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ClassicsOnline Home » PACIUS: The Hunt of King Charles (Kaarle Kuninkaan Metsastys)
Regarded as the father of Finnish music, Fredrik Pacius was the composer of the first Finnish opera, The Hunt of King Charles, which had its première in Helsinki in 1852. At that time the language of the theatre and the opera house was Swedish, and accordingly the work has a Swedish text, although the opera is often performed in a translated Finnish version, as heard in this live recording. The plot, set in 1671, centres on King Charles XI, ruler of Sweden and Finland, immediately before he reached an age to assume control of his kingdom. The music itself remains close to models such as Weber’s Freischütz and Oberon, and there
are also reminders of Beethoven, not least in the choice of the name Leonora for the heroine.
By David Denton
Frederik Pacius was born in Finland in 1809, and though now
almost unknown, he became the 'father of Finnish music', contributing to the
history of the country with the Finnish National Anthem. Though composed in
the 19th century, The Hunt of King Charles from 1852 was the first truly
Finnish national opera. That it never found a place in the international repertoire
you will soon realise from this recording, for Pacius was composing in a style
long gone. When you compare the fact that Verdi and Wagner at that time were
offering their great masterpieces, The Hunt of King Charles never stood
a chance. It took as its inspiration the early operas of Weber, and at times
goes back to Mozart as it flits between opera and operetta, using in its three
acts much spoken dialogue between arias and choruses. Zachris Topelius wrote
the original story in Swedish, Pacius working from a Finnish translation, and
it is here sung in that language. If all this sounds rather damning, forget
its chronological place in history and think of this as a Germanic songspeil
from a good 18th century kapelmeister, and then you will garner considerable
pleasure. The young King is a speaking part and much of the vocal demands are
placed on the hard-pressed Kristina Kattelus as the king's mother and the big
sonorous bass of Mauri Vesanto, though I particularly enjoyed the tenor, Matti
Heinikari. In addition to the cast list in the heading, the score does call
for a legion of singers in smaller roles that may well have been taken by chorus
members. The opera gets off to a most enjoyable start, the orchestra, which
I presume is playing modern instruments, being one of the recording's real merits.
Working from an advance release copy I do not have the origin of the performance,
but some awkward vocal moments early in the opera would point to a 'live' recording,
while the chorus is rather placed to the rear. The highly experienced conductor,
Ari Rasilainen, keeps the opera moving forward with urgency, and brings the
work to a very spirited conclusion. I don't suppose it will ever receive another
recording, so grab this while it is available.
Fredrik Pacius (1809-1891)
The Hunt of King Charles
(Kung Karls jakt / Kaarle Kuninkaan Metsästys)
An opera in three acts
Libretto: Zachris Topelius – Sung in the Finnish translation by Jalmari Finne
King Charles XI, aged 16 - Tero Aalto (spoken role)
Queen Hedvig Eleonora, his mother - Kristiina Kattelus, mezzo-soprano
Kristian Horn, the King's tutor - Mauri Vesanto, bass
Gustaf Gyllenstjerna, the King's confidant - Pekka Kähkönen, baritone
Mårten Reutercrantz, equerry and King's confidant - Heikki Orama, bass
Banér, a nobleman in the King's service - Matti Heinikari, tenor
Wachtmeister, a nobleman in the King's service - Jukka Saarman, baritone
Oxenstjerna, a nobleman in the King's service - Heikki Nuorsaari, tenor/baritone
Lewenhaupt, a nobleman in the King's service - Janne Sundqvist, bass
Jonathan Pehrsson, a young seal hunter - Kai Pitkänen, tenor
Leonora, a fisherman's daughter - Niina Ahola, soprano
First lady-in-waiting - Tiina Tamminen, soprano
Second lady-in-waiting - Sari Nordqvist, mezzo-soprano
First peasant girl - Suvi-Maaria Virta (spoken role)
Second peasant girl - Sari Nordqvist, alto
First conjurer - Jouko Ouramo, baritone
Second conjurer - Reijo Koivula, baritone
Odds-and-ends merchant from Turku - Seppo Kunttu, tenor-baritone
Bear - Sanna Elo, soprano
Old Fisherwoman - Heli Latvala, mezzo-soprano
Publican - Reijo Koivula, bass
Courtiers, Peasants - Pori Opera Chorus
Chorus-master: Ognian Vassiliev
Choir répétiteur: Pertti Rasilainen
Pori Opera Choir
Much of the history of Finnish music before the 1880s was dominated by figures born elsewhere. Until 1882 the country did not possess a professional symphony orchestra, and it was in that same year that the Helsinki Music Institute was established, soon to be regarded as Finland's foremost music conservatory. Perhaps surprisingly given the absence of a significant infrastructure, however, opera was a flourishing genre, and it was in this area that Fredrik [Friedrich] Pacius was to make his most significant contributions as a composer.
