Ehrström’s cantata for Sibelius

The papers that artist Eric O. W. Ehrström left behind contained the lyrics that Ehrström had written for Jean Sibelius’ cantata Fosterlandet (Fatherland). The text has been dated February 1934. It is an indication of devotion and love for one’s fatherland, its nature, unity and independency.

Ehrström’s cantata starts with a part for choir, Allegro (in Swedish):

Åsar och holmar och klippor och skär,
älvar, sjöar och mossar,
skog och tundra, luft och hav,
förfädrens minnen, fädrens grav
när norrskensknippena blossar.

Stammar som vandrat och rödjat och byggt
här kämpat, älskat och arbetat tryggt
blodsband, folktro, skick/stick och sed,
ödesgemenskap led efter led
oss band och oss länkade hand uti hand
och oss gav det vi äga: Ett Fosterland.)

Violin and flute start in peaceful average tempo their part after the choir, Andante. And the choir continues: hear the sounds of forest, lake, field, sea and spring. Hear a man’s voice and a woman chant for a child; the sounds of our ancestors, the link between our fatherland and life, full of trust and faith… Then the solo voice in bass asks for the Old Man, the supreme God to shed the wisdom and faith and a solo voice in soprano sings: Sleep under the light of the stars, my precious child, sleep in your mother’s arms, calm down feeding on the breasts of your mother, in the humming of the old pine trees, to wake up for heroic deeds for your sweet fatherland.

Its end (Coda) progresses in the rhythm of a march:

Life vanishes so fast, like a shooting star in the space
leaving a ray of light that shines a moment
and casting our light on this land,
that is ours and whose spirit belongs to us.

The last verse encourages to find unity in the verge of the storm: let us defend our freedom and protect our home.

Cantata is a pece of music arranged for a choir, orchestra and soloists, often times composed for a special event or celebration. Sibelius composed patriotic cantatas during the time when Finland became an independent country. The number of compositions Sibelius made on commission decreased in the 1920s as his economic circumstances became stable. At the same time, his self-criticism grew so that ”he barely could compose for an orchestra anything that he considered good enough”, states the website Eric O. W. Ehrström, however, wrote a suggestion for a cantata for his friend to compose.

Ehrström belonged to a family that had musical talent. His grandfather Fredrik August Ehrström was a composer and a chuch musician who has been denoted as the first Finnish composer. He was a friend of J. L. Runeberg and has composed some of his well-known poems, such as At the Fountain.

Eric’s mother Aline Baeckman was a learned pianist and bother Otto Ehrström was a composer. Other musical pieces by Eric O.W. Ehrström exist, some of them have possibly been notated by his brother.

Ehrström was 53 years old and lived his last year as he wrote the cantate. The fact that Sibelius was one of the honoured guests at Ehrströms funeral in 1934, depict the close nature of their friendship. The music piece Funeral Music for an organ that Sibelius had a few years earlier composed for Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s funeral was performed also at Ehrström’s funeral.

Helena Hänninen

Sources:; Murtomäki, Veijo, 2007, Jean Sibelius ja isänmaa;; Suomen Kansallisbiografia 2, 2003

A cantata written by Eric O. W. Ehrström for Sibelius, 1934, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.
A cantata written by Eric O. W. Ehrström for Sibelius, 1934, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.
A cantata written by Eric O. W. Ehrström for Sibelius, 1934, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.