“The Swan of Tuonela”: Sibelius’ Voyage into Hades

Tuonela, the Kingdom of Death, the Hades of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a broad river of black water and rapid current, on which the Swan of Tuonela glides in majestic fashion and sings. Jean Sibelius inscribed these words in the early editions of his searing 1895 tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela. Originally conceived as the prelude to an opera, this atmospheric music came to life, instead, as part of the Lemminkäinen Suite, inspired by the Finnish …

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Sibelius’ First Symphony: Romanticism and Structure

Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces. -Jean Sibelius There’s a divine logic at work in the seven symphonies of Jean Sibelius. You get the sense of a self-creating structure- something Sibelius himself described in his famous meeting with Gustav Mahler as “style …

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New Sibelius Release: Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra

Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra released an exiting new album this past Friday. The recording, produced on the Swedish label BIS Records, features Jean Sibelius’ Third, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies. It concludes Vänskä’s celebrated, Grammy-Award-winning Sibelius cycle with the Minnesota Orchestra- a project launched in 2012 and temporarily halted by a fifteen-month-long management-imposed lockout. Recorded in June of 2015, this latest disk is a Super Audio CD with surround sound technology, which …

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Sibelius’ Sixth: "The Scent of the First Snow"

Beethoven’s great symphonic arc is a study in moderation. Beginning with the Third Symphony (the Eroica), Beethoven’s odd numbered symphonies can be described as heroic, monumental and groundbreaking. By contrast, the even numbered symphonies take a step back into a more intimate world of classical charm. Listen to Jean Sibelius’ Fifth and Sixth Symphonies back to back, and you’ll hear a similar dichotomy. Sibelius began sketching both works around the same time in the …

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Sibelius 5’s Evaporating Tonal Center

In Monday’s post, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’ birth, we listened to Leonard Bernstein’s live concert performance of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic. Returning to this music, I was reminded of that chilling moment in the first movement when the tonal center completely evaporates. Virtually all music from J.S. Bach through Late Romanticism was tonal, built on relationships between a tonic (the key’s home base) and dominant. We …

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Sibelius at 150

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius. Commemorative events are under way this week, from Sibelius’ native Finland to Minnesota. Appropriately, the 11th International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition just wrapped up in Helsinki. The competition, open to violinists under the age of 30, has been held every five years since 1965. Listen to this year’s first prize winner, American violinist Christel Lee, here. Recently, here at the Listeners’ Club, we’ve …

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The Oceanides: Sibelius’ Ambient Tone Poem

When you think of ambient concert music that conjures up vast sonic landscapes, the name John Luther Adams may come to mind. Adams, an American composer and longtime resident of Alaska, was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his orchestral work, Become Ocean, premiered by conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony in June, 2013. It’s music which unfolds slowly in rich, colorful waves of sound, evoking the eternal power, depth …

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