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Program Notes

10/13/2016


FRI NOV 18, 8 pm • SAT NOV 19, 8 pm

SANTTU-MATIAS ROUVALI conductor • JENNIFER KOH violinist

SMETANA (1824-1884)

Vltava (“The Moldau”), No. 2 from Má Vlast (“My Fatherland”)

ESA-PEKKA SALONEN (b.1958)

Violin Concerto

• Mirage
• Pulse I
• Pulse II
• Adieu

 

INTERMISSION

SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Symphony No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 104

• [Allegro]—Adagio—
• Allegro
• Largo
• Allegro non troppo. Allegro

SIBELIUS 

Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105

• Adagio—
• Un pochetto meno adagio. Vivacissimo. Adagio—
• Allegro molto moderato—
• Vivace. Presto; Adagio. Largamento molto. Affetuoso


Vltava (“The Moldau”), No. 2 from Má Vlast (“My Fatherland”)

Born: March 2, 1824 in Litomyšl , Bohemia | Died: May 12, 1884 in Prague

Work composed: November 20–December 8, 1874

Premiere: Adolf Čech conducted the first performance in Prague on April 4, 1875. Čech also was the first conductor to perform the cycle of six symphonic poems in its entirety, on November 5, 1882.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals a2, suspended cymbals, triangle, harp, strings

CSO subscription performances: 20 previous subscription weekends, plus several Pops, tour and regional concert performances

Premiere: March 1896 (Pike Opera House), Frank Van der Stucken conducting

Most Recent: March 2007, Paavo Järvi conducting:

Duration: approx. 12 min.

Smetana’s Má Vlast (“My Fatherland”)is a powerful example of musical nationalism. At the time of its conception, the Czech people were restless for a political independence that would allow them to experience fully and express their national identity. The independence of Bohemia had ended centuries earlier, and the Czech people had been under Austrian domination for a long time—too long a time, it was generally felt. Even Smetana himself, who became a musical spokesman for Czech nationalism, had grown up in a German-speaking family and had learned to write fluently in the Czech language only at the age of 40. Yet it was he—more than any other composer and possibly more than any other artist—who created a Czech national identity, first through a series of operas on nationalistic themes and then in his cycle of six symphonic poems, which he collectively called Má Vlast (“My Fatherland”).

This monumental cycle is, according to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition,
“a unique musical apotheosis of the homeland, of the country in which the existence of the nation is rooted, and a celebration of the countryside which for the emergent Czech nation was filled with mythical and historical reminiscences all bound up with a vision of the future.”

Má Vlast consists of six symphonic poems, which may be performed separately or as a six-movement cycle. Vyšehrad, the first work, is named for the royal palace in Prague, the ruins of which still overlook the city. The music depicts the tournaments and battles that took place at Vyšehrad, and tells the story of its destruction. The second piece, Vltava (also known as The Moldau), is a picture of the river that flows through the countryside from its sources to Prague and beyond. Smetana depicts musically what the Vltava passes by: a forest hunt, a village wedding, nymphs swimming by moonlight, ruined castles, rapids, Vyšehrad, and finally out to sea. Šárka is a musical portrayal of a Hungarian princess who takes revenge on all men because of her lover’s infidelity. The next work, From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests, is a musical picture of country life. The final two works invoke the struggles for national independence in 15th-century Bohemia. Tábor is named for a city that was the Hussite warriors’ headquarters during an uprising that symbolized Czech resistance to foreign domination. Blaník, the final work, is named for the hill where the defeated warriors awaited the opportunity to renew their efforts.

Shortly before beginning to compose Má Vlast, Smetana wrote to a friend,

I am going deaf.… It was in July that I noticed that the higher octaves in my ears were tuned at a different pitch. From time to time I had a rushing noise in my ears as if I were standing near a forceful waterfall. The condition was continuously changing until the end of the month, when it became permanent, being accompanied by spells of giddiness. I began to reel, and only by concentrating all my strength could I manage to walk straight.

Because of his deafness, Smetana was forced to resign his positions as Principal Conductor of the Prague Provisional Theater and Artistic Director of the Prague Opera School. He was no longer able to teach. Thus his previously substantial income dwindled to almost nothing. Since he could no longer support his wife, marital tensions increased.

