1903: Sibelius: Kuolema (Death), age 38

Valse triste: Allegro Non Troppo


  • Flute, Clarinet in A, two Horns in F
  • Timpani (unusually just a single one in D)
  • strings

Pietari Inkinen

Jean Sibelius : Kuolema, four pieces from the Incidental Music Op. 44/62 (1903 arr. 1904/06 & 1911)

Recordings and performances sometimes present Valse triste, Scene with Cranes, Canzonetta and Valse romantique as a unified suite, as it represents the totality of what is known of the incidental music for the two versions of Kuolema. However, this was not Sibelius’s intention.

I. Valse Triste Op. 44 No. 1
II. Scene with Cranes Op. 44 No. 2
III. Canzonetta Op. 62a
IV. Valse Romantique Op. 62b


Sibelius wrote six pieces for the 2 December 1903 production of Kuolema. The first was titled Tempo di valse lente – Poco risoluto. In 1904 he revised the piece, which was performed in Helsinki on 25 April of that year as Valse triste. It was an instant hit with the public, took on a life of its own, and remains one of Sibelius’s signature pieces.

  1. Tempo di valse lente – Poco risoluto (Act I)
  2. Moderato (Paavali’s Song: ‘Pakkanen puhurin poika’, for solo baritone, Act II)
  3. Moderato assai – Moderato (Elsa’s Song: ‘Eilaa, eilaa’, for solo soprano) – Poco adagio (Act II)
  4. Andante (The Cranes, Act II)
  5. Moderato (Act III)
  6. Andante ma non tanto (Act III)

Valse triste

In 1904, he revised No. 1 as Valse triste, and it was performed in Helsinki on 25 April 1904. It was published as Op. 44 in 1905 by Breitkopf & Härtel, and immediately took on a life of its own. It became an instant hit with the public, and one of Sibelius’s signature pieces. However, because of the publishing contract, Sibelius saw relatively little money in terms of royalties from the performances of Valse triste.

Scene with Cranes

In 1906, he combined Nos. 3 and 4 and revised the music under the title Scene with Cranes. This was performed in Vaasa on 14 December 1906. Sibelius did not ascribe an opus number to it, it was not performed again in his lifetime, and it was not published until 1973, 16 years after his death.


In 1906, he wrote a Rondino der Liebenden for string orchestra, adapted from the music for Kuolema. It lay unperformed until 1911.

In 1911, Järnefelt produced a revised version of the play. For this, Sibelius wrote a revised version of Rondino der Liebenden, which he now called Canzonetta;

Valse romantique

and a new piece, Valse romantique. These were first performed in Helsinki at the Finnish National Theatre on 8 March 1911, together with Valse triste. The play was not a success, however, hoping to repeat the success of Valse triste with Canzonetta and Valse romantique, Sibelius immediately published them together, as Op. 62a and Op. 62b respectively. They failed to grab the public’s attention the way Valse triste had done.

In 1973, Scene with Cranes was posthumously published, as Op. 44, No. 2, and Valse triste was retrospectively renumbered as Op. 44, No. 1.



1 Background
2 Publication and later developments
3 In other media
4 Instrumentation
5 References
6 External links


The background to the music as it functions within the original play is expanded upon by the programme notes for the production:

It is night. The son, who has been watching beside the bedside of his sick mother, has fallen asleep from sheer weariness, Gradually a ruddy light is diffused through the room: there is a sound of distant music: the glow and the music steal nearer until the strains of a valse melody float distantly to our ears. The sleeping mother awakens, rises from her bed and, in her long white garment, which takes the semblance of a ball dress, begins to move silently and slowly to and fro. She waves her hands and beckons in time to the music, as though she were summoning a crowd of invisible guests. And now they appear, these strange visionary couples, turning and gliding to an unearthly valse rhythm. The dying woman mingles with the dancers; she strives to make them look into her eyes, but the shadowy guests one and all avoid her glance. Then she seems to sink exhausted on her bed and the music breaks off. Presently she gathers all her strength and invokes the dance once more, with more energetic gestures than before. Back come the shadowy dancers, gyrating in a wild, mad rhythm. The weird gaiety reaches a climax; there is a knock at the door, which flies wide open; the mother utters a despairing cry; the spectral guests vanish; the music dies away. Death stands on the threshold.[1]

Publication and later developments

The original version, presented in 1903 as Tempo di valse lente – Poco risoluto, has not survived. Breitkopf & Härtel published the later piece in 1905 as ‘Op. 44′. However, because of the nature of the publishing contract, Sibelius saw relatively little money in terms of royalties from performances of Valse triste. In 1906, Sibelius merged the third and fourth numbers of the incidental music into a single piece, which he renamed Scene with Cranes. This was posthumously published in 1973, as Op. 44, No. 2; Valse triste was retrospectively renumbered as Op. 44, No. 1.

According to the International Music Score Library Project in 2014, the work is “in the public domain in Canada (where IMSLP is hosted) and other countries where the term is life-plus-50 years (like China, Japan, Korea and many others worldwide). As this work was first published before 1923 or failed to meet notice or renewal requirements to secure statutory copyright, it is very likely to be public domain in the USA as well.”[2]

On April 19, 1952, record label Columbia Records and Porgie Music settled out of court with George Williams, who had sued the label for royalties in 1949 after it recorded (with Gene Krupa) Williams’ jazz arrangement of Valse Triste.[3]

On November 13, 2014, the Vienna Philharmonic posted a notice on its Facebook page stating, “The Vienna Philharmonic regrets to have to make a change to the previously announced program of the New Year’s Concert 2015. Due to unacceptable demands made by the publisher [which remains Breitkopf & Härtel], Valse triste, which had been intended to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius, will not be performed as part of the New Year’s Concert 2015. We are pleased to announce that, instead, the orchestra will perform the Anna Polka (in German: Annen-Polka), op. 117, by Johann Strauss, Jr., under the baton of Zubin Mehta.”[4]


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