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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
May 27, 2000

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43

Tempo andante, ma rubato

“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 and history–into music.  Although he does not use actual folk songs, his musical language is so permeated with the idioms of his country that the listener naturally senses the spirit of Finland.

The provincial garrison town of Hameenlinna where Sibelius was born and spent his early years might not seem a likely place for a budding composer to be exposed to great music, but the mixed population of Finns, Swedes, and Russians regularly supported ambitious concert seasons.  The composer also received a good grounding in piano and violin and he had the good fortune to be sent to a Finnish-speaking school (uncommon for the times–the language of the middle class was Swedish) where his imagination was stirred by the wonderfully rich Finnish folk legends.  Sibelius’s early performing and compositional efforts were devoted primarily to chamber music.

Continuing his studies in Helsinki, he was unfortunately barred from experiencing the early symphonic efforts being launched in the Finnish capital because of a  feud between his teacher Wegelius and the conductor Kajanus (the former’s students were forbidden to attend concerts conducted by Kajanus).  However, after three productive years of study with Wegelius, Sibelius’s genius was recognized with a government stipend and scholarship to study in Berlin and Vienna.  It was in attending concerts in these great musical centers that Sibelius discovered  his real voice–that of the symphony orchestra.  Although the composer’s output included an enormous quantity of music in a variety of forms, his international reputation rests on his large symphonic works–primarily the seven symphonies and various tone poems.  His orchestrations are characterized by dark colors and lower registers of the instruments (notice the prominent role of the tuba in tonight’s performance), 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.  On more than one occasion, Sibelius denied that his symphonies were intended to be programmatic or descriptive. However, it is not reasonable to believe that his works were divorced from the times and environment in which he composed them.  Although not as obviously political as the tone poem Finlandia of 1899, the second symphony (1901-1902) impresses one as being the most nationalistic of  the seven. The first movement evokes images of the Finnish landscape–the trees, lakes, mountains, the traditional life. A musical saga, the second movement offers folk-like melodies intertwined with the tentative pizzicato of the strings, giving a sense of  the small country surrounded by its powerful neighbors. The agitated scherzo of the third movement strikes one as a call to arms, the awakening of the national spirit. The dramatic change of mood of the middle section returns at the end of the movement to create a bridge to the final movement—a song of triumph.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2000.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts