Jean Sibelius composed Valse triste and Scene with Cranes in 1903. They were premiered on April 25, 1904, with the composer conducting the Philharmonic Society. Earlier in the year, his brother-in-law, Arvid Järnefelt, had asked Sibelius to compose incidental music for his play Kuolema (Death). Sibelius initially wrote four movements including the two aforementioned. In 1911, Järnefelt made revisions to Kuolema and the new version was staged by the Finnish National Theatre. In Act II, Järnefelt added two dance scenes for which Sibelius again was asked to compose new music. He originally called these dances Rondino der Liebenden and Vals-intermezzo, however, the movements are now better known as the Canzonetta and the Valse romantique. In 1963, Igor Stravinsky received the Sibelius Prize for composition, and while in Helsinki he said of the Canzonetta, “I like that kind of northern Italianate melodism.”
Another Finnish composer, Alis Sallinen, completed Chamber Music III subtitled The Nocturnal Dances of Don Juanquixote, on January 22, 1986. The request for an original and important addition to the cello repertory had come from the Finnish cellist, Arto Noras, to whom the work is dedicated and whom we have the pleasure of hearing perform this evening. Noras gave the first performance with the English Chamber Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy at the Naantali Festival in June the year the piece was written. "These are light-hearted dances" the composer joked, while seriously emphasizing their nocturnal character. The work is close to being a concerto in outward form and is esteemed by soloists for its technical demand as well as necessity to project and sustain energy.
Mozart’s Serenade No. 13, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, was composed in 1787, while Mozart was occupied composing the second act of his opera Don Giovanni. The piece “little night music,” as he entered it into his handwritten catalogue of works, was shorthand and was never intended to serve as the work’s title. An account from Vienna in 1793 reads, “ During the summer months, if the weather is fine, one comes across serenades performed in the streets almost daily and at all hours… when, usually, everyone is hurrying home, one nevertheless soon discovers people at their open windows, and within a few minutes the musicians are surrounded by an applauding crowd of listeners who rarely depart until the serenade has come to an end.” Eine kleine Nachtmusik was Mozart’s last serenade, perhaps written as a commission for an outdoor gathering. It remains one of his most familiar and beloved works.