His first two symphonies were Romantic in style and showed the influence of Tchaikovsky and Bruckner. With his Third Symphony his style grew more akin to Beethoven in that his music showed an organic growth from scraps of thematic material, and was classical in musical and orchestral style.
The Third Symphony was begun in 1904 and completed in 1907. It was premiered in Helsinki, Finland by the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by the composer. The symphony was met with mixed critical reviews, but Sibelius was not bothered by reviews good or bad. He once said, "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic." Sibelius' thoughts on symphonic composition:
"Since Beethoven’s time all so-called symphonies, with the exception of those by Brahms, have been symphonic poems. In some cases the composers have given us a program or have at least suggested what they had in mind; in other cases it is evident that they were concerned with describing or illustrating something, be it a landscape or a series of pictures. That does not correspond to my symphonic ideal. My symphonies are music — conceived and worked out as musical expression, without any literary basis. I am not a literary musician: for me, music begins where words leave off. A symphony should be music first and last. … I am particularly pleased to see it explicitly stressed that my [symphonies] are founded on classical symphonic form, and also that wholly misleading speculations about descriptions of nature and about folklore are being gotten rid of."
I. Allegro moderato - The first movement grows out of three themes that are heard at the outset. The music flows from these short themes in Sibelius' own type of form until the brass give out the final chords.
II. Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto - "At a slightly quicker pace than a walk, with motion, kind of moderately fast," is roughly what the composer's Italian tempo indications mean. This is a good example of a composer trying to give direction to the performer how the music should be played, and is much an indication of mood as of velocity. Here is where the experience of the musicians comes into play, as it is a matter of interpretation. It is trying to put a fine point on something that doesn't really exist on the printed page, but only exists in time - when the music is being played. As ambiguous as that is, it is a vital part of interpretation. In any given performance, the interpretation of this tempo indication can 'make or break' the performance. This is music of mystery, with the theme written in the distant key of G-sharp minor, and is interlaced with other material in a movement of quiet contrast.
III. Moderato - Allegro ma non tanto - The final movement incorporates a scherzo and finale. Fragments of the first two movements whisk by, along with new material and the symphony relentlessly moves to the end of the symphony.