Paljon onnea vaan Jean Sibelius

Celebrating the 150th Birthday of Jean Sibelius, Finnish composer,
the 8th of December 2015


The year 2015 marked the 150th Birthday of two important Northern European composers. It started the 9th of June when the Danes celebrated their great composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931).

Concert at the Danish Foundation, Paris
(source : Cyrille Clément)

Carl Nielsen
(source : By Georg Lindstrøm 1866-1923 Restored by Adam Cuerden [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, the 8th of December, the Finns celebrated their famous composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).

Jean Sibelius
(source : By fi:Daniel Nyblin (1856–1923) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Their music have inspired generations in their country and abroad. If all their pages did not reach the highest musical standards, a certain number of their productions, specially in the orchestral domain, seized the emotion and the imagination of a wide international public. Their musical world started in the late romanticism of the last years of the XIXth Century but both were not to stay a life long in the same “positivist” manner. They had to explore, to dig deep into their creative capabilities, to go as far in the evolution of their language as to refuse to go any further, as did Sibelius after the years 1920’s when he abandoned the project of his 8th symphony. Modernity was a hard lesson for all artistic circles in Europe, including on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

Of course, both composers, the Dane and the Finn, came through the first major European conflict, WWI, with diverse fortunes, as mature men and conscious artists who were questioned by the events unfolding everywhere around them. If Nielsen experienced the Blockade of Europe imposed by the Allied Powers and specially the Royal Navy, Sibelius even came through the Finnish civil war in 1918 which claimed many thousands lives, meanwhile the Revolution in Russia, at the next door, was to reach even much greater scores.

And both chose a different attitude towards the issue of expressing themselves artistically about this complicated topic. If Nielsen dedicated a long symphony, the 5th, to the war and the post war period, Sibelius decided to keep silent and not to modify the artistic world of his major works, while he was composing a military marche, with a great success, for the newly born Finnish Republic.

But, before the first gunshot in the Summer of 1914, Jean Sibelius was already a leading figure, an artist with a complex and elaborated musical language, even though he was highly criticised by Theodor W. Adorno, the German philosopher and head of the Frankfurt School,  in his book Philosophy of New Music (not to mention René Leibowitz after WWII). His personal evolution reached a first climax around 1910 with the work I selected here to commemorate. His Fourth Symphony is much more than a piece belonging to a formal school like atonality or impressionism or reflecting a personal view or mood (the biographic reading). It contains a full style in itself, with a certain number of formal proposals for the generations to come, like “spectrum”. And, as I write this page to pay an hommage to the author of Finlandia, Tapiola, Luonnotar and many other outstanding orchestral works, I chose an historical version of this 4th symphony, rarely heard, recorded in 1934 and conducted by Georg Schnéevoigt leading the Finnish National Orchestra for the commitment of the musicians to this partition.

Happy Birthday to you Jean Sibelius

Couver picture : Lemminkäinen’s Mother, an 1897 painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela: She is shown having just gathered his broken body from the dark river (text : Wikipedia)
source : Akseli Gallen-Kallela [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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