A fascist song by Sibelius

August 5 2015

This is a rather cheap headline, since I am not suggesting that we need to change our opinion of Sibelius.

In 1930 – four years into his “silence” if you take Tapiola as his last substantial work – Sibelius wrote a patriotic march for unison male choir and piano with words by Aleksi Nurminen called Karelia’s Fate. YouTube has a not very attractive rendition with a single tenor, and with a translation of the text. Arrangement by Hannu Jurmu, performers not stated.

Finland has not been judged harshly for its collaboration with Germany from 1941 to ’44 because it was a small nation which was defending itself against the USSR – which had invaded it in 1939. The history is in recent posts.

It had accumulated sympathy in ’39-40 not least because Russia had been an enemy of the West, which it had ceased to be in 1941. Finland stood alone against Russia and then got help from Germany.

Sibelius has suffered no political stigmas, but he did not take a stand against the Nazis. Karelia’s Fate was written in support of the fascist or near-fascist Lapua movement.

This was a nationalist, Lutheran, anti-communist political movement founded in 1929 and named after the town of Lapua in the southwest. Southern Ostrobothnia had been a stronghold of the White army in the Civil War.

On June 16 1930, 3,000 men arrived in Oulu in order to destroy the printing press and office of the Communist newspaper Pohjan Voima, whose last issue had appeared on June 14. On the same day, a Communist printing press in Vaasa was destroyed.

A Peasant March to Helsinki on July 7 was a show of power. Meetings held by leftist and labour groups were violently interrupted.

The song is an appeal to the “man of Karelia” to rise up against communism. It was first performed at Sortavala, Karelia, on the northern tip of Lake Ladoga, on September 7 1930.

What man of Karelia? The East Karelian who was living under communism? The West Karelian who was being infiltrated by it? Karelians in general? It depends on how you read it, but I think the phrase “western brothers” merely refers to non-Karelian Finns.

The creation of a Greater Finland by the annexation of East Karelia was an aim of Finnish nationalists.

The poem veers between the second and first person plural vocative, at least in the translation on YouTube.

The Lapua movement was banned after a failed coup d’état in 1932. Its successor was the Patriotic People’s Movement (1932-44).


Sibelius’s well-known Karelia music belongs to another world, that of late nineteenth-century romantic nationalism.

In 1893, when Finland was part of Russia, Sibelius was commissioned to write music for a historical tableau about Karelia at the Imperial Alexander University in Vyborg. This was in connection with a lottery being held to promote the education of the people of Vyborg Province. Raucous premiere November 13, Sibelius conducting.

The sections:


Tableau 1 – A Karelian Home – News of War (1293)

Tableau 2 – The Founding of Viipuri Castle

Tabelau 3 – Narimont, the Duke of Lithuania, Levying Taxes in the Province of Käkisalmi (1333)

Intermezzo I (no 1 in the Suite)

Tableau 4 – Ballade: Karl Knutsson in Viipuri Castle (1446) (no 2 in the Suite)

Tableau 5 – Pontus de la Gardie at the Gates of Käkisalmi (1580)

Intermezzo II (originally titled Tableau 5½) – Pontus de la Gardie’s March (no 3 in the Suite)

Tableau 6 – The Siege of Viipuri (1710)

Tableau 7 – The Reunion of Old Finland (Karelia) with the Rest of Finland (1811)

Tableau 8 – Our Land, the Finnish national anthem arranged by Sibelius

Tableau names may not be exactly as in 1893.

Narimont or Narimantas of Lithuania ruled the Russian part of Karelia on behalf of Novgorod.

Karl Knutsson is Charles VIII of Sweden.

Pontus de la Gardie was a French general in the service of Sweden. He captured Käkisalmi on the northwestern shore of Lake Ladoga from Ivan the Terrible. The Swedes held it for seventeen years. They took it again in 1611 and held it for a hundred years.

The words and music of the Finnish de facto national anthem are mid-nineteenth century. They predate independence. Sibelius’s Finlandia (1899-1900) has joined it as a second de facto anthem.

Sibelius published the three-movement suite and also, separately, the overture. There are performing versions of the rest.

Overture, London Symphony Orchestra, Loris Tjeknavorian; it quotes the march (for a second at 0:42, repeated at 6:08, he seems about to enter the world of Elgar):

3 Responses to “A fascist song by Sibelius”

  1. […] A fascist song by Sibelius […]

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Norman Lebrecht (with a typically coarse headline) on discussion between Sibelius biographers in Finland about his attitude to the Nazis:


    He doesn’t mention this song.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s