Wed Mar 2023

Swan of Tuonela*

“The music paints a gossamer, transcendental image of a mystical swan swimming around Tuonela, the island of the dead.” Thus Wikipedia describes the beloved tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela, by the famed Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. Here is the full passage from Wikipedia:

The Swan of Tuonela (Tuonelan joutsen) is an 1895 tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It is the second part of Op. 22 Lemminkäinen (Four legends), tales from the Kalevala epic of Finnish mythology.


The tone poem is scored for a small orchestra of cor anglais [English horn], solo, oboe, bass clarinet, bassoon, four horns, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, harp, and divisi strings [string section]. The cor anglais is the voice of the swan and its solo is perhaps the best known cor anglais solo in the orchestral literature. The music paints a gossamer, transcendental image of a mystical swan swimming around Tuonela, the island 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 epic he is restored to life.

The image was captured on May 7, 2013, at 6:02 am. A bright, golden sun had arisen abruptly over the eastern ridge, setting the fog suddenly aglow, as if an electric light had been turned on. Astronomical sunrise had taken place thirty minutes earlier, at 5:32 am.

Enjoy a musical accompaniment. Click on the video, below, to play Jean Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela. Click on the featured image, above, to view it full-screen. (Click again, and you’ll see a drop of water at the end of the swan’s bill.) The full-screen image will open in a separate tab so it won’t interrupt the music.