Jonathan Santore, Composer
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Kalevala Fragments

Listen to a performance excerpt from the Navona Records release There Are Many Other Legends, track 5.

  • For SATB chorus, a cappella
  • Secular text (English translation of the Finnish national epic)
  • 1:30
  • Difficulty rating (1-5): 4
  • Published by Yelton Rhodes Music, Inc. (catalog listing with a link to an audio file)

Dan Perkins, Music Director fo the New Hampshire Master Chorale, commissioned a piece to be part of a program celebrating the choral music of Finland, where he had held a Fulbright scholarship. We decided I would set an English translation of the Prologue to the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, as a companion to Veljo Tormis’ setting of the original Finnish. I turned to J.M. Crawford’s 1888 translation as my source text.

Crawford’s translation uses the same hypnotic verse rhythm (trochaic quadrameter, in technical terms) of the Finnish original, and left me free to pick and choose lines from the Prologue at will (used in the order in which they originally appear, however) to weave a seamless text for setting. Hence the title ...

Kalevala Fragments

MASTERED by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,

In my mouth the words are melting,
From my lips the tones are gliding,
From my tongue they wish to hasten;

Golden friend, and best beloved,
Since we now are here together,
Let us clasp our hands together

These are words in childhood taught me,
These my dear old father sang me
These my tender mother taught me

There are many other legends,
That I found along the wayside,
Gathered in the fragrant copses,

Blown me from the forest branches,
Culled among the plumes of pine-trees,
Scented from the vines and flowers,

Many runes the cold has told me,
Many lays the rain has brought me,
Other songs the winds have sung me;

Waves of sea, and ocean billows,
Music from the many waters,
Music from the whole creation.

Sentences the trees created,
Moved them to my ancient dwelling,
Laid them in a chest of boxes.

Long they lay within my dwelling
Through the chilling winds of winter,
In my dwelling-place for ages.

Shall I bring these songs together
From the cold and frost collect them?

Shall I now these boxes open,
Boxes filled with wondrous stories?

Shall I now the end unfasten
Of this ball of ancient wisdom,

For the beauty of the day-dawn,
For the pleasure of the morning,
The beginning of the new-day?

—Kalevala: Prologue (tr. J.M. Crawford, 1888, alt.)

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Jonathan Santore
Plymouth, NH
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