December 8, 2015


Finland's Finest: The Seven Symphonies Of Jean Sibelius (Tom Huizenga, 12/08/15, NPR)

Today, Sibelius provokes far less critical dissention. Michael Steinberg, author of the book The Symphony: A Listener's Guide, counted himself among the composer's legion of fans.

"He is one of the great symphonists," Steinberg, who died in 2009, told NPR seven years earlier. "And 'great' is a word I'm inclined to be fairly stingy with. I am so moved by the strength of the vision, the individuality of the vision. Here is an unmistakable voice that says, in virtually every phrase, 'Jean Sibelius was here.'"

Steinberg sat down to talk with NPR about Sibelius and his seven symphonies (an Eighth was composed but mysteriously disappeared). The audio excerpts that follow here are doubly satisfying -- not only to recall Steinberg's enlightening yet down-to-earth way of explaining music, but also to hear the sounds of a composer whose symphonies evoke the great forests and fables of Finland and adventures far beyond and deep within.

Finland: On the trail of Jean Sibelius (Harriet O'Brien, 08 Dec 2015, The Telegraph)

It was an epic landscape. From my hilltop vantage point I gazed across a tremendous lake draped in mist and surrounded by a great swathe of fir trees. A luminous quality to the light added to the drama of standing on hallowed ground. In this country of hushed, snowclad winters, golden summers and prodigious forests, the rousing yet serene music of Jean Sibelius's Finlandia is practically a national anthem and they say it was probably inspired by this view over Lake Aulanko. Probably: the element of equivocation contributed to the feeling of having stepped into a magnificent legend.

A couple of residents in the town of Hameenlinna had directed me to this famous spot in the Aulanko Nature Reserve, adding that to appreciate the spirit of Sibelius I should listen as much as look. So I tuned into the quiet, increasingly absorbed by the percussion of wind in the trees and the hammering of a woodpecker.

I had come to this big little country (marginally smaller than Germany, Finland has a population of 5.5 million) at the outset of commemorations for the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth. From China and Japan to the United States and Britain, a host of events this year bear testimony to how much the music of Sibelius is globally admired. For Finns, Sibelius is the equivalent of Elgar and Shakespeare in one; a cultural colossus who encapsulates the spirit of the country. In 1865, when he was born, Finland had been governed by Russia for 56 years. By the time independence was granted in 1917, Sibelius had written many major works including five symphonies and a number of stirring orchestral pieces, such as the Karelia Suite, most of them largely composed as expressions of Finnish nationalism. As the country subsequently struggled through civil war, then world war, then the tense years of the Cold War (with the Soviet Union looming over an 830-mile border), the music of Sibelius was a balm of Finnishness.

Posted by at December 8, 2015 7:45 PM