Valse triste – first performance

Jean Sibelius’s famous Valse triste was performed on 14 April 1904 in Vaasa, ten days before its purported premiere in Helsinki

Sheahan Virgin


Jean Sibelius’s Valse triste is one of his most popular compositions. It began life as ‘Tempo di valse lente – Poco risoluto’, its original purpose having been to accompany a dance scene in Death (Kuolema), a three-act, Symbolist play by Sibelius’s brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt (1861–1932). The play was premiered on 2 December 1903 at the Finnish Theatre in Helsinki, with Sibelius conducting. Shortly thereafter, he refashioned the waltz into a standalone concert piece, to which he gave the now-familiar name Valse triste. Most notably, he altered the ending and added parts for flute, clarinet, horn and timpani.

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1 thought on “Valse triste – first performance

  1. Always interesting to see rediscovered primary sources updating established ‘fact’. Also of note, the minor delight in being one up on Helsinki in getting two actual premieres.

    I’m reminded also that while Valse triste needs no visual representation, its appearance in ‘Allegro non troppo’ the Italian parody of Disney’s Fantasia has never left me. We see a sad cat in a ruined building whose memories of grand days come to life in the middle section before returning to sadness. Once seen, never forgotten.

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