The genesis and subsequent history of Jean Sibelius’s Kullervo op. 7 (1891–92) are in many ways indicative, when we consider the composer’s life and output in general. It seemed somehow predetermined that Sibelius, left with- out a father at an early age, should take up the story of the archetypal orphan in the Kalevala, of a character who con- tinues to inspire Finnish music and art. Although Sibelius himself was nurtured tenderly by his mother and female relatives, he became fascinated with the tale of the rootless Kullervo when he was still at school in Ha?meenlinna. The first germs of setting this tale to music had thus been with the young composer for years, by the time when, while studying in Vienna in 1890–91, he began to re-read the Kalevala and to sketch a multi-movement symphony.
The premiere of Kullervo on April 28, 1892 immedi- ately established the work as the cornerstone of the Finn- ish sound in music, thanks to the originality and powerful impact of its music. Sibelius’s reading of Kullervo combined defiance, independence and tragedy with a pastoral tone. While Sibelius emphasized and added to the archetypal and timeless mythical dimensions of the tale of Kullervo’s in- exorable doom – which makes it a core narrative in Finnish culture –, he also added the comforting and