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Initial post: Apr 14, 2009 3:04:06 PM PDT
JRJoseph says:
I just listened to Sibelius' 4th symphony and his violin concerto. I still do not "get" the 4th. It seems disjointed at times and it is difficult to follow where it is going. Is there somebody out there who really likes the 4th. I do consider the violin concerto a great one; I feel the other symphonies are great also. But oh that 4th.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2009 11:58:13 PM PDT
Dmitri says:
I tell you what Jesse R. Joseph maybe John Hopkins can hook us up to a couple of machines that will help each other understand music the other doesn't. I don't get the Sibelius 5th. I don't know what to say about the 4th. The 4th seems bleak, transparent, and profound. Sibelius wasn't sure what to do with the pitched percussion instruments at the end (xylophone?). The Sibelius Violin Concerto third movement should be made the Finnish National anthem IMHO.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2009 12:29:09 AM PDT
Charade says:
Jesse R. Joseph,
I just recently became acquainted with the Sibelius Violin Concerto (oh heavenly delights, what gratitude I have towards you, for allowing me to witness it!), and as you can tell I fervently adore it. It is rich in melodies and harmonies, in lyricism and gorgeous orchestration. Rich textures shine call across the concerto and the solo parts are incredibly heartfelt.

Now to me the 4th symphony is self-speaking. I do not think there is really something to get, understood, but felt. Bitterness. Still, my statements seems rather juvenile and at best foolish, but when you let lose and immerse yourself into the 4th, I sincerely believe, the emotions will kick in.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2009 1:06:00 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 15, 2009 1:08:30 AM PDT
Herb Reeves says:
It took me a long time to appreciate Sibelius's Fourth. And it might never appeal to you. But it might help to know that it was written in a period of despair when he feared that he was suffering from throat cancer and close to death.

For whatever it says about me, I like it, but it should not be consumed with alcohol, nor does it mix well with Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde."

Posted on Apr 15, 2009 2:01:02 AM PDT
Mandryka says:
You know, the more I listen to Sibelius the more I think that the end of the 5th is one of the greatest things in music -- all that clean simplicity after the complexity that comes before it.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2009 2:18:08 AM PDT
Dmitri says:
But what does the Sibelius 5th mean? Three movements....I have heard many interpretations...no tunes that stick in MY head...repeated listenings...no greater returns...I am condemned never to understand it.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2009 3:19:10 AM PDT
Dmitri said: "what does the Sibelius 5th mean? Three movements...."
If it were just that simple... I've read pages of considerations about the number of the movements in that particular symphony (3 or 4)...

About the 4th:
It certainly ain't easy, I'm still trying (done it for years)... When American audiences didn't get the symphony in their first hearing, Koussevitzky (if I remember the name of conductor right) played it on six consecutive nights - "just to get it into their heads"... When I told this anecdote earlier in another thread asking if You could imagine something alike happening today, somebody (I'm sorry I don't quite remeber who it was) answered: "No, I can't, but I can imagine a new work getting praising reviews on first hearing and then falling in oblivion..." Well said!

Something that comes to mind too when hearing the 4th is the fact, that Sibelius started to compose another quartet after "Voces intimae" but never completed it, nor have we found any traces of it. Instead came the 4th symphony. Something in the asceticism of the symphony makes me think of a quartet, is it the same work?

Posted on Apr 15, 2009 11:47:39 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 15, 2009 11:53:38 AM PDT
It took me a while to "get" it -- it's a bleak, desolate work, evoking many images of the cold Nordic landscapes. Sibelius's "explanation" for the symphony? "Being human is misery." Amidst all that coldness, loneliness and despair is a serene beauty. But it's not easy to digest. I came to Sibelius through his 2nd symphony and loved it, and the 4th was such a departure. It seemed meandering and formless by comparison, which it might have been meant to be. It's also Sibelius's most modern work, still retaining tonality and Romanticism, but the form, shape, and texture of a lot of it makes it, IMO, one of those most "advanced" works for its time just as Schoenberg and "Rite of Spring" were making their ascent. It is a work of genius in modern vein just as much as his 2nd is in Romantic vein. Sibelius was a master, indeed. It's only differences in preference and style that distinguishes a fan of Sibelius from a fan of Mahler (though I am both to a large extent). They were saying and doing different things with the form and they even spoke their differences about that to one another in a famed 1907 meeting.

Sibelius's 4th belongs up there with his 2nd, 5th and 7th as his finest symphonic creations. (Not to downplay the importance of the 6th or his tone poems, of course....) In making a list of, say, the top 20 symphonies ever written, I'd include all four of these works. (Actually I'd put them all in the top 15, which would be crowded with works by Mahler (2, 5, 6, 9), Beethoven (3, 5, 9) and Sibelius, with a couple by Bruckner (8, 9) and Brahms's 4th. I'd put in Tchaikovsky's 6th myself, but that's a judgment call. The top 20 would have Beethoven's 6th, Schmidt's 4th, and Shosty 5 and 10. I can leave the 20th spot open for suggestions. :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2009 12:18:01 PM PDT
The 4th and the violin concerto were the only things I thought were worth a darn right off the bat. Since then, I have come to appreciate most of Sibelius' output - more than any other composer besides Bach. He has some pretty good string quartets, a great piano trio, outstanding tone poems, and Kullervo. I even like his Lieder, and I hate Lieder...in general. Honestly, I have some trouble with the 6th and Tapioca (sorry, I refuse to call it by its proper name).

Posted on Apr 17, 2009 12:16:37 PM PDT
JRJoseph says:
Thanks for the responses. I now think that I should play the 4th at least 2 to 3 times a week for a few weeks. Just repetition sometimes changes your opinion about a work you thought either you do not get or even dislike.

Posted on Apr 17, 2009 12:16:49 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 17, 2009 12:18:02 PM PDT]

Posted on Apr 17, 2009 8:21:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 17, 2009 8:24:37 PM PDT
William Yate says:
Chris Cathcart: Interesting theory about Sibelius and Mahler fans; I don't feel the need to join one camp myself, though I do admit I think Mahler must be ranked higher.

My list of the top 20 symphonies is very close to yours, except for the Shostakovich and Mahler 6. I would have to add Schubert D. 944 near the top, as well as Brahms 3, Bruckner 7, Mahler Das Lied, maybe Shostakovich 8, Schubert D. 759 or Tchaikovsky 5.

Jesse Joseph: You have the right patience to grow to like Sibelius's 4th with time. I didn't like it for a long time either; but all of a sudden the greatness of the 3rd mvt. dawned on me. It was one of the common Sibelian formal schemes by which the movement consists of one grand tune trying to find itself. So to understand the movement, you have to try to get to know the whole tune as it comes together towards the end, in order to see what's beautiful and interesting about its gradual development. I started listening to the 3rd mvt. so frequently that finally the rest of the symphony started to make sense too.

Posted on Apr 18, 2009 4:22:24 PM PDT
What William Yate wrote is very perceptive, about Sibelius' methodology and 'melodology', condensed to a lament. In a way the entire symphony may represent a lamentation for the body of Western European ideals, forms and assumptions that were inexorably crumbling and disintegrating in all areas of the thought and feeling. The question "where do we go from here?" and "how do we proceed to go there?" was on the mind of any truly creative individual. Dissolution, chaos and war lay ahead.

My feel for the 4th Symphony is Sibelius' need to look deep within and embark on a heroic journey of his own, equipping himself with the essential materials and methods of his prior compositions. He begins to play (compose) by exploring the relationships of intervals of the musical scale - the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc., and their connection focusing on the tritone, or augmented fourth, which is mapped in the first three tones of the first movement of the symphony.

In so doing, I think, Sibelius could look with his inner eyes on the cultural political philosophical wasteland that lay outwardly, feel his own way as he put together and then apart the scales and intervals he had been using all along, wandering through and among them. He encounters, shapes, shades of darkness and light, entities of which he had barely been aware. It is a rigorous and agonizing journey which ruthlessly exposes his own artifices and pretensions to cold light, revealing but a mirage at the end. In reality his own life was at risk by cancer at the time.

That pure beauty in agony is held in the third movement suggests a resolution of his inner crisis, and a cleansing of his compositional approach. The Fifth Sixth and, most magnificently (imo), Seventh symphonies are the fruits of his labors in the Fourth. I hope this might be of help in your own exploration and evaluation of the 4th Symphony - if it isn't, keep thinking and especially meditating while listening to it. Let your mind go and don't try to figure it out.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 18, 2009 5:03:39 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 18, 2009 5:05:25 PM PDT
Piso Mojado says:
Good post, Tom Gossard, and pretty perceptive yourself. Someone here, I think it was Ville our Helsinki correspondent and Sibelius's vicar on Earth, mentioned that an unfinished or abandoned string quartet found its way into the fourth symphony, which might explain the very striking low strings at the beginning. I love what the Vienna Philharmonic does with them for Maazel.

A New Yorker cartoon comes to mind. Two oriental sages sit Buddha-like in lotus position a few yards apart, each eyeing the other from the near eye's corner. Their conversation runs, "And I think YOU are very inscrutable, also."

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 18, 2009 10:47:19 PM PDT
Jesse-

I like Sibelius' 4th and would categorize it as being Mahleresque but more...ascetic?...noble? I see harsh mountainous winter landscapes with pine trees bending amid torrents of snow. The 4th is my favorite by far. The sense of foreboding that he captures in the opening bars is amazing.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 19, 2009 1:13:58 AM PDT
Piso:
It was actually my own idea that this unfinished quartet found its way into the symphony, no proof for that.

Posted on May 4, 2012 6:45:56 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 4, 2012 6:49:37 AM PDT
Tero says:
One reviewer rates the sound recording as poor
Jean Sibelius: Karelia Music (Complete) / Press Celebrations Music (including original version of Finlandia) - Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra / Tuomas Ollila

in these days of iPods, I would say it beats any mp3.

The CD is a nice package of two patriotic suites. You can get the Press Celebration on other discs (maybe?) but I like this one. In Ondine recording you would have to compare Ollila and Vänskä.

If you are only interested in the Karelia full suite, this disc has that.
Karelia / Kuolema

I have both but have not compared the Karelias.

Posted on May 4, 2012 6:27:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 4, 2012 7:30:19 PM PDT
Tero says:
That last disc with Kuolema, I just don't know what to do with the early version of Kuolema, with vocals. The modern version with the 4 parts, mine is Neeme Järvi, is fine for me. I don't care about the plot and drama of the story.

Stuck to the end of that disc is the regular Valse Triste.

Posted on May 8, 2012 9:14:43 AM PDT
Tero says:
Sibelius: String Quartets 1888-1889

I have this now, but the extra early pieces did not impress me much. I still like the a minor quartet best, so it is nice to have it on disc, mine was an mp3 download.

Posted on May 8, 2012 7:35:56 PM PDT
Kenneth D says:
Jesse,
I was immediately taken with this symphony upon first hearing and spent much time getting to know it. I think it's the most personal of his works, in that he seems to reveal more of himself here than anywhere else I know. Its sparseness and taut structure should make it somewhat easy to follow. Sibelius was in crisis indeed, and not just from his health. Prior to writing the 4th, he had met figures like Schoenberg and Stravinsky and was in turmoil with his compositional life. I believe the tritone represents that crisis, which he uses extensively both harmonically and melodically. If you can latch onto that, it will give you something to follow in the structure of this magnificent work.

Posted on May 8, 2012 7:44:24 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 8, 2012 7:45:31 PM PDT
General Orc says:
Jesse:

Sibelius' 4th is the most introverted piece of music I've ever heard. I am introverted and love this symphony: my favorite Sibelius symphony. I have an extroverted friend who doesn't "get" Sibelius and I think that's why he doesn't get it.

My favorite recording of the 4th:
Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 in A Minor Op. 63, Canzonetta, The Oceanides

Posted on May 8, 2012 8:56:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 8, 2012 9:00:18 PM PDT
Larkinfield says:
I somtimes listen to the 4th and 5th back to back. There's an optimism to the 5th that seems to be an effective counter-balance to the chilliness of the 4th, and I sometimes wonder if Sibelius had this in mind when he got to the 5th.

In reply to an earlier post on May 8, 2012 10:07:24 PM PDT
Kenneth D says:
That's a complicated issue. The original 5th had much more in common with the 4th. His 2nd and final revision is more straightforward and down to earth, as he said. So yes, the final form was intentional and quite in keeping with his mental state then.

Posted on May 9, 2012 4:27:52 AM PDT
JRJoseph says:
Wow, this discussion has been renewed after a few years have gone by. At this time, I have listened to a lot of Sibelius including the 4th many times and I do feel it is a great symphony as many of you have written. Right now, I am trying to like the Mahler which is my latest work to hear over and over. I own several versions of it but can't quite make out the first movement and how the rest of the work continues the work but that is another topic for this forum.

In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2012 5:47:29 AM PDT
Tero says:
I have the 4th on my playlist on the iPOd, but I follow it with a tone poem, varies monthly.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
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Initial post:  Apr 14, 2009
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