Echoes of the Forest God

Ten days ago in the middle of March I received an email from Gerry Henkel, the Editor of New World Finn, a quarterly journal on Finnish culture in the New World. The approximately 30-page journal features Finnish newsmakers, musicians, artists, writers and more, in North America. A downloadable sample is available on the website, as well as instructions for submissions and subscriptions.

To my pleasant surprise, Gerry asked for permission to reproduce my 13-year-old article on Tapiola, which I published on Earth Day (April 22) 1999. Over the last 13 years, this article has attracted the most number of comments among all my Sibelius articles. While I’ve always considered it one of my good pieces of writing, I never thought of it as something that would attract widespread attention or anything. It was after all, about a piece that is decidedly quite advanced listening, Sibelius’ most sophisticated essay in tone painting – his final published word in symphonic thinking. Indeed, his “9th” Symphony.

I wrote the piece when great swaths of forests were being burned in a nearby country. This affected me deeply and greatly influenced my thoughts on the essay, about how mankind has seemingly forgotten we are not a separate thing from nature. Tapiola illustrates this relationship to spine-tingling, soul-searing effect.

Mr Henkel wrote to me again just this morning to show me a post made by a reader of New World Finn, Markki Mungerin of Cloquet River Press, who makes mention of my essay in his post “A Wonderful Piece of Music“. Thank you, Mr Mungerin. He has picked out a Tapiola music video from YouTube (made by berrik500) to introduce his readers to the work.  The complete tone poem can be heard here.

The performance is conducted by Neeme Järvi, with film footage from Christopher Nupen’s film “Jean Sibelius – The Early Years, Maturity and Silence”. It so happens that I watched this video a month ago and left a comment for the creator myself – so once again, Tapio works to keep us connected.

I am thoroughly humbled and very happy by the fact that something I wrote so long ago still has the capacity to spread and advance the musical thinking of Jean Sibelius. I never thought this far when I wrote in 1999. I never thought that a piece of music this dark, this “supernatural”, this advanced, could enthrall fresh listeners. The fact that it does is testimony to Sibelius’ magical power to reach deep into our humanity, and find the threads of a common force – our spiritual link with nature – to bind us across time, space and culture. I am but a wisp singing the song of my forest gods, a tiny thread of light among the magic secrets of wood sprites in the gloom. I have shared the mysterious spell once 13 years ago, and it thrills me that the enchantment continues to echo.

Sibelius’ Farewell

Thoughts on Sibelius’ Silence and Dilemma, Prospero’s Art, and Shakespeare’s Final Play.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

Continue reading Sibelius’ Farewell