Monday, June 2, 2014

Sibelius - Malinconia For Cello And Piano, Opus 20

The last years of the 19th century saw the Finnish composer and conductor Jean Sibelius' works heard more and more in Finland and outside of Finland as well. Sibelius was part of the artistic renaissance in Finland and  his reputation went beyond just a Finnish composer of Finnish music. He became a symbol of the struggles of Finland to free itself from Russia who had annexed the country and ruled over it for over 100 years. The turn of the century was keeping up with the trend as Sibelius took every opportunity to write Finnish inspired music.

Sibelius and his wife were separated over the New Year's celebration of 1900 because his wife was away at her brother's house, as his daughter had just died in a typhus epidemic.  A few weeks later the epidemic had reached the town of Kerava where Sibelius and his family lived, and on the 13th of February their 15-month old daughter Kirsti died. Aino took the other children away from Kerava and away from the epidemic. Kirsti was the youngest daughter and Sibelius was very attached to her. In March, Sibelius wrote to his wife:
I think very often of you, joy of my heart. If only you could get over it. I don't know what I ought to do. My dearest, don't look back on the past but forward. It is the only way to survive (or better; don't look forward, live in the present). The countryside is so beautiful and besides that you have the children and - I dare scarcely even to say - me.
Magnus Enckell
The death of his youngest daughter affected Sibelius profoundly. His drinking, a recurring problem for Sibelius, got worse after his daugher's death, His grief was such that he never spoke of Kristi again for the rest of his life. It was in the aftermath of this personal tragedy that Sibelius composed Malinconia For Cello And Piano.  The title likely reflects Sibelius' frame of mind at the time but Sibelius was also familiar with a painting he had seen at an art exhibition in 1895 by Magnus Enckell, a Finnish symbolist painter, titled Malinconia. Some writers  find a connection between the painting and the musical work, others do not. Perhaps it was a subconscious influence that helped shape Sibelius' piece.
It has been alleged by some that Sibelius wrote the complete piece in three hours. It was originally titled Fantasia and given its first performance on March 12, 1900.

Malinconia by Magnus Enckell
The work is in one continuous movement. A cello solo begins the work with an expressive outpouring that sets the tone for the short work. The work is tragic in the extreme with little in the way of themes. The brilliance of the piece is not for the sake of virtuosity, but for the sake of expression.  Arpeggios, broken chords, waterfalls of notes played by the piano all help to convey the emptiness of sorrow. There are rays of light in the piece, but they are few. The overwhelming mood of the music is sorrow laced with frustration and regret. The piece ends with the cello reaching into the depths of its range with tense trills while the piano rumbles in deep tones of its own.


  1. Una profunda angustia recorre toda la obra, con arpegios que buscan una nota de consuelo sin lograrlo. En algún pasaje breve en modo mayor deja entrever algo de paz o esperanza en medio del dolor. Touchant!! Gracias por subirla.Yo la desconocía....

  2. Op 20 sets off the poetry of imagining uncomposed works, as one sense the opening movement of a never finished cello concerto...1st movement: Fantasia (Malinconia), ii. Theme and variations (solo cello), iii. Nocturne - perhaps a rapid, scurrying movement ending in a cry.