Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some of the "big, romantic" Sibelius symphonies

When I was a senior in high school, on that wonderful Mt. Washington trip in May 1961, I told people that Sibelius was my favorite composer. 

I dug out the performance of the Symphony #5 in E-flat, Op. 82 (1919), on Sony-Columbia with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen from 1987. 
The work went through several versions, and for all its ascetic romanticism, it’s still enigmatic.  The first movement combines a conventional “Sonata” with a scherzo.  The slow movement is a song without words, and the finale has that “3/2” march which ends in the famous six loud chords. 
When I was finishing high school, I thought of various symphonies as “musical pictures” of favorite friends of mine, and the Sibelius Fifth was at one point the favorite of all.

The CD also has a performance of Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49, which dies away (in B-flat) after flirting with majesty.

Earlier, though, I had learned by ear some of the earlier ones.  I had a Monteux RCA recording of the Sibelius Symphony #2 in D (Op. 43), which I got for Christmas in 1960 (of my senior year).  That saga-like second movement became a symbol for winter, which that year featured and Inauguration Day Blizzard (when John F. Kennedy would say, “Ask Not…”).   The Finale has another famous majestic 3/2 “march”. (Robert Schumann had penned a “March” in ¾ at the end of his “Carnaval” for piano.)
But in my junior year, I had become familiar with the Symphony #1 in E Minor, Op. 39, which “critics” had complained was too much like Tchaikovsky.  The use of tonality is interesting.  The Sonata firm first movement first presents the majestic second subject in the dominant B Major, and in G Major in the recapitulation, before crashing back to E Minor.  The second movement again is a song one half step lower (in E-flat).  The finale has a “big tune”, appearing to end the work in the Dominant B Major, beore the work crashes to tragedy back in E Minor. I remember that weekend in New Hampshire, we did a hike up “Rattlesnake Mountain” near Bear Camp Pond (near Sandwich, NH), and that “big tune” played in my head as we came to the climactic view of the “nighthike”.

My other best friend, a Dvorak lover, claimed “The music of Sibelius is musically sterile.”
I see that on March 1, 2013, here, I covered the Symphony #7.
Finland has always been an interesting, enigmatic country.  In my novel, an “alien” artefact is discovered near the Russo-Finnish border and smuggled back into the US, where the consequences of its influence are then felt.  Putin just could have designs on the area.

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