One of Sibelius’ lesser-known works is his own arrangement for string orchestra of his 5th and 6th Impromptus, set in a much gentler style than the glittering piano composition from which the piece was derived. Composed in 1893, just a year after Sibelius gave up on his lifelong dream of being a solo violinist, the mournful opening of his impromptu could be seen as longingly looking back at the career he could have had; even though later that year his ever-popular Karelia would signal the start of his successful role as one of Finland’s most loved composers.
The work combines two separate pieces into one – the 5th Impromptu opens and closes his arrangement, with the 6th providing a lighter, happier contrast in the centre of this ternary form work. (The links above point to the original Piano arrangements by Sibelius.) The string orchestra edition almost entirely reverses their character, however; Sibelius transforms the opening from a celestial, cascading étude on the piano to a shy, subdued string chorale, with merely a constant, syncopated Cello pedal to provide a little momentum.
In contrast, the once wistful 6th impromptu for Piano becomes a lighter dance, with a subtle energy provided in the staccato 2nd violin accompaniment and pizzicato bassline, while the 1st violins’ and violas’ melody soars above, in beautifully long, legato phrases.
As a string player, Sibelius was a talented and prolific string writer, most famous for his Andante Festivo and Romance in C, but like many composers he wrote so much more than just a few famous works. You might also be interested in hearing the full set of impromptus from which this work is arranged.
Hope you found this interesting! If you would like to see more music like this, have a look at my YouTube channel 🙂 Thank you!
The score used in this video is my own edition, compiled from a dusty set of orchestral parts in my library. 🙂 Since it was first published in 1894, it is in the public domain in the US and Canada, and any other countries where copyright expires 70 years after first publication, or 50 years after the death of the composer.
You can download the score and a full set of parts for free from my website here.