Kullervo is one of Sibelius’ early works. It is a composition for orchestra and voices. Some people regard the piece as a symphony, often referring to it as a “choral symphony.” The composer, however, never called it such. He in fact categorized the work as a “tone poem.” It premiered in Helsinki on April 28, 1892, with Sibelius himself conducted the newly founded Helsinki Orchestral Society. Kullervo has five movements, of which the third and fifth feature voices. A male chorus is called for in both of these two movements, while the third is also scored for soprano solo and baritone solo.
The five movements in Kullervo are titled: “Introduction,” “Kullervo’s Youth,” “Kullervo and His Sister,” “Kullervo goes to Battle,” and “Kullervo’s Death.” The tone poem features a text drawn from chapters between thirty-one and thirty-six of Kalevala, depicting the tragic character of Kullervo. Before Kullervo was born his family except for his mother is slain. When he is still young, he is sold into slavery. After he gains freedom, he falls love with a girl, who turns out to be his own sister. In the third movement of Sibelius’ tone poem, soprano represents Kullervo’s sister while baritone, Kullervo.