Dec 082017
 

Today is the birthday (1865) of Jean Sibelius, born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, Finnish composer and violinist of the late Romantic and early-modern periods who is widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia. The core of his oeuvre is his set of 7 symphonies which, like his other major works, continue to be performed and recorded in his home country and internationally. His other best-known compositions are Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto, the choral symphony Kullervo, and The Swan of Tuonela (from the Lemminkäinen Suite). Yet other works include pieces inspired by nature, Nordic legend, and the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. He wrote over 100 songs for voice and piano, incidental music for numerous plays, the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music, piano music, Masonic ritual music, and 21 pieces of choral music.

Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s, but after completing his 7th symphony (1924), the incidental music for The Tempest (1926) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he failed to produce any major works in his last 30 years, a perplexing decline commonly referred to as “The Silence of Järvenpää”, the location of his home. Although he is reputed to have stopped composing, he attempted to continue writing, including abortive efforts on an eighth symphony. In later life, he wrote Masonic music and re-edited some earlier works while retaining an active, but not always favorable, interest in new developments in music.

Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna in the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. He was the son of the Swedish-speaking docto,r Christian Gustaf Sibelius, and Maria Charlotta Sibelius née Borg. Sibelius’ father died of typhoid in July 1868, leaving substantial debts. As a result, his mother—who was again pregnant—had to sell their property and move the family into the home of Katarina Borg, her widowed mother, who also lived in Hämeenlinna. His uncle, Pehr Ferdinand Sibelius, who was interested in music, especially the violin, gave Sibelius a violin when he was 10 years old and later encouraged him in his interest in composition.

From an early age, Sibelius showed a strong interest in nature, frequently walking around the countryside when the family moved to Loviisa on the coast for the summer months. In his own words: “For me, Loviisa represented sun and happiness. Hämeenlinna was where I went to school; Loviisa was freedom.” When he was 7, in Hämeenlinna, his aunt Julia was brought in to give him piano lessons on the family’s upright instrument, rapping him on the knuckles whenever he played a wrong note. He progressed by improvising on his own, but still learned to read music. He much preferred it when he turned to the violin. He participated in trios with his elder sister Linda on piano, and his younger brother Christian on the cello. (Christian Sibelius was to become an eminent psychiatrist, still remembered for his contributions to modern psychiatry in Finland). In addition, Sibelius often played in quartets with neighboring families, adding to his experience in chamber music.

Fragments survive of his early compositions of the period, a trio, a piano quartet and a Suite in D Minor for violin and piano. Around 1881, he recorded on paper his short pizzicato piece Vattendroppar (Water Drops) for violin and cello although it might just have been a musical exercise. The first reference he himself made to composing comes in a letter from August 1883 in which he reveals he had composed a trio and was working on another: “They are rather poor, but it is nice to have something to do on rainy days.” In 1881, he started to take violin lessons from the local bandmaster, Gustaf Levander, immediately developing a particularly strong interest in the instrument. Setting his heart on a career as a great violin virtuoso, he soon succeeded in becoming quite an accomplished player, performing David’s Concerto in E minor in 1886 and, the following year, the last two movements of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in Helsinki. Despite such success as an instrumentalist, he ultimately chose to become a composer.

After graduating from high school in 1885, Sibelius began to study law at the Imperial Alexander University in Finland but, showing far more interest in music, soon moved to the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) where he studied from 1885 to 1889. One of his teachers was its founder, Martin Wegelius, who did much to support the development of education in Finland. It was he who gave the self-taught Sibelius his first formal lessons in composition. Another important influence was his teacher Ferruccio Busoni, a pianist-composer with whom he enjoyed a lifelong friendship. His close circle of friends included the pianist and writer Adolf Paul and the conductor-to-be Armas Järnefelt, (who introduced him to his influential family including his sister Aino who would become Sibelius’s wife). The most remarkable of his works during this period was the Violin Sonata in F, rather reminiscent of Grieg.

Sibelius continued his studies in Berlin (from 1889 to 1890) with Albert Becker, and in Vienna (from 1890 to 1891) with Robert Fuchs and Karl Goldmark. In Berlin, he had the opportunity to widen his musical experience by going to a variety of concerts and operas, including the premiere of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan. He also heard the Finnish composer Robert Kajanus conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a program which included his symphonic poem Aino, a patriotic piece which may well have triggered Sibelius’s later interest in using the epic poem Kalevala as a basis for his own compositions. While in Vienna, he became particularly interested in the music of Anton Bruckner whom, for a time, he regarded as “the greatest living composer”, although he continued to show interest in the established works of Beethoven and Wagner. It was also in Vienna that he turned to orchestral composition, working on an Overture in E major and a Scène de Ballet. While embarking on Kullervo, an orchestral work inspired by the Kalevala, he fell ill but was restored to good health after surgery. Shortly after returning to Helsinki, he conducted his Overture and the Scène de Ballet at a popular concert. He was also able to continue working on Kullervo, now that he was increasingly developing an interest in all things Finnish. It premiered in Helsinki on 28 April 1892 and was an enormous success.

It was around this time that Sibelius finally abandoned his cherished aspirations as a violinist:

My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning to night. I hated pen and ink — unfortunately I preferred an elegant violin bow. My love for the violin lasted quite long and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.

In addition to the long periods he spent studying in Vienna and Berlin (1889–91), in 1900 he traveled to Italy where he spent a year with his family. He composed, conducted and socialized actively in the Scandinavian countries, the UK, France and Germany and later traveled to the United States.

Rather than take on Sibelius’ entire oeuvre, I’ll touch on Finlandia here, commenting also on the ways it has been reworked for other uses. Finlandia, Op. 26, is a tone poem first written in 1899 and revised in 1900. The piece was originally composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire, and was the last of seven pieces performed as an accompaniment to tableaux depicting episodes from Finnish history. The premiere of the revised piece, now what is usually heard, was on 2 July 1900 in Helsinki with the Helsinki Philharmonic Society conducted by Robert Kajanus. In order to avoid Russian censorship, Finlandia had to be performed under alternative names at various musical concerts. Titles under which the piece masqueraded were numerous—famous examples include Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring, and A Scandinavian Choral March.

The original movements for tableaux are as follows.

Preludium: Andante (ma non troppo)

Tableau 1: The Song of Väinämöinen

Tableau 2: The Finns are Baptized by Bishop Henry

Tableau 3: Scene from Duke Johan’s Court

Tableau 4: The Finns in the Thirty Years’ War

Tableau 5: The Great Hostility [referring to the scorched-earth and reprisal tactics of the Russian Army during its invasion of Finland, 1714-1721]

Tableau 6: Finland Awakes

In February 1899 Nicholas II, tsar of Russia, issued a “February Manifesto” which aimed to restrict the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland. This stirred opposition in most Finnish cultural circles, and paintings with protest themes became very popular. Sibelius wished to use his music to add to the protests. In 1899 he wrote The Song of the Athenians and The Breaking of the Ice on Oulu River. The year was crowned by his music for tableaux staged as part of the main event of the Days of the Press. The performances took place at the beginning of November 1899 at the Swedish Theatre.

The tableaux depicted scenes from the history of Finland. In the “Great Hate” tableau the performance had a particularly sharp edge. Mother Finland was sitting in a snowdrift with her children who were shivering with cold. They were threatened by War, Frost, Hunger and Death. Sibelius composed the darkest and most ascetic music for this image.  “Finland Awakens” was an early version of Finlandia. Finlandia itself was certainly not composed to describe these various stages in any precise way. Sibelius wanted to portray Finland’s awakening and its fighting spirit in more general terms. Later Sibelius told Jalmari Finne that he had no idea that there was anything special about Finlandia. It was not until he took the score to the copyist Ernst Röllig that it occurred to him that there might be something out of the ordinary in the composition.

During the following months Kajanus and Sibelius conducted the best pieces of the tableau music in Helsinki and Turku. They decided to take the finale of the suite on the European tour of Kajanus’s orchestra. The tour would end at the World Exhibition in Paris. Axel Carpelan became nervous:

Why will only the last piece of this suite, which is written in a “symphonic style” (probably the best), be played in Paris? If I can trust what others have told me about this tableau music, the music should be played in its entirety or at least 4 movements of it. And I wonder if the title ‘La Patrie’ is a good idea?

It turned out to be difficult to find a suitable title for the composition: in previous concerts it had been Finland, The Awakening of Finland or Finale. On the tour, it was called Vaterland and La Patrie (and possibly other titles). However, in November 1900 the piano arrangement of the tableau was given the name Finlandia – a title suggested by Axel Carpelan – and in February 1901 Kajanus finally conducted the orchestral version of the work under the name Finlandia. Soon the work was printed in an improved version. As early as 1909 an excerpt was recorded under Ronald Landon.

Most of the piece is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. Towards the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard. Often incorrectly cited as a traditional folk melody, the Hymn section is of Sibelius’s own creation. Sibelius later reworked the Finlandia Hymn into a stand-alone piece. This hymn, with words written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, is one of the most important national songs of Finland. With different words, it is also sung as a Christian hymn (Be Still, My Soul, Hail, Festal Day, in Italian evangelical churches: Veglia al mattino), and was used as the national anthem of the short-lived African state of Biafra (Land of the Rising Sun). In the spring of 1963, the Rice University student body voted to establish a school song (Rice is Our Home), using the music from the Finlandia Hymn. The song was played at the 1964 Rice Commencement, but otherwise never officially adopted.

Joulupöytä (“Yule table”) is the traditional assortment of foods served at Christmas in Finland, similar to the Swedish julbord. It contains a variety of different dishes, most of them typical for the season. The main dish is usually a large Christmas ham, which is eaten with mustard or bread along with the other dishes. Fish is also served (often lutefisk and gravlax), and the ham is served with laatikkos, casseroles made with swede, potato and carrot, occasionally liver. A dish from the joulupöytä would be suitable to celebrate Sibelius, especially at this time of year. Karjalan Paisti (Karelian Hot Pot) is a very common dish on the yule table and, as is to be expected, varies from household to household. I’m using here a combination of three meats, beef, pork, and lamb, but two is more common.  It is conventionally served with mashed potato and lingonberry preserves. Also, it can be cooked in three ways: on the stovetop, in the oven in a casserole, or in a slow cooker. The last method is the most common these days.

Karjalan Paisti

Ingredients

1 lb stewing beef, chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb pork shoulder, chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb stewing lamb (shoulder or breast), chopped into 1″ pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 tsp whole peppercorns
8 whole allspice
2 bay leaves

Instructions

Brown the meats in small batches on all sides in a skillet over medium-high heat using the olive oil.

In whatever vessel you are using to cook the hotpot, layer the ingredients. Begin with half of the sliced onions, add half of the meat, and sprinkle with half of the salt, peppercorns, allspice, and add one bay leaf. Repeat the layers. Cover the meat with water, and tightly cover the vessel.

What happens next depends on your choice of cooking method. A slow cooker on low will take about 6 hours. A casserole in a slow oven (250˚F) will take around 4 or 5 hours. A pot on the stove on a slow simmer will take 3 to 4 hours. I prefer a slow cooker.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)