The Swan of Tuonela

The Swan of Tuonela (Tuonelan joutsen) is an 1895 tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It is part of the Lemminkäinen Suite (Four Legends from the Kalevala), Op. 22, based on the Finnish mythological epic the Kalevala.

The tone poem is scored for a small orchestra of English horn, oboe, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, harp, and divided strings. The English horn is the voice of the swan, and its solo is one of the best known solos in the orchestral literature for that instrument. The music paints a gossamer, transcendental image of a mystical swan floating through Tuonela, the realm of the dead. Lemminkäinen, the hero of the epic, has been tasked with killing the sacred swan; but on the way, he is shot with a poisoned arrow and dies. In the next part of the story he is restored to life.

The Swan of Tuonela was originally composed in 1893 as the prelude to a projected opera called The Building of the Boat. Sibelius revised it two years later, making it the second section of his Lemminkäinen Suite of four tone poems, which was premiered in 1896. He twice further revised the piece, in 1897 and 1900. Sibelius left posterity no personal account of his writing of the tone poem, and its original manuscript no longer exists. (When it actually disappeared is unknown.) The work was first published by K. F. Wasenius in Helsingfors (Helsinki), Finland, in April 1901. The German firm Breitkopf & Härtel also published it in Leipzig, also in 1901.