Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is best known for his seven Symphonies, ever-popular Tone Poems and brilliant Violin Concerto; many pianists are unaware that he also wrote prolifically for our instrument.
Although Finland’s greatest composer famously declared that he didn’t like the piano and only composed for the instrument to generate income, he wrote more than 150 solo works, predominantly miniatures, and in many cases works of tremendous musical value and appeal.
Among these many works, the Three Sonatinas Op.67 are later pieces which fully embody the compressed craftsmanship and musical language of the mature Sibelius.
Published by Breitkopf & Hārtel, the benchmark edition is the Complete Edition of Jean Sibelius Works, series V Works for Piano, edited by Karl Kilpeläinen and published in 2008. Happily, Breitkopf have now released the Three Sonatinas as an individual folio, the subject of this review…
Three Sonatinas Op.67
Composed in a blaze of inspiration in June 1912, completed on 3rd July and published by Breitkopf later that same year, the Three Sonatinas are fascinating works that reward sustained engagement.
On paper, they look technically innocuous, suitable for the early advanced player at around UK Grade 7-8. In reality, they prove more challenging.
The Sonatina No.1 sets the scene with three short movements. The first is a capricious Allegro in which the rhythmic displacement would lend a sense of improvisatory flourish were it not for the taut structure and development of thematic material. A mysterious Largo follows, lurching from dark anguish to a sense of peace bordering on religiosity.
The closing Allegro moderato is a joyous piece that fizzles to its conclusion rather than ending on a bang. Here it is, performed by Leif Ove Andsnes:
The Sonatina No.2 is the most immediately appealing of the three. It begins with a more moderate Allegro that alternates contrapuntal imitation between the hands with homophonic chordal textures. The Andantino is a lushly melodic creation, perhaps the most immediately appealing movement of the whole cycle. This Sonatina again concludes with a jovial Allegro finale which eschews expectation by finding its way to a surprisingly subtle conclusion.
Sonatina No.3 is the shortest of the set, and has the most serious air. Beginning with a slow Andante introduction, the first movement is a self-conscious Allegro moderato which keeps almost finding a melodic flow before repeatedly dissolving into darkness. The central Andante is a funerial march, but again the mood dissipates into frivolous if agitated fancy, leading directly without a break to the equally restless Allegretto finale.
While Sibelius’s Sonatinas can to an extent be described as neo-classical works, they can’t be compared to the easy works of Beethoven, Clementi or Kuhlau. These are virtuosic works that benefit from a formidable technique and mature musical intellect. Their unsettling assortment of musical ideas need to be delineated by an able performer.
The Breitkopf Urtext edition
The new publication appears in Edition Breitkopf urtext house style, with luxury soft covers, cream paper within:
The book begins with a succinct Preface by the editor. The scores are cleanly and spaciously engraved, page turns well managed. There is, however, no editorial fingering.
Breitkopf have also generously included the full three-page Critical Commentary at the rear of the publication.
Edition Breitkopf must be commended for bringing us this edition as a standalone, affordable performance score, and for their constancy in their historic commitment to this incredible composer.
The Three Sonatinas are fascinating pieces which present a facet of Sibelius’s art not nearly known enough; we must hope that Kari Kilpeläinen’s superb and scholarly edition brings them to a wider audience.
Advanced pianists with a penchant for Sibelius’s music can welcome this publication with unalloyed happiness. Highly recommended!
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