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March 15, 1991

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Finlandia, Tone Poem for Orchestra, Op. 26

"I love the mysterious sounds of the fields and forests, water and mountains," wrote Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  "It pleases me greatly to be called a poet of nature, for nature has truly been the book of books for me."  His genius was in his gift of translating his love of his country -- forests and lakes as well as heroic elements of traditional literature -- into music.  Although he does not use actual folk songs, his musical language is so permeated with the idioms of his country that the spirit of Finland is naturally sensed.

The composer's output included an enormous quantity of music in a variety of forms, but his international reputation rests largely on his large symphonic works -- primarily the seven symphonies and various tone poems.  His use of the orchestra is characterized by dark colors and lower registers of the instruments, punctuated by moments of brilliance.

The closing years of the 19th century saw Czarist Russia tightening its grip on Finland and the growing resistance to this oppression.  Although Sibelius kept aloof from overt political activities, he subtly engaged in patriotic activities by nurturing nationalism through his art.  For an 1899 festival organized to benefit the Press Pension fund, Sibelius composed music for a series of tableaux on themes of Finnish historical events.  Finlandia accompanied the final tableaux which portrayed the devastation of Finland during the 18th century Nordic war:  Mother Finland in the snowdrifts surrounded by her starving children.

The piece was an instant success, bringing international attention to the composer and the cause of Finnish independence.  Sibelius arranged the work as a concert piece in 1900 and, during the winter war of 1939-40; he did a choral arrangement of the hymn portion for use by soldiers serving at the front.  The power exhibited by the piece proved to evoke such fervor of nationalist feelings that during times of political unrest in the struggle for Finnish independence, Czarist authorities banned its performance.

The struggle against oppression and earnestness of the Finnish people is illustrated through the defiant themes of the brass contrasted with organ-like woodwinds, solemn strings, and a restless allegro with stirring trumpet calls.  The peaceful, then majestic hymn-like theme portrays the composer's vision of a triumphant, independent Finland.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1991.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts