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the Sibelius appreciation thread!

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Initial post: May 1, 2011 6:01:16 AM PDT
Skaynan says:
The discussion in the Tapiola thread shown that many people here in the forum are not familiar with Sibelius' music and would like to know more about the composer and his works. 

A discussion about Tapiola is hardly the right place for it, since it (along with his 4th symphony) constitute the hardest music Sibelius ever wrote. I would never recommend the piece for anyone but the biggest fan of the composer. 

Anyway, I was surprised to discover that Sibelius is almost non existent in this forum. I don't know why is that so, but it's a pity, and I'm starting this discussion to remedy that. 

So let's talk some Sibelius, for the benefit of all the readers who would like to start listening to his music, or want to dig deeper into this amazing repertoire. What's your favorite pieces? What performances will you recommend? Let's talk all things Sibelius. 

Posted on May 1, 2011 7:07:06 AM PDT
D. Aldehyde says:
I heard the Sibelius violin concerto the other day for the first time. I don't think I fully got it.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 7:09:35 AM PDT
JRJoseph says:
Skaynan, I love most Sibelius which seems to put me in a small group. Bernstein made symphony recordings which I have and like a lot. For the bulk of my Sibelius collection (about 25 CDs), I usually buy the BIS version. I believe They have recorded just about every Sibelius work in excellent performances and great sound. Only negative is their fairly high prices. Look for sales. Good new topic.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 7:16:19 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 1, 2011 7:16:57 AM PDT
D. Aldehyde

One off-throwing thing about the violin concerto is the development section of the first movement is basically a huge cadenza. Listen to it again with that in mind and it might help.

Posted on May 1, 2011 7:34:14 AM PDT
D. Pugh says:
Sibelius' violin concerto is my favorite work of his and for me it's only behind Brahms and Beethoven among all violin concertos. Here is a great recording of it that's dirt cheap.

Sibelius, Nielsen: Violin Concertos

Posted on May 1, 2011 9:17:04 AM PDT
T. Anderson says:
aahhh! sibelius! among my favorite composers. i love his symphonies (!!!!!!!!!), and it's difficult to pick favorites. offhand, maybe 2, 3 & 6. as for recordings, my only experience is the colin davis set i have with the london symphony orchestra (not one of my favorite orchestra's, although they sound good here). i do have a 5th by the sinfonia lahti conducted by osmo vanska. the reason i picked that up is because it includes the original 4-movement version of the 5th from 1915. very interesting, although i can see why he trimmed it down.

the violin concerto is ok, but not among my favorites, which are the usual suspects (tchaikovsky, mozart).

his other instrumental music is very good as well, although i never really "got" finlandia. i don't see what all the fuss is about. rakastava is among my favorites of all time.

Posted on May 1, 2011 9:43:46 AM PDT
HB says:
I have always enjoyed classical music with a strong rhythm. I guess that is why the Sibelius 3rd is one of my favorite works. It is almost Sibelius looking back to the classical era composers. It is rarely played live but there are some outstanding recordings. My favorite is Bernstein/NY Phil. I really wish conductors would have a little more backbone and play great works like this one. They might just find that the audience really enjoys it.

Posted on May 1, 2011 10:28:35 AM PDT
Thomas E. says:
Bis is almost done releasing every single piece Sibelius ever wrote (excepting the 8th symphony, of course...). The 12th edition (out of 13) of their complete Sibelius project will be released next month, containing the symphonies. The last edition, containing organ music, masonic music and other miscellania, will be out in the fall. These editions are very highly recommended. And they include EVERYTHING. Every single little variation and version that still exists, many of which have never been recorded before.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 11:20:09 AM PDT
T. Anderson says:
oh, no! why'd you have to say that! i sense money leaving my possession in the near future!

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 12:58:15 PM PDT
Ahmad says:
You should not have mentioned complete sets, not again! could you check this link and let me know if its the one you recommended, or recommend?

Posted on May 1, 2011 1:26:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 1, 2011 1:27:43 PM PDT
this is american product linkThe Essential Sibelius [Box Set]
It has a fair amount of 'non essential' stuff in my opinion plus it misses some things I rather like, those let strange little 'suites' op96-98. on here Sibelius: Spring Song, Op.16/The Bard, Op.64 and even the second set of 'historical scenes' which I like more than the first.
Oh well, a great compilation at a great price and I'm nitpicking.

Good overview and made me realize that I wasn't missing much in his piano music.
sometimes unknown things from a great composer are 'neglected' for a good reason.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 4:47:51 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 1, 2011 4:54:06 PM PDT
K.J. McGilp says:

I agree. The Third is performed fairly regularly these days. I have always found it to be the most approachable symphony of the seven, plus Kullervo. I instantly liked the Third when I first heard it.
The fact that optimum popularity has eluded this symphony is not much of an issue with me. I had the pleasure of seeing Sir Colin Davis conduct the LSO in performances of the 3rd and 5th symphonies.
The 3rd contains great nobility and marvellous compositional economy. It is big sounding but is not as sprawling as the epic 2nd. There is more control. It's neo-classical in spirit and contains great bursts of energy as well as exquisite sensitivity. It is so easy to like.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 5:38:47 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 1, 2011 5:41:58 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 5:38:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 1, 2011 5:45:10 PM PDT
Tero says:
BIS recording techniques are minimalist, but they do good work.

I've never had a poor Ondine recording
Sibelius is on their special page.
Boxed set

>>Ondine is proud to announce a change in ownership to Naxos International. The leading Finnish classical recording label remains an independent unit within the Naxos group organization and its release policy will remain unaffected. <<

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 5:39:15 PM PDT
Thomas E. says:
Ahmad, no, I mean the Sibelius Edition sets. It's the complete Sibelius, but released in 13 separate sets. You can read about them here:

The set you linked to has many of the recordings in the complete sets, though, and should be perfect if you only want the best works.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2011 5:51:01 PM PDT
KenOC says:
All this made me listen to Sibelius's 3rd again. Great music. I noticed a very striking passage in the 1st movement (repeated) that was stolen for the Lord of the Rings music...

Posted on May 1, 2011 8:11:46 PM PDT

the above is the only Tolkien film music I know,

because 'south park' borrowed it.

Posted on May 1, 2011 11:33:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 2, 2011 2:28:21 AM PDT
Skaynan says:
KenOC: oh, yeah. My wife and I were laughing about it the first time we heard the 3rd.

Another appropriation: Pohjola's Daughter and Psycho shower scene music!

Pohjola's Daughter, by the way, is a another one of my favorite Sibelius pieces. I think it's one of the best tone poems ever written. My favorite recording is Vanska+Lahti.

Posted on May 2, 2011 9:44:01 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 2, 2011 9:46:19 AM PDT
Skaynan says:
My favorite Sibelius works:

The symphonies:
S#1: This is my least favorite of the seven, but that doesn't make it a bad work. It's quite good actually, and can be a pleasant entry point for new Sibelians. The second movement in particular is quite famous and strikingly beautiful.

S#2: This is the big one. One of the greatest symphonies ever written. No music lover can claim himself a true music lover without being familiar with this magnificent score. And it's so beautiful, so romantic, that it doesn't require any particular effort on the part of the listener (as many of Sibelius' later great works do require), thus can also be an excellent entry point for aspiring Sibelians. Highlights include... well, the whole thing is one big highlight, but the finale is out of this world. You'll be hard pressed to decide which of the 3 themes there is actually the "main theme"... As is often the case with Sibelius, all three ARE main themes, all three are actually developments of material already heard in previous movements (another characteristic feature of Sibelius), and the whole thing is absolutely gorgeous. This music is as beautiful as anything Tchaikovsky ever produced, only backed up with extremely strong intellect and very tight formal integration and structural coherence. A masterpiece.

