Richard Nisley

Music from the frozen north–the music of Jean Sibelius
Music - Classical Released - Sep 13, 2018
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is a twentieth-century composer who does not fit easily into a niche. Though he lived until mid-century, he is not in the "New Music" category of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Bartok, and Hindemith. His symphony No. 2 in D is a prime example. It's a well-crafted hybrid that's equal parts 19th-century romanticism and equal parts 20th-century New Music. It's grandly bold and breathtaking, with highly-charged sweeping melodies, and remains one of his most popular works. With Edvard Grieg, Sibelius is the only well-known composer from the frozen northern island nations of Europe, where the winter days are short, gloomy and bitterly cold. His later symphonies, no. 4 in particular, sound as bleak and harsh as the Finnish winter. By comparison, his second symphony is positively sunny (sounding very much like something Tchaikovsky would compose). What's interesting about Sibelius is that he lived until 1959, but did not compose another piece of music after 1928, which means for nearly 30 years a truly gifted composer did not compose. The world is the poorer for it.

Sibelius was highly opinionated, and something of rebel. Of the piano he wrote: "I dislike the piano. It is an unsatisfactory, ungrateful instrument, an instrument for which only one composer, Chopin, has succeeded in writing perfectly, and of which only two others, Debussy and Schumann, have had an intimate understanding."

Sibelius wrote one world-class violin concerto, no operas, seven edgy symphonies, various chamber pieces, one orchestral suite and several colorful tone poems. Among his most beloved tunes are the shorter works, all tone poems, specifically, "Finlandia," "Swan of Tuonela," "Tapiola," and "Valse Triste." Among his popular chamber works, there's "String Quartet in D minor" and "String Quartet in A minor."

On the list of great composers, Sibelius ranks 28th.

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