What was he thinking of? (New Year 2020) – Answers

Part One: Comments made by Sibelius about his own music.

1 (1889) ‘Now I am much better and have composed a ***** in three movements (the first move­ment, 2/4 in F major, is fresh and daring as well as gloomy with some brilliant episodes; the second move­ment, A minor, is Finnish and melancholy; it is an authentic Finnish girl who sings on the A string; then some peasant lads perform a Finnish dance and try to entice her to smile, but it doesn’t work; she only sings with greater sadness and melan­choly than before. The third movement, 3/8, F major, is fresh and spirited as well as romantic. There are people in a meadow singing and playing on Midsummer Night. Meanwhile, a meteor falls down among them. They are amazed, but even continue playing, but not as readily as before because everyone is more serious. At the end the mood becomes splendid but gloomy [the meteor!] and also playful and happy.)’ Violin Sonata in F major, letter to Uncle Pehr, 1889

2 (1891): ‘It is not good. It does have, I think, technical merits, though. I must confess to people that I have composed it “with all my soul”. That’s the usual excuse when I have done something with no soul at all.’ Overture in E major – letter to Wegelius, 4 May 1891

3 (1892): ‘I have finished ***** for orchestra. You should be impressed by it. It is rausch. I have been thinking about Böcklin’s paintings. Why, he paints air that is too clear, swans that are too white, and sea that is too blue, and so on.’ En saga (first version) – letter to Paul, 10 December 1892

4 (1911) ‘Why is this tone poem so attractive? Probably because of its “plein air” style. In fact it’s built on themes bestowed on me. Pure inspiration! Wonderful, wonderful!’ Finlandia – Diary, 23 December 1911

5 (1913) ‘I ruined myself by signing the contract for *****. – Today things became so heated that I smashed the telephone. – My nerves are in tatters.’ Scaramouche – Diary, 21 June 1913

6 (1914) ‘I am deep in the mire again, but I have already caught a glimpse of the mountain I must surely climb… God opens his door for a moment, and his orchestra is playing ***** ’. Symphony No. 5 – letter to Carpelan, 22 September 1914

7 (1921) ‘I would like us Finns to have a little more pride. Not to be hanging our heads! What is there to be ashamed of? This is an idea that runs through *****. ***** can hold his own with any count or marquis. He is an aristocrat, definitely an aristocrat.’ Lemminkäinen’s Return, as told to A.O. Väisänen, 1921

8 (1923) ‘It is very tranquil in character and outline… and is built… on linear rather than harmonic foundations… I do not think of a symphony only as music in this or that number of bars, but rather as an expression of a spiritual creed, a phase in one’s inner life.’ Symphony No. 6, interview with William Seymer, 1923

9 (1940) ‘After hearing my ***** Rimsky-Korsakov shook his head and said: “Why don’t you do it the usual way; you will see that the audience can neither follow nor understand this.” And now I am certain that my symphonies are played more than his.’ Symphony No. 3, comment to Jussi Jalas, 18 June 1940

10 (1942): ‘Kajanus dropped in and asked why I was stressing myself so much. I am pleased that I did it, for even today I cannot find a single note in it that I could remove, nor can I find anything to add. This gives me strength and satisfaction. ***** represents a very important and great part of me. Yes, I’m glad to have written it.’ Symphony No. 4, comment to Jussi Jalas, 1942

Part Two: Comments made by others about Sibelius’s music.

11 (Oskar Merikanto, 1893): ‘The extensive fantasy; the masterful handling of the simple, main motifs in constantly new forms; the strength, which swells from the composer’s bosom to quite awesome yet magnificent heights; the subtlety, which gently caresses the ear and perforce pushes its way into the heart; the richness of colour which comes from the excellent orchestration and imitation of its effects: such are qualities that are by no means of low value. When, in addition to and in the background of all this, appear such beautiful, wafting Finnish motifs tinged with sadness, as in this fantasy-like *****, in our opinion it shows that Sibelius has taken a remarkable step forward in the noble task of his great soul.’ En saga

12 (Karl Flodin, 1897): ‘This kind of music feels downright pathological and the impressions it leaves are so confused, painful and vague that they have very little in common with that aesthetic pleasure which all fine arts and music in particular should awaken… ***** depress me; they make me unhappy, fragmented and apathetic. Is it the purpose of music to awaken such moods?’ Lemminkäinen

13 (‘A.U.’ [Alarik Uggla?], 1898) ‘The last number on the programme was Sibelius’s new suite from his music to *****. With this suite, the brilliant composer has enriched our country’s musical repertoire with a work of significant and enduring value. The motifs of the second movement, Elegy and Musette, were already familiar, but the other three movements… are newly written. The Nocturne and Serenade are melodically appealing, original in structure and brilliantly orchestrated, and the Ballade effervesces with an energetic vigour and instrumental splendour, culminating in a climax, the like of which is seldom heard.’ King Christian II

14 (Karl Flodin, 1903): ‘An absolute masterpiece, one of the few symphonic creations of our time that point in the same direction as the symphonies of Beethoven.’ Symphony No. 2

15 (Axel Carpelan, 1909): ‘I am completely overwhelmed by emotion and joy. Now I can die in peace, now that what I asked for has come to pass. With this work you have taken your place among the finest in the history of music. Nobody since Beethoven has written an Adagio like this. And nobody since Schubert such an Allegretto. It’s true.’ Voces intimae

16 (Review in Nya Pressen, 1911) ‘It can be left to others to concern themselves with an closer analysis and musical evaluation of the principal work in the concert, *****. This task will be a difficult one even for specialists after a single hearing. The undersigned would nonetheless like to express the view that with this work our master composer has entered a new phase of his development, that more reflection is evident here than in his earlier symphonies, but at the same time his counterpoint and skill in orchestration are greater than ever… It cannot be denied that ***** radiates beauty even at a first hearing.’ Symphony No. 4

17 (Karl Fredrik Wasenius, 1912: ‘three bright, sunny pictures, shimmering with romanticism, subtlety and euphony…  It is strange to witness the inexhaustible source from which Sibelius’s inspiration flows, as youthfully fresh and spontaneous as at the time of the Karelia Suite. The only difference is that ***** appear still finer in shape and design, and still richer in colour.’ Scènes historiques II

18 (Karl Fredrik Wasenius, 1915): ‘the refined mastery of ways in which not a single note is wasted on brash effects, yet mighty things are still achieved. Sibelius gives us the expanse and magnitude of the ocean, its powerful wave-song but without boastful gestures. He is too noble for that.’ The Oceanides

19 (Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, 1914): ‘the sunrise, after a ride that was a long as it was indifferent, was a sunrise behind the clouds. ***** clearly belong[s] to Sibelius’s most recent period, when genuine inspiration has deserted him and he trusts blindly in the reputation he has already gained.’ Night Ride and Sunrise

20 (Leevi Madetoja, 1927) ‘At times we hear the melancholy, repeated call of a wood-nymph, at times the goblins frolic impetuously, at times a lonely wanderer in the woods is giving vent to the pain of life. A beautiful work, technically close to the Seventh Symphony.’ Tapiola