The Kennedy Center

The Tempest

About the Work

Image for Sibelius Composer: Jean Sibelius
© Richard Freed

Long before the soundtrack was added to films, there was a tradition of presenting plays, both old and new, with "incidental music" to set a mood or illumine a development in the action. Among the outstanding examples are the scores Beethoven provided for Goethe's Egmont, Mendelssohn composed for Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, Schubert for Helmina von Chézy's otherwise deservedly forgotten Rosamunde, Bizet's for Daudet's drama L'Arlésienne, Grieg for Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Sibelius was one of the last great composers to make significant contributions to this category of stage music, and he did so throughout his creative life. While the only piece of his theater music we are likely to hear is his concert arrangement of the Valse triste, from his score to his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt's drama Kuolema, Sibelius composed music for such diverse plays as Adolf Paul's King Christian II , Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Everyman, Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande, Hjalmar Procopé's Belshazzar's Feast, and August Strindberg's Swanwhite, and drew up concert suites from many of these scores which would be handsome additions to our concert life. His music for a Copenhagen production of The Tempest was one of his very last works in any form, composed between the last of his seven symphonies and his final orchestral work, the extraordinary Tapiola. From this material he assembled two concert suites, whose various sections offer remarkable impressions of Shakespeare's characters and settings.

For the present concerts Vladimir Ashkenazy, whose Sibelius credentials include recordings of all the symphonies and several other works, has chosen five numbers:

Prelude . The stage director in Copenhagen omitted the play's opening shipwreck scene and asked Sibelius for an overture that would depict the storm and the shipwreck. In the original theater score the Prelude carries the subtitle "The Ship Sinks beneath the Waves"; in the composer's concert arrangement, the piece was published on its own as Op. 109, No. 1, and also as the final movement of the First Suite, Op. 109, No. 2.

Entr'acte--Ariel's Song (No. 8 of Suite No. 1, Op. 109, No. 2). The Entr'acte was originally a descriptive interlude in Act IV called "The Rainbow" (No. 23 in the theater score), while the second part of this piece was Ariel's second song "Full fathom five thy father lies," in Act I.

Dance of the Nymphs (No. 3 of Suite No. 2, Op. 109, No. 3). This is an adaptation of the naiads' dance in Act IV, which takes the form of a minuet.

Miranda (No. 7 of Suite No. 2) is a sunny portrait of the heroine, originally an interlude from Act III which reflects Miranda's happy recognition of her love for Ferdinand. The Naiads (No. 8 of Suite No. 2). Not to be confused with the Dance of the Nymphs, this piece was adapted from Ariel's first song in Act I, "Come unto these yellow sands."