Jean Sibelius


Born: Dec 8, 1865; Finland   Died: Sep 20, 1957; Finland   Period: 20th Century
Finland's Jean Sibelius is perhaps the most important composer associated with nationalism in music and one of the most influential in the development of the symphony and symphonic poem. Sibelius was born in southern Finland, the second of three children. His physician father left the family bankrupt, owing to his financial extravagance, a trait that, along with heavy drinking, he would pass on to Jean. Jean showed talent on the violin and at age Read more nine composed his first work for it, Rain Drops. In 1885 Sibelius entered the University of Helsinki to study law, but after only a year found himself drawn back to music. He took up composition studies with Martin Wegelius and violin with Mitrofan Wasiliev, then Hermann Csillag. During this time he also became a close friend of Busoni. Though Sibelius auditioned for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, he would come to realize he was not suited to a career as a violinist.
In 1889 Sibelius traveled to Berlin to study counterpoint with Albert Becker, where he also was exposed to new music, particularly that of Richard Strauss. In Vienna he studied with Karl Goldmark and then Robert Fuchs, the latter said to be his most effective teacher. Now Sibelius began pondering the composition of the Kullervo Symphony, based on the Kalevala legends. Sibelius returned to Finland, taught music, and in June 1892, married Aino Järnefelt, daughter of General Alexander Järnefelt, head of one of the most influential families in Finland. The premiere of Kullervo in April 1893 created a veritable sensation, Sibelius thereafter being looked upon as the foremost Finnish composer. The Lemminkäinen suite, begun in 1895 and premiered on April 13, 1896, has come to be regarded as the most important music by Sibelius up to that time.
In 1897 the Finnish Senate voted to pay Sibelius a short-term pension, which some years later became a lifetime conferral. The honor was in lieu of his loss of an important professorship in composition at the music school, the position going to Robert Kajanus. The year 1899 saw the premiere of Sibelius' First Symphony, which was a tremendous success, to be sure, but not quite of the magnitude of that of Finlandia (1899; rev. 1900).
In the next decade Sibelius would become an international figure in the concert world. Kajanus introduced several of the composer's works abroad; Sibelius himself was invited to Heidelberg and Berlin to conduct his music. In March 1901, the Second Symphony was received as a statement of independence for Finland, although Sibelius always discouraged attaching programmatic ideas to his music. His only concerto, for violin, came in 1903. The next year Sibelius built a villa outside of Helsinki, named "Ainola" after his wife, where he would live for his remaining 53 years. After a 1908 operation to remove a throat tumor, Sibelius was implored to abstain from alcohol and tobacco, a sanction he followed until 1915. It is generally believed that the darkening of mood in his music during these years owes something to the health crisis.
Sibelius made frequent trips to England, having visited first in 1905 at the urging of Granville Bantock. In 1914 he traveled to Norfolk, CT, where he conducted his newest work The Oceanides. Sibelius spent the war years in Finland working on his Fifth Symphony. Sibelius traveled to England for the last time in 1921. Three years later he completed his Seventh Symphony, and his last work was the incidental music for The Tempest (1925). For his last 30 years Sibelius lived a mostly quiet life, working only on revisions and being generally regarded as the greatest living composer of symphonies. In 1955 his 90th birthday was widely celebrated throughout the world with many performances of his music. Sibelius died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1957. Read less
Kortekangas: Migrations - Sibelius: Kullervo / Vanska, Minnesota Orchestra
Release Date: 02/03/2017   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 9048   Number of Discs: 2
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Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 3, 6 & 7 / Vanska, Minnesota Orchestra
Release Date: 09/09/2016   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 2006   Number of Discs: 1
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Sibelius: Symphonies No 2 & 5 / Vanska, Minnesota Orchestra
Release Date: 01/31/2012   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1986   Number of Discs: 1
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Sibelius: Symphonies No 1 & 4 / Vanska, Minnesota
Release Date: 03/26/2013   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1996   Number of Discs: 1
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Sibelius Edition Vol 12 - Symphonies / Vanska, Lahti SO
Release Date: 05/24/2011   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1933/5   Number of Discs: 5
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Work: Swan of Tuonela

About This Work
The Kalevala is a collection of folk poetry from Northeastern Finland and Archangel Karelia (Russia), compiled by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884). The original collection, from 1835, consisted of 32 cantos, but Lönnrot expanded it to 50 in 1849, Read more to fashion the popular version that would later inspire Sibelius to compose several works, including the Lemminkainen Suite: Four Legends from the Kalevala. The central character of the stories is Lemminkäinen, a sort of Finnish mythological figure, somewhat along the order of Don Juan. The Swan of Tuonela is the third of the four Legends and has been called the composer's first bona fide masterpiece.

It begins in a somber mood, the music depicting the Swan singing as it serenely glides atop the river -- a river where one senses hovering mists and an eerie quiet. The English horn has a prominent part here, playing the lovely, melancholy main theme (the Swan singing), a creation whose exoticism and mesmerizing character impart both a sense of loneliness and of soothing consolation. The music intensifies midway through, but cannot quite generate enough momentum to break away from the ethereal and mystical mood established at the opening. The English horn returns in the latter half to sing its music again, but the mood darkens further, especially in the string writing, which favors the violas, cellos, and lower ranges of the violin, and divulges a sort of funereal manner. Lasting 9 to 10 minutes, The Swan of Tuonela is probably the finest of the four Legends from the Kalevala.

 -- Robert Cummings Read less

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