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.

Oct 082014
 

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On this date in 1829 Rocket, a steam locomotive designed and built by George Stephenson and his son Robert, won the Rainhill Trials, a major competition in the early days of steam locomotive railways, run to determine which engine would be used on the nearly completed Liverpool and Manchester Railway (designed by George Stephenson).  Five engines competed, running back and forth along a mile length of level track at Rainhill, in Lancashire (now Merseyside). The Stephensons’ Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials, and was declared the winner. The Stephensons were accordingly given the contract to produce locomotives for the railway.

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When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was approaching completion, the directors of the railway ran a competition to decide whether stationary steam engines or locomotives would be used to pull the trains. The Rainhill Trials were arranged as an open contest that would let them see all the locomotive candidates in action, with the choice to follow. Regardless of whether or not locomotives were settled upon, a prize of £500 was offered to the winner of the trials. Three notable figures from the early days of engineering were selected as judges: John Urpeth Rastrick, a locomotive engineer of Stourbridge, Nicholas Wood, a mining engineer from Killingworth with considerable locomotive design experience, and John Kennedy, a Manchester cotton spinner and a major proponent of the railway.

Locomotives that were entered were to be subjected to a variety of tests and conditions. These were amended at various points, but were eventually nailed down to:

The weight of the Locomotive Engine, with its full complement of water in the boiler, shall be ascertained at the Weighing Machine, by eight o’clock in the morning, and the load assigned to it shall be three times the weight thereof. The water in the boiler shall be cold, and there shall be no fuel in the fireplace. As much fuel shall be weighed, and as much water shall be measured and delivered into the Tender Carriage, as the owner of the Engine may consider sufficient for the supply of the Engine for a journey of thirty-five miles. The fire in the boiler shall then be lighted, and the quantity of fuel consumed for getting up the steam shall be determined, and the time noted.

 The Tender Carriage, with the fuel and water, shall be considered to be, and taken as a part of the load assigned to the Engine.

Those engines which carry their own fuel and water, shall be allowed a proportionate deduction from their load, according to the weight of the Engine.

The Engine, with the carriages attached to it, shall be run by hand up to the Starting Post, and as soon as the steam is got up to fifty pounds per square inch (3.4 bar), the engine shall set out upon its journey.

The distance the Engine shall perform each trip shall be one mile and three quarters (2.8 km) each way, including one-eighth of a mile (200 m) at each end for getting up the speed and for stopping the train; by this means the Engine, with its load, will travel one and a-half mile (2.4 km) each way at full speed.

The Engines shall make ten trips, which will be equal to a journey of 35 miles (56 km); thirty miles whereof shall be performed at full speed, and the average rate of travelling shall not be less than ten miles per hour (16 km/h). (Note: The only other passenger railway in the world at that time, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, had an average speed of only about 8 miles per hour (13 km/h).)

As soon as the Engine has performed this task, (which will be equal to the travelling from Liverpool to Manchester,) there shall be a fresh supply of fuel and water delivered to her; and, as soon as she can be got ready to set out again, she shall go up to the Starting Post, and make ten trips more, which will be equal to the journey from Manchester back again to Liverpool.

The time of performing every trip shall be accurately noted, as well as the time occupied in getting ready to set out on the second journey.

Ten locomotives were entered, but on the day the competition began — 6 October 1829 — only five locomotives actually began the tests:

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Cycloped, built by Thomas Shaw Brandreth.

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Novelty, built by John Ericsson and John Braithwaite.

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Perseverance, built by Timothy Burstall.

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Rocket, designed by George and Robert Stephenson; built by Robert Stephenson and Company.

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Sans Pareil, built by Timothy Hackworth.

Locomotives were run two or three per day, and several tests for each locomotive were performed over the course of several days. The Rainhill stretch of the railway was very level for a mile or so making it a perfect site for the trials.

Cycloped was the first to drop out of the competition. Built with “legacy technology”, it used a horse walking on a drive belt for power, and was withdrawn after an accident caused the horse to burst through the floor of the engine.

Next to retire was Perseverance. Damaged en route to the competition, Burstall spent five days repairing it. When it failed to reach the required 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) on its first tests the next day, it was withdrawn from the trial. It was granted a £26 consolation prize.

Sans Pareil nearly completed the trials, though at first there was some doubt as to whether it would be allowed to compete as it was 300 lbs overweight. However, it did eventually complete eight trips before cracking a cylinder. Despite the failure it was purchased by the Liverpool & Manchester, where it served for two years before being leased to the Bolton and Leigh Railway.

The last drop-out was Novelty. In complete contrast to Cycloped it was cutting-edge for 1829, lighter and considerably faster than the other locomotives in the competition. It was accordingly the crowd favorite. Reaching a then-astonishing 28 mph (45 km/h) on the first day of competition, it later suffered some damage to a boiler pipe which could not be fixed properly on site in the time allotted. Nevertheless it continued its run on the next day, but upon reaching 15 mph the pipe gave way again and damaged the engine severely enough that it had to drop out.

So, the Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials. It averaged 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) (achieving a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h)) hauling 13 tons, and was declared the winner of the £500 prize. The Stephensons were accordingly given the contract to produce locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.)

