SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 / 'The Tempest', Suite No. 2 (Iceland Symphony Orchestra/ Petri Sakari) (Naxos: 8.554387)
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Symphony No. 6, Op.
104; Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105
The Tempest: Suite No.
2, Op. 109, No. 3
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born in 1865, the son of adoctor, in a small town in the south of Finland, the language and culture ofhis family being Swedish. It was at school that he was to learn Finnish andacquire his first interest in the early legends of a country that had become anautonomous grand-duchy under the Tsar of Russia, after the defeat of CharlesXII of Sweden. Throughout the later nineteenth century there were divisionsbetween the Swedish-speaking upper classes and the Finnish-speaking people, thecause of the latter embraced by influential nationalists and accentuated by therepressive measures introduced by Tsar Nicholas II, before the revolution of1905. In this society Sibelius was deeply influenced by his association withthe family of General Jarnefelt, whose daughter Aino became his wife.
Nevertheless linguistically Swedish remained his mother tongue, in which heexpressed himself more fluently than he could in Finnish.
The musical abilities of Sibelius were soon realised, although notdeveloped early enough to suggest music as a profession until he had entereduniversity in Helsinki as a law student. His first ambition had been to be aviolinist. It later became apparent that any ability he had in this directionwas outweighed by his gifts as a composer, developed first by study in Berlinand with Goldmark and, more effectively, Robert Fuchs in Vienna.
In Finland once more, Sibeliuswon almost immediate success in 1892 with a symphonic poem, Kullervo, basedon an episode from the Finnish epic Kalevala. There followedcompositions of particular national appeal that further enhanced his reputationin Helsinki, including the incidental music to the patriotic student pageant Karelia,En Saga and the Lemminkainen Suite. During this period Sibeliussupported himself and his wife by teaching, as well as by composition and theperformance of his works, but it proved difficult for him to earn enough,given, as he was, to bouts of extravagance, continuing from his days as astudent. In 1896 he was voted the position of professor at the University ofHelsinki, but the committee's decision was overturned in favour of RobertKajanus, the experienced founder and conductor of the first professionalorchestra in Helsinki. As consolation for his disappointment Sibelius wasawarded a government stipend for ten years, and this was later changed into apension for life. The sum involved was never sufficient to meet his gift forimprovidence, inherited, perhaps, from his father, who at his death in 1868 hadleft his family in some difficulty.
Sibelius continued his active career as a composer until 1926, his fameincreasing at home and abroad. The success of Symphony No. 1 of 1898 wasfollowed by the still more successful Finlandia. Symphony No. 2 in1902 won unprecedented success in Helsinki. This was followed by the ViolinConcerto, Symphony No. 3, and after an illness that put an end forthe moment to his indulgence in alcohol and tobacco, Symphony No. 4, withtravel to the major musical centres of Europe and international honour.
Symphony No. 5 was written during the war, after which Sibelius wroteonly four works of any substance, Symphony No. 6 in 1923 and, in the followingyear, Symphony No. 7, incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest and,in 1926, the symphonic poem Tapiola. An eighth symphony was completed in1929, but destroyed. The rest was silence. For the last 25 years of his lifeSibelius wrote nothing, remaining isolated from and largely antipathetic tocontemporary trends in music. His reputation in Britain and America remainedhigh, although there were inevitable reactions to the excessive enthusiasm ofhis supporters. On the continent of Europe he failed to recapture the earlierposition he had enjoyed before the war of 1914 in Germany, France and Vienna.
He died in 1957 at the age of 91.
Sibelius made sketches for his Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Opus 104,while at work on his fifth symphony, which he followed with a group of Humoresquesfor violin and orchestra and smaller pieces. The new symphony was completedin 1923 and first performed in Helsinki in April, followed by performances inStockholm and Gothenburg. He had first planned a work that was to be wild andpassionate, with pastoral contrasts and a stormy finale, but he later describedthe finished work as tranquil in character and outline. This aptly describesthe opening, with its long-drawn Dorian melody from the strings. The thematicmaterial remains predominantly modal as the music unfolds in a version ofsonata form that has proved open to varied interpretation. This leads abruptlyenough to a second movement of gentle mystery, apparently simple in itsmaterial and seeming to draw inspiration from the Finnish countryside bathed innorthern spring light. There is vital energy in the scherzo, in its relentlessprogress, to be followed by the luminous chant-like opening of the final Allegromolto, developing into music of stormier intensity, before the close, witha string melody in which the Sibelius scholar Erik Tawaststjerna detectedtraces of traditional Kalevala motifs.
Sibelius wrote his incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest in1925 for a production of the play in 1926 by the Royal Danish Theatre inCopenhagen. In many ways the play presented a new challenge, after so manyyear, devoted to the composition of symphonies, and reflected, in a sense, hisown feelings. At the end of the play the exiled Duke of Milan, Prospero,abjures his magic. It was not long before Sibelius too would lay his pen aside.
The play, with its incidental music, was successfully staged in Copenhagen andsubsequently in Helsinki. From it Sibelius derived two suites, the first forfull orchestra and the second for a smaller ensemble. The latter opens with theethereal Chorus of the Winds , as Ariel describes how he has raisedthe tempest but preserved the king's ship and those now shipwrecked onProspero's island. The Intermezzo  comes between the third and fourthacts, reflecting the grief of Alonso, King of Naples, that his son Ferdinandseemingly i'the ooze is bedded, drowned. The Dance of the Nymphs ,a minuet, forms part of the masque conjured up by Prospero for Miranda andFerdinand, and Prospero himself is portrayed in formal grandeur in the fourthmovement of the suite . The two Songs  are both for Ariel; thefirst as Prospero commands the spirit to conjure up the harvest pageant in thefourth act, Before you can say 'Come', and 'Go'; and the second as Arielhelps Prospero don his robes in the final scene, Where the bee sucks, theresuck I. These are followed by a charming picture of the innocent youngMiranda , an entr'acte before the third act. The Naiads , sea-?¡nymphs,are represented in thoroughly Sibelian terms, as Ariel is seen in the guise ofa mermaid by the yellow sands, and the suite ends with the Dance Episode that follows Antonio's interrupted plot to murder Alonso.
In 1918 Sibelius had written to his loyal friend and supporter AlexCarpelan outlining his plans for three new symphonies. The third of these,Symphony No. 7 in C major, Opus 105, which was eventually completed in 1924 andgiven its first performance in Stockholm, was to have been in three movements,ending in a 'Hellenic rondo', and imbued with a feeling of Weltschmerz. Inthe ev