Smetana’s deafness worsened. He sought help from various doctors, but to no avail. Shortly after the premiere of Vltava he was confined for four weeks to one small room in the clinic of a Dr. Zoufal.

They have begun the treatment rubbing ointment behind the ears and smearing it all over my body. I am isolated here and must remain so for a month or more. To play the piano is forbidden, and I am not even allowed to speak. May the good Lord help me!

When this treatment failed, Dr. Zoufal ordered it continued for another six weeks. The composer wrote in his diary,

I am condemned to interminable loneliness. Since I am neither allowed to move from the room nor talk to anyone, and no one is permitted to see me, I begin to wonder if I will ever speak again, indeed, if I will ever move, let alone hear again. I sit for hours staring into space and it seems as if I have been alone for nearly six months.… Oh, God, if only I could hear again!

The doctor gave up on this bizarre treatment, and Smetana returned home to ever-increasing marital battles. Betty Smetana, who had known high society and wealth but now found herself reduced to poverty, was in the humiliating position of having to accept charity from her stepdaughter. In addition, she found it all but impossible to live with a man who could not hear what she said, who was constantly shouting, and who was morbid and withdrawn.

Smetana submitted to another desperate medical procedure to try to cure his deafness.

First [Doctor] Klima pierced me behind the ears with an instrument called a bunky, and then in the neck. He oiled my ears and neck, and promised that within three days I would be able to hear again.… Instead of being able to hear, I have only a swollen neck. I am as deaf as before, and Klima cannot understand why I do not hear. For my part, I cannot understand how he could have cured me.

Nonetheless, Smetana allowed Klima to try again seven months later.

The source of Smetana’s deafness was syphilis, which was not curable in the 1870s. The composer finally had to accept not only his permanent isolation from external sound but also the interminable rushing sound that was constantly in his ears. “It is even stronger when my head is active and less noticeable when I am quiet. When I compose it is always in evidence.”

Although Smetana was devastated over his deafness and its effect on his personal, social and artistic life, he continued to write music. In fact, his social isolation forced him to withdraw into himself and thus he became more productive than ever. Five of the six tone poems of Má Vlast were created during the first years of his deafness.

How is it possible, one may wonder, for a deaf person to compose music? Composers imagine the sounds of their music in their minds. They usually do not need to rely on the actual physical sounds of instruments. If they compose at the piano at all, for example, it is more for convenience than necessity. Smetana, like Beethoven before him, was already an experienced composer when he lost his hearing. He knew exactly what his music sounded like, without having actually to listen to it.

Smetana did not pour his heart out into compositions of personal anguish. Instead, he continued the nationalism of his recently completed opera Libuše. He created the Ma Vlast cycle in praise of his native country, its people, its countryside and its heroic past. Two days after completing Vyšehrad Smetana began The Moldau, or Vltava. By the end of 1877 he had added Šárka and From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests, but the composer was not finished. Four symphonic poems needed to be expanded to six.

I have completed in these three years of deafness more than I had otherwise done in ten; besides many piano pieces, I have written the tetralogy for large orchestras with the title Fatherland.… These pieces have been performed in Prague with unexpected success, and…[this] is persuading me not to finish here but to enlarge the cycle with other movements.

By the time the set was completed in 1879, it had grown to six pieces—almost an entire evening’s concert when played together.

Má Vlast was enormously popular, but it brought the composer little financial reward. Although desperately poor, he agreed to sell the rights to a publisher for a small sum with no royalties. He remained poor until the end of his life, five years after the completion of Blaník, the last of the Fatherland pieces.

The syphilis which had caused his deafness eventually affected Smetana’s memory. “I tend to lose my memory when composing, so that if a movement is too long I cannot remember the principal melody. If the working out takes some time, I forget the qualities of the melody and look on it as if it were the work of a stranger.”

Shortly before entering the Prague Lunatic Asylum, where he was to die, the composer wrote, “I, a musician, have had my hearing destroyed. Why, I have never even heard the little voices of my own grandchildren!… If martyrs are still born, then I am the unhappiest of them all, for fate has sentenced me to a silent tomb where voices are unknown!”

Smetana’s illness spread to his brain and throughout his body. He lost his mental faculties completely. Deaf like Beethoven, mentally ill like Schumann, syphilitic like Schubert, Smetana continued to compose as long as possible. When he could no longer practice his art, his unhappy life came to an end.

KEYNOTE. Smetana provided explanatory prefaces for each of the six symphonic poems. He headed the score of Vltava with this paragraph:

The composition depicts the course of the river, from its beginning where two springs, one cold and the other warm, join to form a stream, which runs through forests and meadows and a lovely countryside where merry feasts are celebrated; water-sprites dance in the moonlight; on nearby rocks can be seen the outline of ruined castles, proudly soaring into the sky. The Moldau swirls through the St. John rapids and flows as a broad river toward Prague. It passes Vyšehrad and disappears majestically into the distance, where it joins the Elbe.

The undulating figures of the opening, which represent the springs, are present in much of the succeeding music. The piece grows and develops as it follows the course of the Vltava (The Moldau), growing from its sources into a mighty river. The opening depicts the two springs. The flutes, playing a constant running figure, represent one spring. The clarinets join in, playing the same music in inversion to show that the second spring is warm whereas the first is cold. The Moldau theme enters in strings when the two streams join. Horn and trumpet fanfares indicate that people are hunting in the dense forests on the Moldau’s banks. The texture finally changes to a rhythmic polka, mainly in strings, danced at a rustic wedding. A veiled high melody in the violins, accompanied by running woodwind figuration, represents the water-sprites dancing in the moonlight. The Moldau theme returns, along with underlying undulations in the strings. The swirling sounds become louder and more turbulent as the river flows through St. John’s Rapids (which, incidentally, no longer exist, because of a dam having been built). A majestic statement of the main theme portrays the broad river that the Moldau has become. In the final section, the river flows by and salutes Vyšehrad. Here Smetana quotes the theme from the first work of Má Vlast. Afterwards, the sounds of the river die away as it flows into the distance. Two full chords bring the symphonic poem to a close.

Jonathan D. Kramer

Violin Concerto

Born: June 30, 1958, Helsinki, Finland

Work composed: 2008–2009

Premiere: April 9, 2009 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by the composer with Leila Josefowicz as soloist

Instrumentation: solo violin, 3 flutes (incl. alto flute, piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, bass drum, glockenspiel, log drum, marimba, tam-tam, 4 tom-toms, tuned gongs, vibraphone, drum set, harp, celeste, strings

CSO subscription performances: CSO premiere

Duration: approx. 30 min.

Conducting is tough, composing probably even harder, but some of the most brilliant musicians—Busoni, Mahler, Bernstein, Boulez, Previn—have pursued parallel careers in both fields that enriched all facets of their creative personalities. To this select company must be added the Finnish composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. Born in Helsinki on June 30, 1958, Salonen majored in horn at the Sibelius Conservatory, where he founded a “collective” called Ears Open for promoting and performing new music with Jouni Kaipainen, Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho, now all major musical figures in Finland. After graduating in 1977, Salonen studied composition privately with Einojuhani Rautavaara and conducting with Jorma Panula, and attended conducting courses in Siena and Darmstadt; he also studied composition with Niccolò Castiglioni and Franco Donatoni in Italy.

In 1979, Salonen made his professional conducting debut with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and he was soon engaged as a guest conductor across Scandinavia. Successful appearances conducting Wozzeck at the Swedish Royal Opera and the Mahler Symphony No. 3 with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London led to his appointment as conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1985, a post he held until 1995. He was principal guest conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic from 1984 to 1989, and of the London Philharmonia from 1985 to 1994; he has also held positions with the New Stockholm Chamber Orchestra, Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Helsinki Festival and London Sinfonietta. Salonen made his American debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984, and was that orchestra’s music director from 1992 until 2009; he was named the ensemble’s Conductor Laureate in April 2009. Since 2008, he has been Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. He also continues to guest conduct concerts and opera throughout the world and to serve as artistic director of the Baltic Sea Festival, which he co-founded in 2003.

Esa-Pekka Salonen was the first-ever Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich in 2014–15, after which he was appointed to be the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic for a four-year term. Salonen is the recipient of several major awards, including the Grawemeyer Award (for the 2009 Violin Concerto, written for Leila Josefowicz), Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition from Northwestern University, Siena Prize from the Accademia Chigiana (the first conductor ever to receive that distinction), Royal Philharmonic Society’s Opera Award and Conductor Award, honorary doctorates from the Sibelius Academy, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and University of Southern California, and the Helsinki Medal. In 1998, he was awarded the rank of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. Musical America named him its “2006 Musician of the Year.” On July 26, 2012, he was chosen to carry the Olympic Flame as part of the 2012 London Summer Games torch relay.

Though his widest recognition has been as a conductor, Salonen is also an accomplished composer, and he has devoted increasing time to his creative work since leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (“I actually think of myself more as a composer than a conductor,” he said in 1998.) His early compositions, including a Saxophone Concerto, an orchestral piece titled Giro and a few works for solo instruments and unconventional chamber groupings, are rooted in the avant-garde enthusiasms of his student days, but since his LA Variations of 1996, written for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, his work has been more immediate and easily approachable.

Salonen composed his Violin Concerto in 2008–09 for Leila Josefowicz, who premiered it with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on April 9, 2009 under his direction; the work won the 2012 Grawemeyer Prize from the University of Louisville, one of the most distinguished awards for musical composition. Salonen noted that the Concerto was written at a pivotal time in his professional and personal life:

“My long and very happy tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was coming to an end. After 17 years I had decided it was time to move on and try to devote more time for composing. It felt like a seismic shift in my life, and during the composing process of the Violin Concerto I felt that I was somehow trying to sum up everything I had learned and experienced up to that point in my life as a musician. This sense of having reached a watershed was heightened by the fact that I had just turned 50, the kind of number that brutally wipes out any hallucinations of still being young. There is a strong internal, private narrative in my Concerto, and it is not a coincidence that the last movement is called Adieu.

“I composed my Violin Concerto between June 2008 and March 2009. Nine months, the length of human gestation, a beautiful coincidence. I decided to cover as wide a range of expression as I could imagine over its four movements: from the virtuosic and flashy to the aggressive and brutal, from the meditative and static to the nostalgic and autumnal. This concerto is a kind of summary of my experiences as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of fifty.

“I. Mirage. The violin starts alone, as if the music had been going on for some time already. Very light bell-like sounds comment on the virtuosic line here and there. Suddenly we zoom in to maximum magnification: the open strings of the violin continue their resonance, but amplified; the light playfulness has been replaced by an extreme close-up of the strings, now played by the cellos and basses; the sound is dark and resonant. Zoom out again, and back in after a while. The third close-up leads into a recitative. The solo violin is playing an embellished melodic line that leads into some impossibly fast music. The music zooms out once again at the very end, this time straight up in the air. The violin follows. Finally all movement stops on the note D, which leads to… 

“II. Pulse I. All is quiet, static. I imagined a room, silent: all you can hear is the heartbeat of the person next to you in bed, sound asleep. You cannot sleep, but there is no angst, just some gentle, diffuse thoughts on your mind. Finally the first rays of the sun can be seen through the curtains, here represented by the flutes.

“III. Pulse II. The pulse is no longer a heartbeat. This music is bizarre and urban, heavily leaning towards popular culture with traces of (synthetic) folk music. The violin is pushed to its very limits physically.

“IV. Adieu. This is not a specific farewell to anything in particular. It is more related to the very basic process of nature, of something coming to an end and something new being born out of the old. Of course this music has a strong element of nostalgia, and some of the short outbursts of the full orchestra are almost violent, but I tried to illuminate the harmony from within. Not with big gestures, but with light ones.

“When I had written the very last chord of the piece I felt confused: why does the last chord—and only that—sound completely different from all the other harmony of the piece? As if it belonged to a different composition. Now I believe I have the answer. That chord is a beginning of something new. I saw it as a door to the next part of my life of which I didn’t know so much yet, a departure with all the thrills and fears of the unknown.”

