Orchestral Music of Jean Sibelius by Judith Eckelmeyer
Sibelius in the early 1900s
Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s long life (1865-1957) would suggest a corpus of works lasting at least well into the mid- or late-1960s; the reality, rather shockingly, is that his last collection is an unpublished set of piano works marked Op. 114, composed in 1929, which followed the last published works, the orchestral tone poem Tapiola, Op. 112 in 1926, and Masonic Ritual Music, Op. 113, for male chorus and organ, in 1927.
Sibelius's Op. 114 | Annet Serwaday, piano
Sibelius's Tapiola, Op. 112 | Finish RSO, Paavo Berglund, conductor
Sibelius's Masonic Ritual Music, Op. 113 for male chorus and organ Performed by Mika Pohjonen, tenor and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra Jaakko Kuusisto, conductor | Pauli Pietiläinen, organ
I. No. 1. Avaushymni (Opening Hymn, for orchestra) 00:00-02:10 II. No. 2. Suloinen aate (Thoughts be our Comfort) 02:10-04:15 III. No. 3. Kulkue ja Hymni (Procession and Hymn): Naatko kuinka hennon yrtin (Though Young Leaves Be Green) 04:15-06:55 IV. No. 9. Ylistyshymni (Hymn) (1946) 06:55-09:45 V. No. 7. Hymni (Hymn): Kella kaipuu rinnassansa (Whosoever Hath a Love) 09:45-11:35 VI. No. 8. Veljesvirsi (Ode to Fraternity) (1946) 11:35-14:35 VII. No. 4. Kulkue ja Hymni (Procession and Hymn): Ken kyynelin (Who Ne'er Hath Blent His Bread with Tears) 14:35-18:05 VIII. No. 10. Marche funebre (Funeral March, for orchestra) 18:05-23:00 IX. No. 6. Salem (Onward, Ye Brethren) 23:00-26:00 X. No. 11. Suur' olet, Herra (Ode) 26:00-28:25 XI. No. 5. On kaunis maa (How Fair Are Earth and Living) 28:25-30:20
There are some prior instances of a long hiatus following a productive early career. Gioachino Rossini’s prolific operatic output, for instance, stopped abruptly after he completed “William Tell” in 1829—BUT he continued composing in other genres until very close to his death in 1868. Sibelius, however, stopped composing entirely for the last 28 years of his life. He also stopped public appearances as a conductor in 1921. He spent those final years living quietly with his wife, Aino, in a villa built for him in Järvenpää, near Helsinki.
Sibelius and Aino in Järvenpää (early 1940s)
Why would Sibelius, an apparently internationally-acclaimed composer who was especially perceived in his homeland as an unequalled advocate of his country’s history and culture, abandon his art? A number of reasons have been put forward: In spite of continuing great popularity in the U.S., Great Britain, and Scandinavia, there was a decline in interest in his music in Germany and more generally on the continent. Further, a late symphony completed in 1929 remained unpublished, more or less reinforcing a growing doubt in his mind concerning his compositional direction at a time when European composer had begun to move well away from traditional musical language to increasingly radical experimentation. And, perhaps under everything, his health was taking a serious hit from his life-long habits of heavy drinking and smoking.
A look at Sibelius’s life can illuminate aspects of his music. His parents were Swedish-speaking, and although living in southern Finland, Jean didn’t formally learn Finnish until he was 11 and in school. As a young student, he became interested in Finnish lore by first reading the national epic Kalevala. After his father’s death when Jean was but 2 or 3 years old, he was raised along with his two siblings by his mother and grandmother. Although the family was interested in music, his serious musical study began only in his young teens when he studied violin and began composing chamber works. His education continued in Vienna, Berlin, and Helsinki; through his travels he became acquainted with music of Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and others. He began his major orchestra works around 1891 and 1892, with Kullervo, a dark episode in the Kalevala, followed throught the 1890s by the principal orchestral pieces En saga, Karelia, and the Lemminkäinen Suite. In these works his compositional style was developed and defined and his use of the orchestra, especially brass and winds, took on their enduring characteristics.
In 1899 the first of his 7 published symphonies appeared.
Sibelius's Kullervo Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra - 75th Jubilee Concert, conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Sibelius's En saga Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Sibelius's Karelia Suite Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Sibelius's Lemminkäinen Suite Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste