The symphonies of Sibelius

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Belle
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The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Fri Apr 07, 2017 3:15 am

One gap in my musical knowledge is the Sibelius symphonies. I want to get to know these works and am wondering where to start and what performances you would recommend.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by david johnson » Fri Apr 07, 2017 3:41 am

I have always enjoyed the First one a great deal. The Second symphony is a favorite of many. There are several recordings to sample on youtube, so you can have a good time doing that.

Heck148
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Heck148 » Fri Apr 07, 2017 8:01 am

The Sibelius symphonies are wonderful...

You can't go wrong with Bernstein/NYPO set on Sony....excellent throughout...with some
really stellar renditions - 1, 5, 3, 7.......

John F
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Fri Apr 07, 2017 8:18 am

The 2nd symphony is by far the most popular, and you may know it already, or at least the big tune in the finale. The 4th in A minor is the toughest of them, though its finale strikes a more positive note than the other movements. My favorite is #5, so that's the one I'd recommend starting with. As in Sibelius's other symphonies, its structure is easy to grasp for those with some knowledge of sonata form, yet it's quite original - for one thing, the first movement speeds up at the end and becomes a scherzo, based on the first movement's themes. Here's what I think is the best recording. The three movements were uploaded to YouTube separately:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuNydI5SykM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2otTqrjhlfU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7Yaa4_6Jr0
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Fri Apr 07, 2017 8:55 am

This cycle is worth hearing:
Jean Sibelius: Symphonies 1 to 7 / Paavo Berglund / Bournemouth SO
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYLNqoSwQO4

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:52 am

I'm with Heck148 about the Bernstein (Columbia/Sony) cycle. Stokowski also recorded a fabulous I for Columbia, but never recorded the other symphonies. Nothing beats the passion of Bernstein and Stokowski, who really knew how to inspire their players.

Enjoy! :)

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:28 pm


Belle
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:59 pm

Thank you for those excellent recommendations. I've already started listening and will stream them through my hi-fi during the day.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Heck148 » Fri Apr 07, 2017 7:13 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:28 pm

favorite second
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5GwvCLtJ_U
That's a good one...
I think my favorite #2 is Monteux/LSO, Stkowski/NBC, Toscanini [1940] and the
Barbirolli/RPO are all excellent too..

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Heck148 » Fri Apr 07, 2017 7:17 pm

maestrob wrote:
Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:52 am
I'm with Heck148 about the Bernstein (Columbia/Sony) cycle. Stokowski also recorded a fabulous I for Columbia, but never recorded the other symphonies. Nothing beats the passion of Bernstein and Stokowski, who really knew how to inspire their players.
Stoki did record #2 with NBC - 1954, and it is superb, one of the best...his #1 with
National Philharmonic [London P-Up Orch, IIRC] is also really good.

Bernstein gets such sa great sound with NYPO - big, brawny, brassy...searing crescendi, snarling basses, bassoons, big husky string sound....Sibelius is one composer that can well tolerate some rough edges to the sound.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Len_Z » Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:46 pm

I would second (or third) Stokowski and Barbirolli recordings, and would also heartily recommend the complete set by the inexplicably underrated Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Osmo Vänskä

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 07, 2017 11:17 pm

Heck148 wrote:
Fri Apr 07, 2017 7:17 pm
maestrob wrote:
Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:52 am
I'm with Heck148 about the Bernstein (Columbia/Sony) cycle. Stokowski also recorded a fabulous I for Columbia, but never recorded the other symphonies. Nothing beats the passion of Bernstein and Stokowski, who really knew how to inspire their players.
Stoki did record #2 with NBC - 1954, and it is superb, one of the best...his #1 with
National Philharmonic [London P-Up Orch, IIRC] is also really good.

Bernstein gets such a great sound with NYPO - big, brawny, brassy...searing crescendi, snarling basses, bassoons, big husky string sound....Sibelius is one composer that can well tolerate some rough edges to the sound.
😉 You're right about Stoky/Sibelius II, of course.....I was thinking of stereo recordings only! :D :oops:

Checking on amazon, I find that he also recorded IV & VII as well.......

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Sat Apr 08, 2017 1:36 am

maestrob wrote:
Fri Apr 07, 2017 11:17 pm
Stokowski also recorded a fabulous I for Columbia...
Stokowski recorded Sibelius's 1st Symphony in 1950 with his own Symphony Orchestra (Cala Records CD CACD0541).



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri8nXxWj5ps

****************************************************************************
maestrob wrote:
Fri Apr 07, 2017 11:17 pm
Checking on amazon, I find that he also recorded IV & VII as well.......
Here are the 1932 Phila. Fourth (Scherzo) from the world premiere recording, two complete Sevenths, and yet another First. I used to own the Fourth on 78s, a stunning performance, currently reissued on Naxos.

Sibelius / Stokowski
Sibelius Symphony No. 4 'Scherzo'



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqMZOXg0rV4

****************************************************************************

Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoRZm4PtaMI



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGU2-SYID4s

****************************************************************************

Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBPzfwfIkFg



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGL4XgE6tl0



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki5m5jTM1Es



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-JDp7rmCDE
Last edited by jserraglio on Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:46 am, edited 2 times in total.

maestrob
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by maestrob » Sat Apr 08, 2017 12:12 pm

Thanks for all of that! I've got some serious listening to do! :D

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Ted Quanrud » Sat Apr 08, 2017 1:24 pm

Hi Maestro --

There are several fine Sibelius symphony cycles in modern sound. For reasons I don't understand the British have proven to be champions of the Finnish composer. Colin Davis has recorded the cycle at least three times (all very fine). Then there are Beecham and Barbirolli. For me, as I am downsizing my collection, I turn to the Finns. Osmo Vanska and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra on BIS are simply superb. He is now re-recording them with the Minnesota Orchestra, but I'm skipping them and sticking with the Finns. Enjoy!

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Sat Apr 08, 2017 1:59 pm

Duplicate post, deleted.
Last edited by John F on Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:03 pm

Sibelius was very popular in the US in the '30s and '40s, to the disgust of Virgil Thomson who couldn't abide that music and said so often in his Herald Tribune reviews. Koussevitzky recorded several of the symphonies, including a superb 2nd in the '30s, and commissioned the 8th. Stokowski and Ormandy performed and Ormandy recorded several in Philadelphia; Barbirolli, Rodzinski, and Beecham recorded them with the New York Philharmonic. Others were recorded in Cleveland (Rodzinski), St. Louis (Golschmann), and Minneapollis (Ormandy). Even Toscanini conducted the 2nd and, perhaps surprisingly, the 4th in the NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcasts - excellent performances. You don't find Sibelius very often in American concert programs these days, except of course in Minneapolis.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:27 pm

Leif Segerstam's Sibelius, most of it on YouTube, is another good-sounding contemporary cycle.
https://www.google.com/search?client=op ... 8&oe=UTF-8

Besides Bernstein's and Vanska's, there have been a couple distinguished recorded cycles with American orchestras. Maazel re-did his acclaimed VPO cycle with Pittsburgh in the early-90s. Colin Davis' distinguished late 1970's set with Boston is now on CD.

Despite the collapse of recording American orchestras, there have been several American recordings in this century, other than Minnesota's. Robert Spano & Atlanta recorded Nos. 6 and 7 (ASO Media 2013) and Kullervo (Telarc 2008). Michael Stern & Kansas City recorded The Tempest for Reference Recordings (2008). P. Jarvi & Cincinnati did the 2nd (Telarc 2006). Yoel Levi & Atlanta recorded Nos. 1, 2, and 5 (Telarc 2002).

And broadcasts of the symphonies: Cincinnati performed Nos. 6 and 7 in 2016 (Rouvali). Boston performed the 3rd about a month ago (Oramo) and the 5th in 2016 (Andrew Davis). MTT did the 3rd with SF and the 2nd with Chicago in 2016, Lintu the 2nd in 2016 (Detroit) and 2010 (New Jersey), Milwaukee the 7th in 2015 and Toledo the 2nd in 2014.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Apr 09, 2017 7:11 am

John F wrote:
Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:03 pm
You don't find Sibelius very often in American concert programs these days, except of course in Minneapolis.
Ormandy is long gone, but Sibelius still shows up on Philadelphia Orchestra programs. For example, next season, Yannick is conducting Symphony No. 1. The program also includes Hilary Hahn as the soloist in Bernstein's Serenade. Couldn't resist that program, especially because it's on my birthday (December 9), so that is one of the six orchestra programs in my subscription for next season.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by maestrob » Sun Apr 09, 2017 12:04 pm

I've heard most of the contemporary Sibelius recordings, including Vanska, yet I still find that I prefer Bernstein for his passion and attention to detail. And, of course (IMHO) NY is a superior orchestra to Minnesota, which while quite good, cannot match the committment of Bernstein's well-prepared players. The set sells for around $30 on amazon, so for a collector just starting out I would rank it as the best first buy.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by diegobueno » Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:37 am

A couple years ago, the Prince George's Philharmonic (in Maryland; this is an orchestra I play in) did a cycle of Sibelius 5, 6 and 7 on successive programs. The conductor, Charles Ellis, believed that these three symphonies constitute a symphonic trilogy. He even prefaced the 6th and 7th by playing the last pages of the previous symphony, for the "last time you remember ..." effect.

I never considered the 5th as being related to the 6th and 7th, but I have always noted the affinity of the last two Sibelius symphonies, through thematic references in common, and their consecutive opus numbers. But I notice the Wikipedia article on Sibelius contains this passage which supports Ellis' thesis:
Along with his Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the Seventh was Sibelius's final home for material from Kuutar, a never-completed symphonic poem whose title roughly means "Moon Spiritess". This work helped to shape the earliest parts of the Seventh, those created during the composition of the Fifth and Sixth. One of the themes from Kuutar, called "Tähtölä" ("Where the Stars Dwell"), evolved into part of the Seventh's opening Adagio section.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:37 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sun Apr 09, 2017 12:04 pm
I've heard most of the contemporary Sibelius recordings, including Vanska, yet I still find that I prefer Bernstein for his passion and attention to detail.
Well, of course I'm not talking about "contemporary" recordings but all recordings of the symphonies (and, after all, Bernstein's are hardly contemporary.) Have you heard any of the recordings I've just mentioned? They are more in line with my view that this music benefits from an objective though intense and powerful interpretation; Bernstein's rubatos and such nuances seem to me overlaid on the music rather than growing out of it.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Mon Apr 10, 2017 5:55 pm

I'm listening to many of these examples provided. The 1st and 2nd symphony are both relatively easy to negotiate, but thereafter I'm finding parts of Sibelius somewhat bombastic in tone which are harder to find endearing. More patience required?

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:49 am

"Bombastic"? How so? My dictionary defines bombastic as "given exaggerated importance by artificial or empty means," and I certainly don't hear that in Sibelius's symphonies, which are among the most organically symphonic since Brahms.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:03 am

Ricordanza wrote:
Sun Apr 09, 2017 7:11 am
John F wrote:
Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:03 pm
You don't find Sibelius very often in American concert programs these days, except of course in Minneapolis.
Ormandy is long gone, but Sibelius still shows up on Philadelphia Orchestra programs. For example, next season, Yannick is conducting Symphony No. 1. The program also includes Hilary Hahn as the soloist in Bernstein's Serenade. Couldn't resist that program, especially because it's on my birthday (December 9), so that is one of the six orchestra programs in my subscription for next season.
Yet another recent American concert program with a Sibelius symphony:

NIELSEN:Violin Concerto, Op. 33 (36:13); SIBELIUS:Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 (43:08); Nikolai Znaider, violin; Cleveland Orchestra; Franz Welser-Möst, conductor; Knight Concert Hall; Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts; Miami, Florida; February 4, 2017

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Wallingford » Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:01 am

John F wrote:
Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:03 pm
You don't find Sibelius very often in American concert programs these days, except of course in Minneapolis.
We mustn't discount the work of our contemporary Scandinavian maestros and their maintenance of the symphonies in the active repertory.
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That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by maestrob » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:49 am

John F wrote:
Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:37 pm
maestrob wrote:
Sun Apr 09, 2017 12:04 pm
I've heard most of the contemporary Sibelius recordings, including Vanska, yet I still find that I prefer Bernstein for his passion and attention to detail.
Well, of course I'm not talking about "contemporary" recordings but all recordings of the symphonies (and, after all, Bernstein's are hardly contemporary.) Have you heard any of the recordings I've just mentioned? They are more in line with my view that this music benefits from an objective though intense and powerful interpretation; Bernstein's rubatos and such nuances seem to me overlaid on the music rather than growing out of it.
John, I'm quite comfortable with Bernstein's subtle interpretive touches here and there: they are partly what makes him a great conductor rather than a bean counter. In Prokofiev V, for instance, Bernstein leans on the penultimate chord in the first movement, which, while not indicated in the score, makes perfect sense to me musically. Same with the cymbal crashes in the Scherzo of Mahler VII, during which Bernstein suspends tempo in his NY recording for Columbia in order to allow the sound to decay in the hall for each note, even though they are written as two eighth notes without a fermata. (Abbado in his Berlin recording observes tempo and they whiz past ineffectively to my ears.)

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:16 pm

John F wrote:
Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:49 am
"Bombastic"? How so? My dictionary defines bombastic as "given exaggerated importance by artificial or empty means," and I certainly don't hear that in Sibelius's symphonies, which are among the most organically symphonic since Brahms.
I mean 'bombastic' in the sense that at times it can be loud and brassy. Stridently so. Elgar is sometimes like this too. It might not have occurred to me to use that term had a friend not been here on Saturday morning when I had Symphony #4 (I was using jserraglio's link of the complete symphonies) playing from computer through to hi-fi. We were talking and suddenly there was a (what appeared to me gratuitously) loud surge and shouting brass playing and we both looked at each other. Having another listen later I realized that some of it does, indeed, come across as bombastic; exaggerated importance by empty means. Clearly, I don't think those passages work because they are akin to yelling. But much else of those works, from what I've so far heard, is appealing. But you definitely have to start from the first symphony to get into the composer's aesthetic to fully appreciate/understand what you're hearing.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Wed Apr 12, 2017 2:36 am

maestrob wrote:
Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:49 am
John, I'm quite comfortable with Bernstein's subtle interpretive touches here and there: they are partly what makes him a great conductor rather than a bean counter. In Prokofiev V, for instance, Bernstein leans on the penultimate chord in the first movement, which, while not indicated in the score, makes perfect sense to me musically. Same with the cymbal crashes in the Scherzo of Mahler VII, during which Bernstein suspends tempo in his NY recording for Columbia in order to allow the sound to decay in the hall for each note, even though they are written as two eighth notes without a fermata.
I certainly agree with you about Bernstein in general, but we weren't talking about Prokofiev or Mahler but Sibelius, a quite different proposition. The conductors I admire in Sibelius's symphonies, some of them named in my previous post, were anything but "bean counters," but they did not apply to Sibelius the interpretive approach of their Mozart or Richard Strauss.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Wed Apr 12, 2017 3:29 am