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The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) was the world’s first twin-track inter-urban passenger railway in which all the trains were timetabled and ticketed. Trains were hauled by company steam locomotives between the two towns, though private wagons and carriages were allowed. The line opened on 15 September 1830.

The line opened on 15 September 1830 with termini at Manchester, Liverpool Road (now part of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester) and Liverpool Crown Street. The festivities of the opening day were marred when William Huskisson, the popular Member of Parliament for Liverpool, was killed.

L.T.C. Rolt, in his biography of the Stephensons, describes the event in some detail. The southern line was reserved for the special opening train, drawn by the locomotive Northumbrian and conveying the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, in an ornamental carriage, together with distinguished guests in other carriages (including Huskisson). When the train stopped for water at Parkside, near Newton-le-Willows, it was intended that the other trains should pass in review on the northern line.

As the surface was covered with earth and cinders to rail level, it was easy for passengers to get down and stretch their legs, particularly as there was an interval between the delayed passing trains. Huskisson seized the opportunity to alight and stroll alongside the train. He then caught Wellington’s eye through the Duke’s carriage window. As the two were politically estranged, it was a golden opportunity to commence a reconciliation. The Duke inclined his head, someone opened the carriage door, and the two swapped pleasantries.

Then, people noticed Rocket approaching on the Northern line and shouted a warning. The Austrian ambassador was bodily pulled into the carriage, but Huskisson panicked. He tried to climb into the carriage, but he gripped the open door, which swung back, causing him to lose his grip. He fell between the two tracks, but the ‘Rocket ran over his leg which was fouling the rail, shattering it. He is said to have uttered the tragic words “I have met my death — God forgive me!”

The Northumbrian was detached from the Duke’s train and rushed him to Eccles, where he died in the vicarage. Thus he became the world’s first widely reported railway passenger fatality. The somewhat subdued party proceeded to Manchester, where, the Duke being deeply unpopular with the weavers and mill workers, they were given a lively reception (bricks thrown, etc.), and returned to Liverpool without alighting (a grand reception and banquet had been prepared for their arrival).

Notwithstanding the unfortunate start to its career, the L&MR was very successful. Within a few weeks of opening it ran its first excursion trains, carried the first railway mails in the world, and was conveying road-rail containers for Pickfords; by the summer of 1831 it was carrying tens of thousands by special trains to Newton Races.

My immediate thought for a recipe when I chose this anniversary was Lancashire Hotpot. Lancashire hotpot is a dish made traditionally from lamb or mutton and onion, topped with sliced potatoes, left to bake in the oven all day in a heavy pot and on very low heat. It originated in the days of the heavy industrialization of Lancashire in such cities as Liverpool and Manchester. It requires a minimum of effort to prepare and cooked while both husband and wife were away at work in factories. Nowadays it can be cooked much faster, but there is still nothing to beat the slow cooking of the old days – slowly breaking down the meat and making a rich gravy.

There are many regional variations. It is frequently found listed amongst the usual pub grub dishes in around Britain. The basic recipe consists of a mix of lamb and vegetables (carrot, turnip, potatoes, onions or leeks) covered with sliced potato. Sometimes lamb kidneys are included.

The traditional recipe once included oysters, which were a cheap filler, but increasing cost eliminated them from common usage. Pickled red cabbage or beetroot are often served as an accompaniment. In some areas Lancashire cheese is also served with the dish.

Flavor can be enhanced with seasoning; salt and pepper would be the most traditional, and any other ingredients available in the kitchen. Some stock is usually added to cover the contents while it cooks, though some recipes rely on a well-sealed pot on a low heat to retain enough moisture within the meat, onion and potato.

Here is a modern recipe which I have modified slightly to conform better with traditional methods. Modern recipes call for browning the meat and frying the onions briefly before adding them to the casserole. I strongly suspect this was not done with traditional cooking, so I have omitted this step. Do as you wish in this regard. You can also experiment with long slow cooking if you like. The best way would be to cook it in a crock pot.

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Lancashire Hotpot

Ingredients

8 meaty neck lamb chops, on the bone
225g / ½ lb onions, peeled and thinly sliced
55g /2 oz butter, melted
900g /2 lb/potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
4 lambs’ kidneys, cored and sliced (optional)
1 carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
salt and pepper
1 liter /3 cups of beef or chicken stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Instructions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F/180°C

In a large oven-proof, casserole pour half the butter into the bottom then cover with a layer of sliced potato, cover with half the onions, season with salt and pepper. If using, lay the sliced kidneys over the chops, add the carrot, cover with the remaining onions, season.

Pour in enough stock to come two thirds way up the casserole dish and add the Worcestershire sauce.

Cover with a layer of overlapping potatoes, ensuring the surface is completely covered. Brush the potato with the remaining melted butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid and cook in the oven for at least 2 ½ hours Check from time to time to make sure the casserole isn’t drying out, top up with stock or water as necessary.

Remove the lid from the casserole and set under the broiler until the potatoes on the surface are browned. Remove from the oven and leave to rest about 10 minutes.

Serve on hot plates with poached beetroot or red cabbage.

Serves 4

Lancashire apple pie (a recipe for another day) and Lancashire cheese eaten together make a traditional dessert.