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda

 

Symphony No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 104

Born: December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, Finland   | Died: September 20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland

Work composed: November 1914–February 1923 

Premiere: February 19, 1923 in Helsinki with the composer conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, harp, strings

CSO subscription performances: One previous subscription weekend, September 2001, Paavo Järvi conducting  

Duration: approx. 28 min.

The Sixth Symphony was composed during a difficult period for Sibelius. Yet its surface is often untroubled, which may indicate that an artist’s circumstances do not necessarily correlate with the nature of his art.

Finland was internally torn during the First World War. Some people, mainly of the upper classes, remained loyal to the Russian Tsarists, while other Finns felt allegiance to Germany. Sibelius was deeply affected by the war, both emotionally and practically. He was emotionally disturbed by the constant reports of killings. His royalty income was drastically reduced because Finland, a Russian province, was cut off from Germany, where most of Sibelius’ compositions had been published and were being performed. German musicians no longer wanted to perform music by a composer living in a country that was part of their enemy’s empire, nor did the Russians support performances of music by a composer whose music was published in an enemy land. Furthermore, Russia—and hence Finland—refused to sign the Berne Convention on Copyright, and thus Sibelius could not receive the foreign royalties rightly due to him. He had hoped to earn income by conducting his works in other countries—including possibly another tour to North America—but the German submarine campaign, which culminated in the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania, made such travel impossible.

Sibelius had made plans for three new symphonies, including the Fifth and Sixth and what eventually became the tone poem Tapiola, but there was no point in writing large-scale pieces which would not be widely performed as long as Europe was engulfed in war. Instead, he wrote small pieces for particular occasions, music sometimes of unabashed triviality—an activity that brought in only an inadequate income. He dreamed of writing his three symphonies, but was able to do little more than dabble with their materials.

The composer did manage to finish the Fifth Symphony (in a version he then withdrew, in order to make what turned out be a series of drastic recompositions over the next four years), but he was able to do little more than think about the Sixth. Sibelius had hoped that the war would last but three months, but it dragged on and on. Even his few conducting engagements in Scandinavian countries stopped. Deprived not only of income but also of the excitement of traveling to other countries to present his works, Sibelius felt like a prisoner in his own home. His financial and emotional tensions led to marital problems and to the resumption (after seven years of abstinence) of his excessive drinking and smoking—which his doctor had forbidden and which disgusted his wife (it should be noted that, despite his uncontrollable fondness for alcohol and tobacco, Sibelius lived well into his 90s).

In January 1917, partly to escape his frustrations over the Fifth Symphony, and partly to turn away from the tensions in his personal life, Sibelius plunged into the composition of the Sixth Symphony, finally in earnest. But it was difficult for him to concentrate, because wartime political pressures were escalating and coming closer to home. In nearby Russia, the Bolsheviks mounted the October Revolution. Seeing an opportunity for independence, Finland acted quickly, hoping to take advantage of the confusion in Russia. The new Soviet government granted Finland its sovereignty, and Russian troops were withdrawn from the new country. The move to independence had been achieved without violence, but soon Finland erupted in a civil war in which leftists (Reds, oriented toward Russia) and conservatives (Whites, oriented toward Germany) vied for power.

Not surprisingly, Sibelius’ sympathies were with the Whites. Deeply troubled by the civil war, he composed a march, the Jäger Marsch, that the White troops sang during their campaigns. He may have sympathized with the Whites, but he was not prepared to go so far as to advocate pro-German sentiments exclusively. Adding to his complicated political situation was the Red occupation of Sibelius’ town of Järvenpää, which led to the composer being forbidden to leave his home. He recorded in his diary, “All educated people are in danger for their lives. Murder upon murder. Soon, no doubt, my hour will come, for I must be especially hateful to them as the composer of the Jäger Marsch.” In fact, the Red troops did not know who Sibelius was. When they searched his house for food and arms, they had no idea that they were in the presence of a celebrity who had written one of their enemy’s war songs.

