]

  1. Andante – Allegro molto moderato
  2. Vivace
  3. Adagio di molto
  4. Allegretto (ma pesante)
  5. Allegro

The work opens with a dialogue of violin and cello.[2] The first movement contrasts "murmurous figuration with firm chords".[2] The second movement is a scherzo in A major, connected to the first by musical motifs.[2] The central slow movement has been described as a "soulful quest for serenity in F major". It contains "three detached, soft chords in E minor, remote from any of the previous harmonic implications",[2] to which Sibelius added the "voces intimae" in a friend's score.[2] A second scherzo is also connected by motivic similarity to the first movement. The finale, "with more than a hint of folk fiddling",[2] grows in intensity by markings from Allegro to "sempre più energico" (always more energetic), described as "fiercely accented music of forceful contrasts but irresistible momentum".[2]


The Finnish violinist and composer Pekka Kuusisto has arranged the work for chamber orchestra, which was included in Kuusisto's 2009 Australian tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.[3]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Chamber music for trios, quartets and quintets". Jean Sibelius. Finnish Club of Helsinki. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Henken, John. "String Quartet, "Voces intimae" / Jean Sibelius". Los Angeles Philharmonic. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  3. Anna King Murdoch, "An aural homecoming", The Age, 14 March 2009, A2, p. 16
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