In 1809, after ruling there for almost 700 years, Sweden finally ceded control of Finland to Russia, and Tsar Alexander I set the country up as an autonomous Grand Duchy. Just ten days earlier, on 19 March, Friedrich Pacius had been born in Hamburg. He studied the violin and composition in Kassel, Germany, where he became a pupil of Louis Spohr and assimilated the ideas of central European romanticism as represented by Carl Maria von Weber. At the age of seventeen (1826) he composed an Overture in E flat major, but before long he was to emigrate: he accepted a position as a violinist in the Royal Court Orchestra in Stockholm.
Still only in his mid-twenties, he moved from Stockholm to Helsinki in 1835 to take up a teaching position at Helsinki University. He soon proved himself to be an able and persuasive administrator: he established an orchestra, a student choir and a musical society. He also put on large-scale concerts – oratorios and symphonic music – using capable musicians from all walks of life. A number of the players were of German origin; indeed, German musicians played an important part in Helsinki orchestral life until long after Pacius's death. Among the other major figures in mid-nineteenth-century Finnish music, Conrad Greve (1820-51) and Richard Faltin (1835-1918) were also of German origin. It was to Germany, rather than to Russia, that their Finnish-born protégés – including Sibelius – turned when they came to study music abroad.
Pacius's arrival was not the only major development in Finnish culture in 1835. That year saw the publication of the Kalevala, an epic poem collected from folk sources in the Karelia region over almost a decade and combined into a single entity by Elias Lönnrot (a revised edition followed in 1849). At that time the language of the educated classes in Finland was Swedish. The Kalevala was written in Finnish and provided a mouthpiece for the champions of the Finnish language, which from then on was increasingly seen as viable in the context of literature. The powerful imagery and hypnotic metrical regularity of the Kalevala became a magnet for artists of every discipline and contributed to the rise of the 'Karelianism' movement, which enthusiastically championed Finnish folk culture. In helping to awaken a national identity, the poem also played a role in Finland's quest for independence from Russia, which was declared in 1917. The heyday of Karelianism came after Pacius's death, but by then the Kalevala was well established as an inspiration for musical compositions, often stylistically close to German models (such as the Kullervo overture  by Filip von Schantz). Pacius used the Kalevala as the source for his opera Prinsessan av Cypern (The Princess of Cyprus, 1860), ironically with a Swedish libretto by Zachris Topelius.
In 1845 Pacius wrote a single-movement Violin Concerto in F sharp minor. He started to compose a symphony in D minor, and its first movement was even performed in 1850, but he never completed the project. His greatest contribution as a composer was in the genres of opera and song. Among his songs are a number with texts by the Finnish national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, including Suomen laulu (The Song of Finland) and Vårt land (Our Country), which many years later was adopted as the Finnish national anthem.
Kung Karls jakt (The Hunt of King Charles, often performed in Finnish translation as Kaarle kuninkaan metsästys) was first performed in Helsinki in 1852. The Finnish composer Carl Ludvig Lithander (1773-1843) had already composed several Singspiele, a genre to which Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775-1838) also contributed – but these works had only been performed (if at all) in Sweden. Kung Karls jakt was thus the first true opera written in Finland. There are occasional hints of the Finnish folk style, and in Act III Pacius even quotes the well-known Porilaisten marssi (March of the Pori Regiment), which has been the honorary and parade march of the Finnish armed forces since 1918 and is played at official ceremonies involving the President of Finland, but the opera does not really aim to establish a specifically Finnish idiom. Its first performance was nonetheless seen as a landmark in Finnish music. The choice of subject matter played no small part in this: it is a tale based on historical events involving King Charles XI of Sweden-Finland (1655-97), and is set in 1671, a year before the teenage Charles assumed full responsibility for government. The music itself remains close to models such as Weber's Freischütz and Oberon, and there are also reminders of Beethoven, not least in the choice of the name Leonora for the heroine. Among the musical highlights are Leonora's ballad from the beginning of Act II ('Och havets unga tärna'/'A mermaid in the ocean'/'Ja nuori merenneito') and her aria 'O du nattens höga silverklara öga'/' O Moon, you silvery noble maiden'/'Oi yön kaukomaista taivon silmä paista'. Despite its Swedish libretto and Germanic musical style, however, Kung Karls jakt has always been regarded as a celebration of Finnish nationalism.
