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Classical 101

Have a Fifth of Sibelius to Cool Down: Symphony No. 5

As another heat wave hits Columbus, take a musical journey to Finland for Symphony No. 5 in E flat by Jean Sibelius on Symphony @ 7 this evening.  Finland's greatest composer wrote  seven symphonies, and this is one of his finest and certainly one of his most popular. In 1915, when the first version of the Fifth Symphony appeared, Sibelius was 50 years old and Finland's most famous composer.  In recognition of his importance to the cultural life of the country, the Finnish government had commissioned this work and declared his birthday a national holiday. Symphony No. 5 was in four movements when first performed in 1915, but Sibelius substantially revised the work several times.  In the final version from 1919 that we usually hear today, the symphony is in three movements.  Essentially, it sounds as if he combined the first two movements into one.  When the symphony is well performed, there's a wonderful-sounding transformation that takes place where the two movements are now conjoined.  It's like a vast meshing of gears (hopefully not grinding!) during which the original first movement segues into the faster second movement scherzo.  Or perhaps it's like water running down a stream, striking stones and rocks and branching out into newly-formed rivulets, now moving faster. The second movement with its variations on a theme is a beautifully calm interlude with flute, woodwinds, and pizzicato strings that then leads to the majestic final movement.  Here, a grand swaying theme is introduced by the horns that's said to have been inspired by the swan-calls Sibelius loved to hear outside his home.  The music then develops and moves on to the symphony's unique ending with the six great chords, separated by silence, that have been likened to the Norse god Thor swinging his hammer. Join me for Symphony @ 7 for this wonderful music from the great Finnish master.  In the meantime, here's a sample: http://youtu.be/nkzrSZKA4cM