• Erik Bergman
  • Careliana (1988)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Joensuu Song Festival, Joensuu, Finland

1. Lullaby
2. Pastoral
3. Magic
4. Lament
5. My Sweethear

  • AATBarBarB
  • 16 min

Programme Note

Careliana was commissioned by the Joensuu Song Festival for the vocal sextet The King’s Singers, and was first performed by them at Joensuu on 12 June 1989. It represents a personal response in my own musical language to the rich tradition of Finnish folk-song.

Lullaby opens with four bars of the folksong ‘Nuku, nuku nurmilintu/Sleep, warbler, weary wagtail’ in the 5/4 time typical of the ancient Finnish runic song, sung by the second baritone. The other five voices take up a lulling motive while the soloist interjects the word ‘nuku!/sleep!’ in improvisatory fashion.

Pastoral is based on a cattle call though I have used the syllables of the cow’s names as purely phonetic material. He final echoing call of ‘hu-huu’ is taken up staccato and transformed into a sound that resembles the call of the cuckoo. The movement is a carefree and idyllic pastoral in which the imagination roams freely, juggling with motives and onomatopoeic sounds.

Magic is based on a hypnotic chant which the bass and second baritone repeat throughout the movement, drawing the listener into the shaman’s magic circle. Meanwhile the tenor and first baritone spin out a meditation on the syllable ‘ah’ and the altos contribute onomatopoeic sounds to the atmosphere of mystery. The movement grows to an ecstatic climax.

Lament draws on the traditional keening songs of Carelia. The bass ponders on the transience of life.

In the final scherzo the first baritone sings the first verse of ‘Nirunarukengät/Squeaky shoes’ with its broad humour. In earlier times, leather shoes were a status symbol and the more they squeaked, the finer the leather. The title of the movement is My Sweetheart and sings the praises of the girl who gave her sweetheart the coveted shoes. Later the movement becomes more lyrical for a moment with an allusion to another folksong ‘Minun kultani kaunis on/My sweetheart she’s a beauty’. But the broad humour returns with the words ‘vaikk’ on ‘kaitaluinen/however scrawny she may be’. And the humour becomes burlesque as the song relates how ‘Kun minä vien sen markkinoille hevostkin nauraa/When I take her to the market, even the horses laugh at her’. The movement concludes with tumultuous laughter ‘hei, hei, ha, ha, haa’ echoing around the marketplace.

Careliana is intended as a tribute to Carelia, the treasure-house of Finnish folklore and spiritual homeland of the Finnish people, and also to provide The King’s Singers with the challenge of something exotic and virtuoso.

© Erik Bergman