Sibelius’ “Pohjola’s Daughter”: Tone Poem and Mythic Vision

Jean Sibelius’ 1906 tone poem, Pohjola’s Daughter, was inspired by a mythic story outlined in Cantos 8 of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Väinämöinen, the white-bearded demigod, is speeding through the Finnish landscape on his sleigh when he spots a beautiful maiden sitting on the edge of an enormous rainbow. Captivated, Väinämöinen asks her to join him on his sleigh and to become his wife. The seductive maiden agrees on the condition that …

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Sibelius’ “Lemminkäinen” Suite: Four Legends from the Kalevala

Lemminkäinen is a shamanistic figure from the frigid depths of Finnish mythology. Throughout the epic poetry of the Kalevala, where he represents an amalgamation of characters, Lemminkäinen takes the form of a young, heroic warrior. Occasionally described as a “handsome, arrogant and reckless” seducer, he is the son of Lempi, the Finnish goddess of love and fertility. The adventures of this epic hero provided the inspiration for Jean Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite, a collection of four symphonic …

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Night Voyages: Salonen’s “Insomnia” and Sibelius’ “Nightride and Sunrise”

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 2002 orchestral tone poem, Insomnia, takes us on a haunting nocturnal voyage. The opening bars slip into a restless, looping stream of musical “thoughts” which toss and turn with prickly persistence in the woodwinds. As the piece develops, the insomniac’s obsessive mental chatter becomes a colorful tonal dreamscape which is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. Gradually, restlessness dissolves into the serenity of near sleep in the final minutes, only to be interrupted …

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Sibelius’ “En Saga”: Mystical Landscapes

The music of Jean Sibelius evokes the rugged, desolate beauty of the Finnish landscape, the distinct cycles of darkness and light in extreme northern latitudes, and the ancient folklore of the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. Sibelius’ music feels spacial and metaphysical. It changes our perception of time. The 1892 tone poem, En Saga (“A Fairy Tale”), does not depict a programmatic story related to the Kalevala. Instead, Sibelius described the work as an “adventure in an …

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Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony: Probing Psychological Depths

Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 4 in A minor enters a dark, austere, and occasionally terrifying sonic landscape. At first listen, it is undoubtedly the strangest and most unsettling of Sibelius’ seven symphonies. Its four movements probe frigid, mysterious depths. Yet, upon entering this forbidding territory, we are rewarded with glimpses of rugged beauty and awe-inspiring power. Sibelius called the Fourth “a psychological symphony.” It is the stuff of Expressionism, murky dreams, and …

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Remembering Camilla Wicks

The legendary American violinist Camilla Wicks has passed away. She was 92. Born in Long Beach, California to Norwegian immigrant parents, Wicks rose to prominence as a child prodigy, performing her first public concert at the age of four. By the age of eight, her repertoire included concertos of Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Paganini. When she was ten, Wicks became a student of Louis Persinger, the influential teacher who guided the careers of …

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Sibelius’ Third Symphony: Classical and Austere

Jean Sibelius’ music is filled with the magic and mystery of ancient northern woods. It can be simultaneously icy, brusk, brooding, austere, and eternally soulful. Often, it unfolds in a way which feels static and circular, seemingly influenced by Finland’s land of the midnight sun, where the cycle of day and night is replaced by extended periods of light alternating with darkness and gloom. Similar circular, repeating phrases can be found throughout Finnish folk …

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