For the libretto, Pacius collaborated closely with Zachris Topelius (1818-98), a doctor's son from Ostrobothnia who occupied a dominant position in mid-nineteenth-century Finnish literature. A well-loved figure, idealistic by nature and artistically conservative, he worked as a professor of history and newspaper editor, and published various collections of lyric poetry and historical novels, and also tried his hand at drama. In the case of Kung Karls jakt, Topelius originally formed the impression that the work would be a short entertainment, and only discovered the true scale of the project when he heard excerpts from the unfinished work at a concert in 1851.
Following its success in Helsinki, Kung Karls jakt was also performed to packed houses in Stockholm in 1856, and again in 1859 and 1860. In 1875 Pacius embarked on a major revision to the score, which was not ready in its definitive form until four years later.
Towards the end of his life Pacius composed his third and last opera, Loreley, with a German libretto by Emanuel Geibel, which was first given in 1887. This work is a skilful exploitation of the possibilities of the Grand Opera style, but by then Finnish music was guided by new currents. Despite their mutual animosity in other respects, two of its most influential figures – Martin Wegelius, founder of the Music Institute, and Robert Kajanus, conductor of the Philharmonic Society orchestra – were enthusiastic Wagnerians. Just over a year after Pacius's death, Jean Sibelius made his spectacular breakthrough with Kullervo, based on the Kalevala. During the next few years, as the Russians eroded Finland's powers of self-determination, the cultural climate in the Grand Duchy was changed beyond recognition by movements such as Karelianism and Symbolism, and by the emergence of a specifically Finnish artistic identity. And yet Pacius's pre-eminence as a composer of Finnish opera remained unchallenged for many years. The first Finnish-language opera, Oskar Merikanto's (1868-1924) Pohjan neiti, was composed in 1897 but not performed until 1908. Even Sibelius did not succeed in writing an opera of the scale and popularity reached by Pacius's works; he laid the foundations of what has become a flourishing operatic tradition in Finland. It is not for nothing that Pacius has earned the epithet 'the father of Finnish music'.
© Andrew Barnett
King Charles XI of Sweden has arrived in the Åland Islands for a hunt. It is not a hunt in the usual sense of the word, however, since by law only the King is allowed to kill elk. While the hunters strike up a drinking song, the noblemen in the King's entourage plot a coup. The year is 1671, and the King is only 16 years old. Supplanting him also requires the elimination of the true rulers, the King's guardian and his mother, Queen Eleonora the Queen Mother. Then, something incredible happens: a poacher has shot an elk. This is a crime which carries the death penalty. It is not yet known who the marksman was, but his belt has been found.
Leonora, a fisherman's daughter, sings of the young King. She had been involved in rescuing him when his boat had capsized at sea the previous summer. Reutercrantz, the King's stable master, begins to flirt with Leonora. Leonora notices Reutercrantz holding a belt that belongs to her fiancé Jonathan. Reutercrantz realizes with satisfaction that he now knows who the culprit is and leaves. Jonathan arrives and hears from Leonora to his horror that he has just shot the King's elk. The lovers decide to run away together. Jonathan tries to find a boat to escape in, but Reutercrantz captures him. Leonora goes to the ruins of Kastelholma Castle, where she has hidden her inheritance. She unwittingly hears the scheming of the noblemen plotting against the King. She resolves to thwart their plans.
The market provides an excellent opportunity for abducting the King. As the conspirators go to work, Leonora entraps their ringleader, Gyllenstjerna. Leonora then summons the people to help her and releases the captive King. As her reward, she requests that Jonathan be pardoned. The King grants this. The good people of Åland, who have helped free their King, are given exemption from taxes for ten years. The King, grown into a mature monarch, bids farewell to Finland.
English translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi/The English Centre
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