The Opus 36 songs are among Sibelius’s most popular. Svarta Rosor
(‘Black Roses’) is probably the best known of all of them and its fascination lies in the way the mood darkens at the words ‘ty sorgen har nattsvarta rosor’ (‘for grief has roses black as night’). This phrase is poised on the second position of the chord of C sharp minor before resolving on the C major tonic. But although it is a fine song and deserves its popularity, it pales in comparison with the second of the group, Men min fågel märks dock icke
(‘But my bird is long in homing’), another Runeberg setting. This has a simplicity of utterance, an immediacy of atmosphere and a sheer melodic sweep that earns it a high position in the Sibelian pantheon. Runeberg’s nature lyricism seems to call on the deepest vein of inspiration in Sibelius, for not only is Men min fågel märks dock icke
one of his most perfect songs, but it also ranks as one of the finest in the whole romans repertoire. In his definitive five-volume study of the composer, Erik Tawaststjerna reminds us that the rising figure which opens it ‘almost recalls the opening of The Swan of Tuonela
and that, of course, the song itself begins by a reference to a swan!’. Karl Ekman gives 1899 for these songs but this holds only for the first three. Fazer and Westerlund, the Helsinki publisher, bought Svarta rosor
for the then substantial sum of 370 Finnish marks, and it is obvious that Men min fågel
and Bollspelet vid Trianon
were included in the deal. Bollspelet vid Trianon
(‘Tennis at Trianon’) is a setting of Gustaf Fröding, one of the greatest Swedish romantic poets of the nineteenth century, and the poem strikes a particularly responsive chord in Sibelius for the piano part has a finesse not always encountered in his keyboard writing. Bollspelet vid Trianon
shows considerable subtlety in the handling of contrast and the alternation between recitative and a pastiche pastoral style, and there is in the background a sense of foreboding at the approaching revolution.
Säv, säv, susa (‘Reeds, reeds, whisper’, though more often known as ‘Sigh, sedges, sigh’) is also to a poem of Fröding, a poem that is in itself so rich in verbal music that it must have represented an enormous challenge to the composer. Sometimes known in English as Ingalill, after the heroine of the poem, it in every way deserves its popularity. Sibelius heightens the music of the words by a gentle, sighing accompaniment of a harp-like character – indeed the harp plays an important part in the orchestral transcription by Alexander Hellman (which Sibelius subsequently authorised) and the return to this opening section is both magical and touching.
For the remaining two songs of Opus 36, Marssnön (‘The March Snow’) and Demanten på Marssnön (‘The diamond on the March snow’), Sibelius turned to Josef Julius Wecksell (1838-1907), a Finnish poet writing in Swedish whose work owes something to Heine. He is said to have something of the intensity of Shelley though he succumbed to insanity at a relatively early age. Both poems dwell on the theme of Death casting its shadow over the moment of fulfilment.
from notes by Robert Layton © 2002