Sibelius Finlandia Suite Program Notes
The music that is now Finlandia was first a seven-movement suite, performed in Helsinki for an 1899 “Press Celebrations” event, dedicated to Finnish journalists recently banned by Russia’s Czar Nicholas II.
At its opening, Finlandia’s Andante sostenuto chorale harmonies (in brass then woodwinds) sound somewhat Orthodox Russian, reminiscent of music that could have been composed by Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff. Its weighty writing pushes any melodies down to the tonic of the introduction’s main key, F minor. This key is frequently used by composers seeking a serious sound, with its darkness due to the absence of most open strings. In this author’s opinion, the key is no accident, the same as Beethoven’s Egmont Overture (with its portrayal of a Dutch people under Spanish oppression a parallel to Finns under the Czars). A dramatic Allegro moderato fanfare interrupts, in a section featuring rising and hopeful string triplets, and, modulating into its related A-flat major, heroic writing in the horns.
From this climax, a string tremolo emerges, evoking hushed Finnish forests. A hymn-like melody emerges. Characteristic of Sibelius’s compositional style, it’s mostly a melody with a step-wise contour, and one that is long and drawn out. First, it’s in the winds (only six musicians), then the strings, with dozens of players across the orchestra joining in. This thinly-veiled rallying cry for independence leads into a return of the heroic material and its grand conclusion. The message was surely understood by any in the audience.
Birth name: Johan Julius Christian Sibelius
Born: December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, Finland
Died: September 20, 1957, Ainola, Finland