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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Remembering Ida Haendel

The eminent Polish-born violinist Ida Haendel passed away Tuesday at the age of 91. As a student of Carl Flesch and George Enescu, Haendel represented one of the last direct links to the distinctive and personal violin playing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a child prodigy, she was a top prize winner in the first Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, where she competed against such towering figures as David Oistrakh …

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Remembering Mariss Jansons: Five Great Recordings

The internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons passed away on Saturday. He was 76. For years, he had dealt with a long-term heart condition. Jansons will be remembered for his tireless energy and personal warmth, his legacy as an orchestra builder, and his powerful interpretations of the music of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, and Shostakovich, among other composers. He was born in Riga, Latvia amid the German occupation of the Second World War. His …

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Sibelius’ Sixth Symphony: “Pure Spring Water”

The Sixth may be Jean Sibelius’ most enigmatic symphony. It doesn’t offer the kind of heroic and triumphant journey we experience in the Second and Fifth Symphonies, or the strange, brooding darkness of the Fourth. Instead, it drifts through a soundscape which is shimmering, austere, and mysterious. “The Sixth Symphony always reminds me of the scent of the first snow,” said Sibelius in 1943. On another occasion, the composer spoke of the …

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Ginette Neveu: Three Historic Recordings

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary French violinist, Ginette Neveu. Neveu died tragically in an airplane crash at the age of 30. Ginette and her brother Jean-Paul Neveu, an acclaimed pianist, were on their way to the United States for a concert tour when their Air France flight crashed into a mountain in the Azores on October 28, 1949. At the age of 15, Neveu was awarded …

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“Tapiola”: Sibelius’ Mysterious Final Tone Poem

In Pohjola there are thick, dark forests that dream wild dreams, forever secret. Tapio’s eerie dwellings are there and half-glimpsed spirits, and the voices of twilight. – Jean Sibelius  Tapio is the mythological spirit of the mysterious, remote forests of northern Finland who figures prominently in the Nordic folklore of the Kalevala. This is the subject of the tone poem, Tapiola, Jean Sibelius’ last major work, written in 1926 on a commission from Walter Damrosch and the New …

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Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony: “Turning Space Upside Down”

It begins with a distant drumbeat in the night- a barely-audible triple-beat timpani summons. Then, a strangely amorphous scale in the brooding low strings rises out of the darkness. A vague remembrance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde blends into a gradually-shifting kaleidoscope of veiled colors. Icy dissonance opens out into a vast, magnificent, sonic expanse. These are the first, primal seconds of Jean Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. Actually, we don’t perceive this piece as having a …

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