Neither the end of World War I nor the end of the civil war terminated Finland’s problems. The new country had trouble gaining international recognition, and so Sibelius’ royalties were not restored. Some money did come in once the Fifth Symphony was finally completed in its final form and performed in several cities. But the composer, who had always had a taste for high living, drank most of the money. Scenes of public as well as domestic drunkenness led to increased marital tensions. Sibelius was still unable to concentrate on the new symphony, and instead he continued to turn out potboilers in the hopes of earning some quick remuneration. By 1920, six years after he had begun to plan the Sixth Symphony, he still had little idea of its overall shape.

As life in Finland gradually returned to normal, Sibelius found himself once again in the public eye. A frequent social guest, he could not find uninterrupted time to devote to the new symphony, which demanded intense concentrations because of its unique nature. And his financial situation was still precarious: postwar inflation made his Germany royalties almost worthless, and the cessation of trade with Russia had devastated the Finnish economy.

A lifeline of sorts was thrown to Sibelius in August 1920. He was offered a position as director of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, for a princely salary. He would be expected to teach and to conduct several concerts of his works. The composer was ambivalent: although he had enjoyed the United States on a previous visit, he was unsure about moving there. And he had always resisted academic positions. But the monetary offer was nearly irresistible. His spirits lifted, and he was finally able to increase his compositional activities. Still not ready for the demands of the Sixth Symphony, however, he tried to compose still more commercially viable smaller pieces.

His longtime friend Rosa Newmarch tried to dissuade him from moving to America:

I beg you not to squander your energies teaching young American harmony and orchestration.… They can find all that by studying your works. You are a composer, not a pedagogue, possibly the greatest creative musician of our times—and certainly one of the noblest and most individual. That is your mission. Au diable les dollars! Spend the summer in Järvenpää; don’t smoke too many Corona cigars for the sake of your finances; don’t drink too often…; and compose your Sixth (on the Almighty’s command). This will give your life real meaning. You do not have the right to freely dispose of those years that remain to you, which most certainly do not belong to young Americans.

Seeing the wisdom of these sentiments, Sibelius declined the Eastman offer. His most challenging works to date—the Fourth and Fifth symphonies—were beginning to be played in many countries, often to positive responses. Sibelius gradually came to realize that his destiny lay not in composing trifles expected to earn a bit of money, and not in teaching, but in creating large original works. He was finally ready to devote himself wholeheartedly to the Sixth Symphony. In September 1922 he turned his full attention to this demanding work. By the following February he completed the symphony that had plagued him for nearly a decade.

KEYNOTE. Biographer Guy Rickards aptly describes the unique sound-world of Sibelius’ Sixth Symphony:

The character of the music is unlike anything else in the modern repertoire. It captures in sound the rarified, limpid quality of the light of the Nordic countries, and is almost—though not quite—bereft of the “wild and impassioned” character he had forecast…in 1918. There is a luminosity in its textures that is in stark contrast to the heroism depicted in the Fifth Symphony, seeming to depict the streams and forests of his country in full flood of spring—the same landscape, perhaps, as that conjured up in the Fourth, but in a more benevolent season…. In it he [has] given expression to the “rare sense of rapture” he had experienced as a boy in Hämeenlinna, and there is a pronounced mystical atmosphere. This led him to comment how when so many other composers were concocting strange cocktails of outlandish colors, he offered “pure, cold water” (the most refreshing drink of all). “In any case,” he declared, “I do not think of a symphony only as music in this or that number of bars, but rather as an expression of a spiritual creed, a phase in one’s inner life.”

What is it in the music that creates its unique atmosphere? One of the important factors is its use of the Dorian mode, adopted from Sibelius’ study of renaissance music (he was deeply involved with the music of Palestrina and Monteverdi at the time of his most intense work on the Sixth Symphony). Sibelius lists the symphony as being in D minor, but D Dorian would be a more accurate description of its pitch organization. The Dorian scale uses the white notes (e.g., on a piano keyboard) but with D rather than C as the central pitch.

Sibelius’ music only occasionally actually invokes that of the renaissance (the very beginning of the symphony is one of those places). More often, Sibelius has his own idea of how to use the Dorian mode, derived from Finnish folk music. Whereas a composer like Palestrina would normally raise the note C to C-sharp, in order to drive the music toward a cadence on D, Sibelius generally uses the purer form of C-natural. The result is a music with less pointed drives, a music of cool placidity. This Dorian flavor infuses the entire symphony.

