The Swan of Lorena

Amidst the thunder and lightning of the night last, I raced with the forces of nature to bring an emblem of tranquility, the national bird of Finland, into being. Not ten minutes before, my house had suffered an electrical outage, a blackout. The lightning was keen, and the thunder brazen enough to stir both my sleeping girls awake. My littlest one sought my arms for comfort, as white flashes burst across the drenched sky. When my wife finally took over, I waited and listened to the thunder. Five, six minutes passed.

I had to do it, it has to be tonight. I turned main power back on, rebooted my computer and quickly downloaded the final image file. Anxiety tinged my fingers as I hurriedly logged into this website’s control panel and uploaded the new header. It was over quickly. I opened a new tab on the browser and hit my “DoH” bookmark.

Server down. How could this be? Surely, the lightning gods aren’t that busy? Quickly I attempted to load the site on my iPhone instead. Unable to reach server. It was not to be tonight. With the rain subsiding, pelting quietly on cold windows, I went to bed.

But come morning, I find it is there. It is Dust of Hue‘s new header image. The Swan is gliding serenely as the site greets me. Did my Swan ask that I wait, last night, while she calmed the heavens? She glides knowingly, snow-quiet, unaffected by storm of sky nor of heart, exuding pure tranquility.

The Swan of Lorena
The Swan of Lorena

Around the end of March 2012, my very dear friend Lorena asked that I accept a gift of some sort, a piece of art that she would paint herself. I did not want to refuse, but I also did not want to impose. But later, it occurred to me that, instead of a painting bound for a wall, I could really use a proper header image for Dust of Hue, and I suggested this.

We eventually went through a number of design ideas. There were forests, sunrises, portraits of Sibelius, butterflies – but, in the way fate often plays with me – the first one is often the right one. And in this case, the first one is based on a painting depicting the Swan of Tuonela, after Sibelius’ tone poem of fame. To be precise, it is Lorena’s Photoshop composition of two artworks – detail from “Swan of Tuonela” (watercolor) and “New Bones” (collograph) – a larger detailed version can be seen here.

The waters in the original composition is much darker, befitting the Tuoni river in Tuonela, the Underworld of Finnish mythology, resting place of the dead. The Swan of Tuonela, the second part of the four-movement Lemminkainen Suite, or Four Legends from the Kalevala, Op.22, depicts the graceful Swan who presides over the river. The work beautifully fuses in sound, the image of the swan played by the dream-laden cor anglais solo, undulating over the haunted and otherworldy waters of the river Tuoni.

Lorena’s composition sets the swan, radiantly sublime, against the still gloom of the dimmed waters. The half-conscious shades and white ripples seemingly reach and sigh for her touch.

Together, over the months of April and May, we went through several versions of the Swan – not so much the swan herself, but trying to fit the surrounding waters to my website’s stark white background. Also, we worked on the title “Dust of Hue”. Lorena obliged and showed me many different fonts and variants, but tellingly, the one that spoke to me most was the one done in her own handwriting.

For more information about the artist, Lorena Bowser, please visit:

Among her many talents, she combines two that are most significant to this writer, her love of music and painting – the result takes the form of wonderful, contemporary portraits of Jean Sibelius and Ifukube Akira. Do you have a favourite composer she could paint as a commission for you? Imagine owning in your own home a new, colour portrait of a famous composer close to your heart. If you ask me, it is creating and being part of the composer’s history.

Like how, with this new header, I seek to bring a little more colour and visualized reality to the music and history of Jean Sibelius. In the mysterious river waters of her soul-searching repose, through the silvery lines of her noble glides, this Swan of Lorena.

Drawings by 6th Grade Children after listening to Sibelius

I came across this video while looking for Sibelius on YouTube. It is titled simply, “Sibelius Pictures” but the thumbnail gives a clue why it seems unusual. As you start the video, the video explains that these are “Drawings by 6th Grade Children After Listening to Sibelius”. The video is credited to Escola Frederic Godàs, a public school in Lleida, Spain.

Not entirely sure what is the context of this exercise, but what an interesting thing to see how kids would depict Sibelius’ music. It looks like the music used are standard warhorses, the “Intermezzo” from the Karelia Suite (as hinted by the many mentions of “Carelian” in some of the drawings), Finlandia (drawings of Finnish independence), and the “Valse triste” (“sad waltz”) from the music for Kuolema (“Death”). Not surprisingly, the children were probably clued in on the context, if you look at the many vivid (and sometimes amusing) drawings of the figure of Death come to claim its due.

Video and screen captures © Escola Frederic Godàs

I’ve been told more than once by fresh listeners to Sibelius that his music sounds like film music, particularly in the context of scenery expositions, such as sunrises. My standard answer is that it’s the other way around – generations of film music composers have copied Jean Sibelius. While Sibelius himself often wrote music with extremely pictorial leanings, his symphonic essays were the exact opposite – he denied any extra-musical intentions in them. Nevertheless, as listeners we are hard pressed not to hear nature in them.

As the composer himself once said, nature and life pervades everything he composes. I hope these children will find his artistic influence of lasting benefit in their lives. Now that they’ve tried their hand at Kuolema, I would’ve loved to see them draw Tapiola

Dust of Hue

You might be wondering what does the name of this blog mean. The phrase “dust of hue” comes from a quote from Jean Sibelius. It goes:

If someone writes about my music and finds, let us say, a feeling of nature in it, all well and good. Let him say that, as long as we have it clear within ourselves, we do not become a part of the music’s innermost sound and sense through analysis … Compositions are like butterflies. Touch them even once and the dust of hue is gone. They can, of course, still fly, but are nowhere as beautiful …

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