The over 70 songs constitute a quintessential part of Finlands national-romantic song archive. Järnelefts lyricism originates from Kalevala-inspired ‘runosång’, a folk music song-style based on Karelian folk melody.
In addition to the folklore element of the songs from his younger years, we find in his later output impressionistic and even expressionistic qualities. Järnefelt’s songs are characterised by their singing melodic lines, colourful harmony, and a Nordic purity, while technically, they portray the composers highly developed artistry. Some of them, for example the lullabies, are romantic and mournful miniatures. Others are joyful songs, cheerfully light and playful in character. Yet another group form dramatic and ballad-like tone poems, many with an operatic expression. This is the result of the composers long standing career as chief conductor of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. Järnefelt, who despite his multicultural background was an avid Fennoman, often used Finnish poetry in his songs. This practice was uncommon around the turn of the century when composers preferred the language of choice of the educated elite, Swedish.
The songs’ pianistic texture show us that Järnefelt was familiar with the work of the great Russian composers. Of these, there are two composers who, above all, pose as model for Järnefelt: Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin.