Monday, February 11, 2008

Sibelius: Symphony #2, Finlandia

Sibelius isn't just an overlooked composer in my music collection, he's also overlooked by many classical music fans. Today we'll cover a disc that includes his Symphony #2 and the patriotic, shorter work Finlandia.

I'll start with Finlandia, which, at just over seven minutes in length, is a great piece for a Sibelius beginner to start with. It was written during a period of particularly heavy-handed control of Finland by Czarist Russia, and the piece is overtly patriotic and nationalistic. Finns consider this work a critical part of their cultural heritage.

Let's move on to Sibelius' Symphony #2. My favorite anecdote about this work has to do with the circumstances under which it was written. It was 1901, and Sibelius had just left Finland for Italy:

"The composer installed his wife and children in a boarding-house, and rented for himself a small hilltop villa above the town of Rapallo, in order to be able to work in peace... At one point during their stay Sibelius became tired of his role as father of the family and escaped to Rome, much to the displeasure of his wife Aino."*

Nice work if you can get it.

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Paavo Berglund and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Symphony #2
The Oceanides
Finlandia
EMI, 1988
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I hear some musical similarities between Jean Sibelius and the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. I was surprised to find the two men were contemporaries, born seven years apart and dying only one year apart.

We'll come back to Sibelius two more times to cover the two other CDs I have: one disc of his Third and Fifth symphonies, and another disc of his Fifth and Seventh symphonies. From what I've absorbed from the textbooks on Sibelius, there's a significant stylistic difference between his more popular first two symphonies and his Third through Seventh symphonies, which are much less popular among listeners. I'm curious if I'll end up agreeing with the consensus on this.

* Quote above comes from the CD liner notes, written by Hannu-Ilari Lampila and translated by William Moore.




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