Belle wrote:
Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:16 pm
John F wrote:
Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:49 am
"Bombastic"? How so? My dictionary defines bombastic as "given exaggerated importance by artificial or empty means," and I certainly don't hear that in Sibelius's symphonies, which are among the most organically symphonic since Brahms.
I mean 'bombastic' in the sense that at times it can be loud and brassy. Stridently so. Elgar is sometimes like this too.
So is Beethoven, as in the finale of the 5th symphony. But in neither Beethoven nor Sibelius does this strike me as artificial or empty, but rather as an expressive dimension justified by and organic to the progress of the music.
Belle wrote:It might not have occurred to me to use that term had a friend not been here on Saturday morning when I had Symphony #4 (I was using jserraglio's link of the complete symphonies) playing from computer through to hi-fi. We were talking and suddenly there was a (what appeared to me gratuitously) loud surge and shouting brass playing and we both looked at each other. Having another listen later I realized that some of it does, indeed, come across as bombastic; exaggerated importance by empty means.
Apart from scolding you for talking over the music instead of attending to it, :) I'd like to know precisely what passage you're talking about. Could you provide a link to the recording you heard and spot the minute/second when it occurs? I've just listened to the symphony again, in the extraordinary 1953 Karajan/Philharmonia recording (the first one I bought; it's on YouTube), and didn't hear anything that fits your description. Indeed, it's one of Sibelius's most dynamically restrained symphonies.
Belle wrote:You definitely have to start from the first symphony to get into the composer's aesthetic to fully appreciate/understand what you're hearing.
You surprise me. The first symphony was not the first but the last of them that I heard, and I'd say Sibelius's symphonic style was by no means fully developed in it - in places it has a Tchaikovskian ring which isn't characteristic of Sibelius at all. The first Sibelius I heard, when very young, was the second symphony, and it immediately won me over to Sibelius. Even so, it was many years before I heard another of his symphonies.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Wed Apr 12, 2017 4:02 am

I like the classic Sibelius recordings well enough (Koussevitzky, Beecham, Szell, Mravinsky et al) but this great composer also deserves modern sound. Ashkenazy/Philharmonia, for instance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZOci2Pq77U


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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Wed Apr 12, 2017 7:04 am

JohnF; OK. It's definitely in that first movement of the 4th symphony; I just don't much like the Sibelius treatment of the brass. When his orchestration is so shimmering, lustrous, mysterious, moody, melodic - at times impressionistic and mystical - the brass becomes abrasive and I wish it would remain more in the background.

Naturally, I don't agree about Beethoven because it's probably the coda you're referring to in the 5th which is explosive and dramatic not merely for its own sake but is thematic (not to mention 'programmatic'). What I'm referring to with Sibelius I also hear sometimes in Mahler and Bruckner, who seem to me to be some of that composer's important influences. And the first symphony is a very easy and melodic entree into the world of the rest of Sibelius, preparing the way for the more difficult later ones. That's what I meant; not being thrown in at the deep end.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Wed Apr 12, 2017 7:33 am

Good heavens! There's no hurry, and of course first things must come first. But whenever you have the time, I'd very much like to know what you're referring to.

Bruckner was definitely an influence especially in Sibelius's early works, and there are some traces later on, for example Sibelius's liking for tremolando strings. Hearing this said surprised me, because of course Bruckner is endlessly expansive while Sibelius in his maturity grew more and more tightly argued and concise, but some examples from the Kullervo quasi-symphony persuaded me. Mahler? No, apart from the occasional "sounds like" bits which I think are coincidence, like the repeated 7-note phrase in Verdi's "Otello" which matches a phrase in "Tristan und Isolde" note for note (Kurwenal's "Es kann nicht lang mehr säumen"). In a famous conversation about the symphony, Sibelius said he admired its "profound logic and inner connection," which well describes his own symphonies. Mahler disagreed fundamentally: "A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything." And that well describes his symphonies, collectively and some of them individually.

As for Beethoven's 5th, I'm referring to the whole finale, not just the coda, as being in places loud and brassy, even strident. He brings in three trombones which have sat silently through the first three movements to be let loose in the 4th. Nonetheless it's not bombastic, and neither is anything I hear in Sibelius's 4th symphony, to the contrary. Of course if you just don't like some aspects of his orchestration, it's no big deal.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by diegobueno » Wed Apr 12, 2017 8:46 am

I think the passage in the 4th symphony that Belle objects to is the characteristic "Sibelius Snarl" which you hear for the first time at 2:50 in this video. To me this expresses attitude, not bombast. Sibelius is very "badass" to use the current expression, and one of the ways he shows this is with the snarling brass chords which start with a sfp, are sustained with a big crescendo which cuts off sharply. No other composer uses the brass in quite this fashion. But he uses it sparingly, especially in this symphony, in which most of the thematic argument is given to the strings.



