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Classical 101

The Grandest Symphony of Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius

Sculpture Of composer Jean Sibelius
Christian Cordova
/
Flickr
Sculpture Of composer Jean Sibelius at the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, Finland.

This is the 150th anniversary year of the birth of Finland's greatest composer, so I bet we'll be hearing a lot of Jean Sibelius's music in the coming months leading up to his actual birth date of December 8, 1865. 

Sibelius wrote seven symphonies in all in a period of about 25 years.  Symphony No. 2 in D is from 1902 and is the grandest and the longest at about 45 minutes in many performances - unless you're Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the video below.  Then it might takes a little longer.

  

The Second Symphony still shows some influence Russian Romanticism as exemplified by Peter Tchaikovsky, but there is also that unique sound-world of Sibelius that so powerfully evokes the isolated far northern landscape of Finland and a world of nature with vast forests, wind-swept fields, and flocks of wild geese and cranes flying overhead.

There is also a kind of austere logic in the development of Sibelius's symphonies that would become even more pronounced in the Third Symphony and on to the single-movement Seventh, which lasts only about 22 minutes.  

There is an organic development in which musical motifs are interconnected in a way that can evoke for listeners a sense of forms in nature: patterns in a snowflake, rivulets of water coming together to form a stream which then turns into a river, or the beautiful form of a leaf with intricate veins when held up to sunlight.

Well anyway, that's what listening to Sibelius does for me.  

Join me this evening on Symphony @ 7 for a new recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its recently appointed music director Andris Nelsons.  Nelsons hails from Latvia, not far from Finland and seems to have a natural affinity for this music in his first release with an orchestra that also has a fine history of playing Sibelius's music.