Sibelius: The First Symphony

Photo: Winter Landscape - Baar, by Nobsta

The common and easily jumped-to conclusion about Sibelius’ First Symphony is that it is a “Romantic”, “Nationalist” and/or “patriotic” work. There is indeed some element of truth in using these convenient terms, but it would be unjustified to claim that that is all to this symphony.

Portrait of Sibelius (1892) by Eero Järnefelt
Portrait of Sibelius (1892) by Eero Järnefelt

Sibelius vehemently denied any extra-musical meaning to all his symphonies, and yet his listeners – first and foremost his fellow Finns – saw everything from forests and mountains to swirling winds and sweeping snowscapes to the being of Finnish-ness in his music. In the final analysis, the composer also admitted that it is not incorrect to find, “let us say, a feeling of nature [in his music]… . [Let that be said], 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 …”

This compromise is perhaps representative of his struggle to unite the torrent of human feeling he felt (for nature, his home, land among other things) and the “profound inner logic” which propelled his music’s search for symphonic perfection. Continue reading Sibelius: The First Symphony

Karelia and Kuolema – Complete Music

Sibelius in 1899

There is a reason, of course, why the popular Karelia Suite is a “Suite”. Its origins go back to 1893, when the Viipuri Student Corporation at the Imperial Alexander University arranged a fund-raiser event in aid of education in the Viipuri province, in western Karelia, Finland. The idea was to foster Finnish culture at this border area near Russia. Finland then was still under the dominion of the Tsar, and to put it simply, the Finns didn’t like that. The entertainment soirée took place at the Town Hall on 13th November 1893 and its highlight was a series of tableaux depicting scenes from Karelian history. Think of them as theatrical stage scenes, with decorations, props and music, all provided by Finland’s best artists. Early MTV. Continue reading Karelia and Kuolema – Complete Music