This is a grittier and more severe form of expression than the more conventionally Romantic 1st and 2nd symphonies, but it has a lot to offer to those who stick with it. The 4th is Sibelius in top form.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:12 am

That's an excellent description. We'll see if it's what is upsetting Belle.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Lance » Wed Apr 12, 2017 1:25 pm

I was kind of late getting into Sibelius's music until I heard one of the two recordings made by Koussevitzky of the Symphony No. 2 and the Boston Symphony (among his last recordings made in 1951 just prior to his passing. He cut the first one on 78s in, I believe, 1935). That led me to the First Symphony, which, for me, is another of Sibelius's great gems. It will be interesting to see, as you traverse the symphonies, how different they all are after Nos. 1 and 2. The Fifth is also highly popular but I never found the same personal joy in Sibelius's symphonies after Nos. 1 and 2, which may be perceived more in the Romantic tradition harmonically that those after No. 2. There are so many wonderful recordings of all the symphonies (and as others have suggested, the Bernstein/NYP rank at the top of the list as well), you will have great fun in listening to these works. I hope you keep us posted, Belle, on what you have uncovered for yourself!
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by jserraglio » Wed Apr 12, 2017 1:31 pm


Belle
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Thu Apr 13, 2017 2:35 am

You're all absolutely marvellous!!! I was telling my friend from music appreciation today about you folks here at CMG and he was impressed. I'll take the time to go through everything once Easter is behind us. Thanks for all the links and comments and Happy Easter!! :D

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:12 am

The 3rd and 6th are Sibelius's least performed symphonies, I'm sure. I like #3 very much and so, it seems, did Colin Davis. He not only included it in one of his programs here but while in town, rehearsed it with the Juilliard student orchestra. Interesting - he provided visual or dramatic descriptions now and then to convey the quality he wanted in the playing.

The 6th is another matter. I didn't have a note of it in my head, and while listening to it, the first three movements seemed completely unfamiliar, and I'm afraid my attention began to wander. But the last movement is very familiar indeed, and not just for that reason I think it's the best music in the symphony.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by diegobueno » Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:24 am

I found my way into Sibelius as a college student. It was my habit to go to the music library every day and listen to something while following the score. I decided one day that I was going to tackle Sibelius. I had always found his music forbidding, maybe a bit dull. Other people seemed to really like it, and I decided I would find out why. I would go through the 7 symphonies from the last to the first. I figured most composers write their best music at the end of their careers, so I should start with the best. So I listened to the 7th symphony with a score every day, which was a good choice, because the 7th is so much different from most other symphonies by anybody. I found it intriguing, even if I couldn't quite figure it out. After a week, I couldn't get enough of it. I would listen to it twice in one sitting if I had the time. The difficulty of it is that it keeps moving forward. There's a trombone theme that appears three times, and all around it are ideas that keep morphing into other ideas. There's a skittish scherzo that turns into a stormy sea, tossing the trombone theme like a distressed ship, and that turns into another scherzo, with a lydian inflection that I found very appealing. And so on.

From there I went systematically on to the 6th, 5th, 4th, etc. The 7th remains special to me because it was the "gateway drug", the piece that turned me into a Sibelius fan.

A bit of trivia: The final chord of the 7th symphony, with the brass hitting a C major chord and the strings adding a sustained leading tone, was sampled and looped by John Lennon and used in Revolution no. 9.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Lance » Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:00 pm

