Sibelius' first love was the violin, and he worked towards being a virtuoso, but relented when he decided he had started too late. He became a conductor as well as composer. His first great compositional influence was Wagner, but with time Sibelius rejected much of Wagner's esthetic and was then influenced by Anton Bruckner and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. He was a master of orchestration, and despite composing his symphonies in a time of great experimentation with atonality, Sibelius continued to write tonal music. But he developed a highly refined and unique style of orchestration and composition that give his music a certain kind of 'sound' that is like no other. No doubt his love of nature and the terrain of his native Finland inspired much of his music, whether directly with the tone poems or indirectly with the symphonies.
Sibelius received a commission from the Finnish government in honor of his 50th birthday. He filled the commission with the 5th Symphony. He finished the score and led the premiere in 1915. It was revised in 1916 and also in 1919, and it is the 1919 version that is usually performed. The symphony is in three movements:
- Tempo molto moderato - Allegro moderato (ma poco a poco stretto) - Vivace molto - Presto - Più Presto. This movement is actually a combination of the original 1st movement and 2nd movement from the first version of the symphony .
- Andante mosso, quasi allegretto - Poco a poco stretto - Tranquillo - Poco a poco stretto - Ritenuto al tempo I. This movement is a set of variations.
- Allegro molto - Misterioso - Un pochettino largamente - Largamente assai - Un pochettino stretto. The tune for horns shortly after the beginning of this movement is thought to be the sound of swan calls, as well as a representation of 16 swans taking off all at once, an event witnessed by Sibelius.