Jean Sibelius

Biography

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
Lorin Maazel Conducts Sibelius
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 7808332   Number of Discs: 5
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Sibelius: Violin Concerto / Jennifer Pike, Andrew Davis, Bergen Philharmonic
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 5134   Number of Discs: 1
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Sibelius: Symphonies 5-7, Orchestral Works / Collins, Jensen
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002126502   Number of Discs: 2
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Shakespeare's Tempest - Sullivan, Sibelius / Stern, Kansas City Symphony
Release Date: 07/08/2008   Label: Reference Recordings  
Catalog: 115   Number of Discs: 1
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Sibelius, Ades: Violin Concertos / Hadelich, Lintu
Release Date: 03/11/2014   Label: Avie  
Catalog: 2276   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Symphony no 7 in C major, Op. 105

 

About This Work
Sibelius originally intended his Seventh Symphony to be in three movements, but in the end fashioned it into a single movement. It is cast in four distinct sections, however: a substantial opening Adagio is followed by a scherzo-like section, and Read more then another, larger scherzo (which may have been spawned by the "Hellenic Rondo" idea that Sibelius had originally spoken of in regard to this work), and finally a recall of materials from the Adagio section. Initially entitled "Fantasia sinfonica," the work was subsequently restored to its status of symphony by the composer and would serve as his last foray in this genre.

The Seventh Symphony came as the climax of a lifetime's work for Sibelius. His ongoing search for new formal procedures that began with his Second Symphony reaches its acme in this sweeping, motivically concentrated and highly integrated work, containing elements of both sonata form and of rondo form. While many scholars have attempted to come up with different ways to classify the Seventh, it is a futile mental exercise to fit the work into traditional formal schemes, so complete is Sibelius' mastery of transition and control of simultaneous tempos.

The Adagio begins darkly, the strings rising from their bass range but soon reaching brighter terrain as motivic bits are assembled and the main thematic material begins to unfold. Soon a somewhat somber passage begins in the lower strings, building slowly and taking on an increasingly passionate manner, culminating in a powerfully epiphanic declaration, where strings soar and then trombones gloriously resound the symphony's main theme. The Adagio section ends in a relatively subdued and bright mood.

The scherzo-like section begins almost seamlessly, evolving subtly out of the Adagio's closing material. The tempo gradually quickens and the music works up a dark intensity, but the resulting mood is generally playful and light in the first half, but menacing in the latter portion, where churning strings incite the orchestra to a torrent that culminates in a recall of the Adagio's trombone theme, now given a more somber treatment. The ensuing section is playful and lighter, but also develops some tension in its middle portion. The scoring here is fairly light and the tempo markings, Allegro molto moderato/Poco a poco meno moderato, come across as leisurely, but not brisk or driven.

Early on, the final section features another statement of the trombone theme, which is now confident and overpowering in its sense of triumph. The music thereafter moves from an angelic, almost rapturous passage for mostly unaccompanied strings toward near-stasis, before finally building from quivering strings to a resounding, all-conquering conclusion. This symphony typically has a duration of between 20 and 25 minutes.

-- Robert Cummings
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