The Opus 17 set was written at various times between 1892 and 1902, and includes Illalle
(‘To evening’, 1898), one of his rare settings of Finnish and among the most lyrical and affecting of his songs†. It is sometimes sung in Swedish too, as Om kvällen
. There is great purity of line, a complete simplicity and a total harmony of means and ends. The accompaniment is confined to the simplest filling in of harmonies, and the setting of the language is guided by its own verbal music. It needs no special knowledge of the language to see that Sibelius alters his approach to the voice when setting Finnish. The vocal line seems to carry so much of the music of the language itself: to hear Illalle
given in Swedish is quite a different experience. Finnish is a highly inflected language, rich in vowel sounds, and these songs reflect Sibelius’s growing confidence in handling it. Right up to the early 1890s Sibelius still made small mistakes in writing Finnish.
from notes by Robert Layton © 2002