S#3: I view this work as transitional for Sibelius, it marks his departure from late romantic style. This work is neo-classical in outlook, only the term was not even invented at the time of it's writing. It was written in 1907, long before Prokofiev's classical symphony (with which it share some traits), Stravinsky's neo-classical efforts, Britten, whoever, it precedes them all. The neo-classical outlook, however, is all there, and the result is marvelous, if not, as it turns out, very popular. I wouldn't recommend it as the first Sibelius music to listen too. A special place for me holds it's 2nd movement: one of the most beautiful things ever written, it was the first music I liked of Sibelius, and it all opened up for me from there.

S#4: This one is a tough cookie indeed, in Sibelius' own time as it is now. Consider it was written in 1911, it's just amazing how "modern" the whole thing sounds. It's not serial music, of course, but it's so dissonant that it may just as well sound close to serialism. The dissonants stem from the fact that the main thematic material all throughout is based on dissonant intervals: Tritones and semitones. But once you get to know that music it becomes one of the deepest, most rewarding pieces of music I ever heard. If you think Mahler's 6th is "tragic", pray give Sibelius' 4th a listen and think again. This IS tragic with a capital "T". The magic is, and that's the core of Sibelius' magic for me, that he somehow manages to make all the dissonants and extreme chromatism sound so beautiful! How does he do that? All in all, that's why I hold him in such high regard. Only Beethoven(the grosse feugue) was able to make such hardcore music sound so amazing.

S#5: The other "big one". The BBC used this music as background for some show about Mars... and once you listen to this gorgeous piece you can imagine why. Cast in 3 movements with the scherzo incorporated in the 1st movement, it is as revolutionary as it is beautiful. And again I must say something about the Finale, with its famous "Swan" theme (it's called the Swan theme because Sibelius said it occurred to him when he seen swans in the sky above Ainola, his house, but I really don't think it sounds like a swan... what do I know). According to Wikipedia this theme was appropriated to countless rock and pop songs. Good for them. Again, this music is absolutely amazing, it's structurally tight as can be, economic in its outlook, but the listener doesn't care about this stuff: it just sounds like nothing else, and it just sounds amazing. Small wonder this music is so popular. It's easy to forget that we are not at all in the romantic idiom at all. We are somewhere else entirely.

S#6: The least known and performed of Sibelius' symphonies, it is beautiful in its own ethereal , tentative expressiveness as the 5th is beautiful for its grand themes. I'm not sure why Sibelius had decided to go this way, but it's important to note that the whole score is on D dorian (D minor with C natural instead of C sharp) and this fact give the piece a very strange "feel". Maybe that's why it eludes familiarity.

S#7: The last "big one". This single movement symphony is considered by many to be one of the greatest 20th century masterpieces. It is amazing music to be sure, but again I should warn newcomers that this is NOT the place to start listening to Sibelius. Once you know his language, this symphony becomes indeed his best. But I think it's impossible to appreciate without the proper introduction to Sibelius via his other, less radical compositions first.

Oh, well, I wanted to go on with my favorite tone poems, Kullervo, etc, but this is enough for now. If you guys like this little survey, I'll go on with the rest of the music soon, along with a couple of my recommended recordings for each piece.

In reply to an earlier post on May 2, 2011 9:56:15 AM PDT
KenOC says:
Skaynan, thumbs up for your excellent post. This is helpful for people (like me) who are "getting into" the symphonies. Next installment please!

Posted on May 2, 2011 10:36:48 AM PDT
HB says:

I concur with KenOC. Your breakdown of the 7 Sibelius symphonies is really excellent. Since you appear to love the slow movement of the 3rd symphony, I was wondering how you felt about the slow movement of the Karelia Suite. It is one of my favorites, especially gorgeous in the original edition with vocal soloist.

