Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sibelius - Finlandia

The history of Finland has seen the country dominated by Sweden early on and Russia in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.  With the coming of the nationalist movement in the early 20th century,  Russia used every means to halt the progress of freedom for the Finnish people. Censorship of the theater and concerts was heavy, and it was in this atmosphere that Sibelius wrote his tone poem Finlandia.

It was originally written as part of a set of pieces that accompanied a visual presentation of Finnish history.  The original version was written in 1899 and Sibelius revised it into its final form in 1900. The piece served as a rallying cry for the Finnish people, much as La Marseillaise was for the French. To prevent the Russian censors from prohibiting the performance of Finlandia, the piece would be renamed before the programs for the concert were printed.

The music opens with heavy brass chords, and music that depicts the human struggle for freedom of the Finns.  The great hymn tune that follows the bombast has all the makings of a folk tune, but in fact there are no folk tunes in Finlandia. All of the music is original with Sibelius. The hymn tune was arranged by Sibelius as a separate piece to be sung as a hymn, and is in many Christian churches hymnals as the hymn titled 'Be Still My Soul'.

Evidently Sibelius came to detest Finlandia as it became his most popular composition at the expense of other more substantial works. But it has everything in it to appeal to a broad audience; brilliant and colorful orchestration, a grand tune that can be sung, and a message of hope and freedom that is universal.

1 comment:

  1. I love this piece. I've always thought it would make a great marching band show, but I haven't seen it performed as one yet. I'm a little upset with our local radio station here in Dallas, because they play this piece several times per week. It seems like it is always on!



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