The Tempest (Stormen), Op. 109, is incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest, by Jean Sibelius. He composed it in 1925-26, at about the same time as he wrote his tone poem Tapiola. Sibelius derived two suites from the score.
The music is said to display an astounding richness of imagination and inventive capacity, and is considered by some as one of Sibelius's greatest achievements. He represented individual characters through instrumentation choices: particularly admired was his use of harps and percussion to represent Prospero, said to capture the "resonant ambiguity of the character".
Sibelius had completed his 7th Symphony, which was to be his last, in 1924. The Tempest and Tapiola were to be his last great works, and he wrote little else for the remaining 32 years of his life, which came to be known as "The Silence of Järvenpää".
The idea for music for The Tempest was first suggested to Sibelius in 1901, by his friend Axel Carpelan. In 1925, his Danish publisher Wilhelm Hansen again raised the idea, as the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen was going to stage the work the following year, directed by Adam Poulsen. Sibelius wrote it from the autumn of 1925 through to the early part of 1926, during which time he turned 60.
The complete music lasts for over an hour. It originally consisted of 34 pieces, for vocalists, mixed-voice choir, harmonium and a large orchestra. It was first performed in Copenhagen on 15 March 1926. The first night attracted international attention but Sibelius was not present. Reviews noted that "Shakespeare and Sibelius, these two geniuses, have finally found one another", and praised in particular the part played by the music and stage sets. Only four days later Sibelius set off for an extended trip to work on new commissions in Rome. He did not hear the music for the first time until the autumn of 1927 when the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki staged the work. For this performance, he composed an alternative Epilogue, bringing the number of items to 35.
The Overture has been described as "the single most onomatopoetic stretch of music ever composed". Sibelius published the Overture as a separate piece, and arranged two suites from the music, comprising 19 pieces. These suites condensed and combined items from the stage music, sometimes in ways that obscure the drama. It is in the form of these suites that the music has been most frequently heard in the concert hall and on recordings. Various recordings do not stick to the formal suites but include other items.
The complete Incidental Music was not recorded for the first time until 1992, by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Lahti Opera Chorus, and soloists under Osmo Vänskä, as part of the complete recordings of all Sibelius's works. Recordings of the suites include those by Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Charles Groves, Horst Stein, Leif Segerstam and Michael Stern.
The references in brackets are to the origin of the music in the original score.
Suite No. 1 for Piano, Op. 109/2
Suite No. 2 for Piano, Op. 109/3