Jonathan D. Kramer

Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105

Work composed: Although plans for it date back to 1918, Sibelius set to work in earnest on the Seventh Symphony while on a trip to Italy in March 1923. He completed the piece on March 2, 1924.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. 2 piccolos), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

CSO subscription performances: 10 previous subscription weekends 

Premiere: April 1939, Eugene Goossens conducting

Most recent: September 2005, Paavo Järvi conducting

Duration: approx. 21 min.

Sibelius is not generally thought of as an innovator. He never indulged in the extravagantly original orchestral colors of Richard Strauss; he never experimented with new harmonies to the extent that Claude Debussy did; he was never interested in the emotionally charged dissonances of Arnold Schoenberg or the massive collages of Charles Ives; he was never attracted to the exciting new rhythms of Igor Stravinsky. Yet, in his own quiet way, Sibelius was an original composer. His innovations were more subtle than those of his contemporaries. Sibelius experimented with form: using traditional sounds he found new ways to integrate large-scale compositions. While his interest in new means of continuity and development is evident as early as the Second Symphony, it reaches its culmination in the one-movement Seventh Symphony.

Sibelius was not the only composer to recast a traditionally multi-movement form as one continuous piece. Several earlier composers wrote symphonies in which the individual movements are not separated by pauses (in Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, for example, the beginning of one movement follows immediately the end of the preceding one). Eliminating a pause is a simple matter; replacing it with a transition (as in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) is a more sophisticated procedure. Some composers went beyond inter-movement transitions and telescoped two movements into one (in Franck’s D Minor Symphony the slow movement includes a scherzo interlude). Other composers tried to cast a traditional three- or four-movement form continuously: Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto and Schoenberg’s First String Quartet and First Chamber Symphony, for example.

These earlier pieces, though interesting and original, do not go as far as the Sibelius Seventh, which is a thoroughly symphonic composition in one continuous movement that does not readily subdivide into independent sections. It is a sweeping, concentrated, highly integrated work. There are elements of sonata form and of rondo form, but the Seventh does not fit such traditional molds.

The composer was reluctant to call the work a symphony at first, so far removed is its structure from that of a classical symphony. At its premiere it was listed as Fantasia sinfonica. Only later did Sibelius realize that its scope warranted its inclusion in his symphonic canon. We should not be perplexed by the lack of common characteristics between a classical symphony and the Sibelius Seventh. What the music is counts far more than what the composer chose to call it. The word “symphony” originally referred to a form, but by 1924 it indicated more a genre. It suggested a degree of seriousness, a stature and a grandness, but no longer a structural mold.

Sibelius once spoke about the nature of a symphony with another composer who redefined symphonic form—Gustav Mahler. Sibelius later recalled:

…contact between us was established in some walks during which we discussed all the great questions of music very thoroughly from every angle. When our conversation touched on the nature of the symphony, I said that I admired its style and severity of form and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motives.… Mahler’s opinion was just the opposite. “No! The symphony must be like the world. It must be all-embracing.”

The severity, the restrictions, the tightly controlled structural logic of Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony (qualities that necessitated a one-movement form) are the aesthetic opposite of the sprawling, visionary panorama of, for example, Mahler’s Third Symphony. And both of these symphonies are equally far removed from the classical forms of Mozart and Haydn.

Sibelius was correct to speak of an inner logic of motivic connection. The Seventh Symphony contains several independent motives, such as the rising scale that opens the work, that pervade the music. These motives are subjected to variation and development, but they are rarely expanded into complete melodies. The one outright melody is the powerful trombone solo that is heard in three different places. Each time it is treated in a magnificently contrapuntal fashion that leads to a wonderfully climactic intensification. Notice how, at its first appearance a few minutes into the symphony, the trombone sound cuts through the entire orchestra. And notice the wonderfully expansive music the orchestra is playing: after a certain tonal tentativeness, the music has at last reached its home key of C major with a wonderful sense of stability. The increasing complexity of the counterpoint on subsequent appearances of the trombone theme recalls the music of the 16th-century composer Giovanni Palestrina, whom Sibelius greatly admired and carefully studied.

—Jonathan D. Kramer