December 8, 2019
Most people would name only Finlandia off the top of their heads if asked “What is Siblelius known for?” His reputation was made on a few symphonies, some tone poems (a one-movement symphonic work that’s descriptive in nature), and his Violin Concerto. However, many of his compositions were hit and miss, and his overall output (over a hundred songs, piano pieces, 50 works for violin and piano, choruses, a couple of string quartets, and an opera – who knew?) didn’t become part of the standard repertoire.
Finlandia, one of the most famous tone poems written, was an unofficial anthem, first performed in 1900 at a time Finland was dealing with increased censorship from the Russian Empire. It starts with a dark, melodramatic statement by the brass section and the timpanist goes wild. It eventually calms down into lyrical melodies, and takes us back up the roller coaster to a rousing finale that makes you want to stand up and cheer. It makes you feel, for a moment, that you are a proud Finn.
Jean Sibelius was born December 8, 1865 in Hämeenlinna, Finland, and died September 20, 1957, in Helsinki.