In reply to an earlier post on May 2, 2011 12:42:40 PM PDT
Tero says:
>>S#4: This one is a tough cookie indeed, in Sibelius' own time as it is now.<<

I have a bit of a hard time with it at the start. The last movement starts to get where I can grasp some of it, but then towards the real end....where does it go?

Posted on May 2, 2011 6:59:58 PM PDT
<<I have a bit of a hard time with it at the start. The last movement starts to get where I can grasp some of it, but then towards the real end....where does it go?
it disappears into a pit. A very deep one, Sibelius had to compose the fifth in order to dig himself out of that pit.
don't believe me? listen to 'the oceanides' and 'the bard' and tell me they weren't composed while living in a pit.

Posted on May 3, 2011 3:51:35 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 3, 2011 3:53:19 AM PDT
Joe Anthony says:
I see Sibelius as belonging to those great composers of who composed in the grand fashion of the Late-Romantic era. Like Mahler, Bruckner, Nielsen and Richard Strauss; Sibelius' music is lush and majestic; and mostly orchestral. In contrast, however, to those other composers which I've mentioned, Sibelius seems to be further removed from Wagnerian influence which runs deep in Mahler, Bruckner, Nielsen and Richard Strauss.

Indeed, the German ideal seems to be expressed in most Late-Romantic composers by way of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Both Mahler and Bruckner semed to re-writing the Ninth in many of their symphonies, especially with the thundering introductions and soaring Adagios; at the same time the language they speak is very much a product of Wagner; in that sweeping dramatic style.

In contrast, I read where Sibelius adhered more to Beethoven's late string quartets; in that his music is as majestic, yet after a sound that is more mysterious and pastoral.

Add to that, a certain strain in Sibelius which I feel echoes Tchaikovsky and some other elements of the Russian school. While Sibelius doesn't come to fully represent the sad, suffering and soulful music of Russia; he does seem to express himself using similar devises which seem closer to Tchaikovsky than Wagner.

In all of that Sibelius is no copier of style. He's an original. His music is instantly recognizable in a blind-fold test. Many music appreciate texts categorize Sibelius as a nationalist, but I don't know if I agree with that; in that there is nothing in his music that seems to build upon his native Finnish folk music.

...and, yet, one cannot escape the stirring images of the northern beauty of clean lakes and clear sky in his wonderful music.

My favorite works by Sibelius:

Symphony #2 (it's loud and sweeping in the grand fashion of the Late-Romantic era; Leonard Bernstein's recording with the Vienna Philharmonic play with precision but also bold pronouncement)

Symphony #4 (it's cool and dark; avoids the long developments of most Late-Romantic music, but still retains a majestic quality; I like Karajan's recording with the outstanding Berlin Philharmonic)

Symphony #5 (it seems to reflect Sibelius' "bardic" qualities; quite lyrical; less aggressive than the 2nd; more optomistic than the 4th; again I go with Bernstein and the Vienna Philharminic)

Symphony #7 (in one movement, it's slushy and cold; but also a tight orchestral statement; again, I pick Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic).

Violin Concerto (While any number of David Oistrakh's recordings are fine; I've recently come by a recording by a violinist I've never heard of until quite recently: Christian Ferras' recording with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic is crisp and clean; as opposed to Oistrakh's sad Russian sound)

Finlandia, Valse Triste, the Swan of Toulena (all outstaning, among the first musical pieces that sparked my interest in the classical genre; all reflect the poetic nature and grand style of Sibelius)

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2011 6:06:36 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 3, 2011 6:14:09 AM PDT
Tero says:
Symphony #4
I have the Karajan. They come in a box of 3 discs, wtih a couple like #2 by Kamu.

I tried to make a Sibelius sampler. The symphonies take so much room, that it only works as a iPod playlist, mine runs 90 minutes and only has Symphony 2, tone poems etc. I guess I would have to whittle it to two symphonies on one disc, the rest on another.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  61
Total posts:  832
Initial post:  May 1, 2011
Latest post:  2 days ago

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