Very interesting commentary from a guy who knows! I am curious, in contrast to the Symphony #7, how it relates in your mind to the first and second symphonies, which, for me, are my favourites. Why am I drawn to those two more than the others? Especially the last movement of the second. Sibelius' music speaks to me in those first two symphonies. Then he changes his style nearly completely.
diegobueno wrote:
Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:24 am
I found my way into Sibelius as a college student. It was my habit to go to the music library every day and listen to something while following the score. I decided one day that I was going to tackle Sibelius. I had always found his music forbidding, maybe a bit dull. Other people seemed to really like it, and I decided I would find out why. I would go through the 7 symphonies from the last to the first. I figured most composers write their best music at the end of their careers, so I should start with the best. So I listened to the 7th symphony with a score every day, which was a good choice, because the 7th is so much different from most other symphonies by anybody. I found it intriguing, even if I couldn't quite figure it out. After a week, I couldn't get enough of it. I would listen to it twice in one sitting if I had the time. The difficulty of it is that it keeps moving forward. There's a trombone theme that appears three times, and all around it are ideas that keep morphing into other ideas. There's a skittish scherzo that turns into a stormy sea, tossing the trombone theme like a distressed ship, and that turns into another scherzo, with a lydian inflection that I found very appealing. And so on.

From there I went systematically on to the 6th, 5th, 4th, etc. The 7th remains special to me because it was the "gateway drug", the piece that turned me into a Sibelius fan.

A bit of trivia: The final chord of the 7th symphony, with the brass hitting a C major chord and the strings adding a sustained leading tone, was sampled and looped by John Lennon and used in Revolution no. 9.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by diegobueno » Mon Apr 17, 2017 8:51 am

Lance wrote:
Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:00 pm
Very interesting commentary from a guy who knows! I am curious, in contrast to the Symphony #7, how it relates in your mind to the first and second symphonies, which, for me, are my favourites. Why am I drawn to those two more than the others? Especially the last movement of the second. Sibelius' music speaks to me in those first two symphonies. Then he changes his style nearly completely.
The difference between the 1st and the 7th is a matter of 25 years of experience as a composer and as a person. It's the difference between a hot-blooded 30-something with a great mop of hair and a more introspective 60 year old with no hair at all. All of the great composers evolve and grow as they age. Sibelius became more concerned with making the most concise and logical use of his symphonic time. As his head eliminated extraneous hairs, he chose to eliminate extraneous notes in his music*. He became a compulsive reviser and rewriter. The 1915 version of the 5th is a totally different symphony than the final 1919 version, though based on the same thematic material.

The reason you gravitate to the early symphonies is because they sound more like the Grand Romantic 19th century symphonies which you are unwilling to move beyond. The reason I gravitate towards the later symphonies is because they have moved beyond the Grand Romantic gestures. Conceptually they belong to the 20th century, though retaining the harmonic and orchestrational gestures of late romanticism. Perhaps it's this tension between sound and substance which fascinates me.

If you want to hear a specific relationship between the 2nd and the 7th, move to the 15:10 mark in this performance of the 2nd. The Andante Sostenuto theme of the 2nd movement has the same lydian inflection (the B sharp) as the later scherzo in the 7th symphony.



Compare with rehearsal letter P in the 7th (shortly after 14:30 in this performance). The Lydian raised fourth degree is the F#. It's just a little detail the two symphonies have in common.



(* This is not to suggest a conscious relationship, that he looked in the mirror and said "oh dear, my hairline is receding. I'd better scale back on my symphonies")

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Mon Apr 17, 2017 9:38 am

Lance wrote:Why am I drawn to those two more than the others? Especially the last movement of the second.
I don't know if this is your answer, but the finale of the 2nd symphony is essentially two song-like melodies which are repeated unchanged. I don't know whether lyrics have been provided for them, as for "Finlandia," but they might be. In the later symphonies, and indeed in the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, you don't find this kind of melody, but rather musical "themes" consisting of short motifs that work in the process called development. These are less pleasing in themselves but pay off as the movement progresses.

Sibelius was a master of symphonic construction and development, and indeed the first movement of the 2nd symphony is made not of melodies but of themes and motifs to which dramatic things happen in the long middle section ("development") before they are recapitulated in something like their original forms. This kind of music may be less directly appealing than song melodies but it's what the classical symphony, definitely including Sibelius, is all about.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by diegobueno » Mon Apr 17, 2017 10:13 am

And really, Sibelius just isn't a tunesmith. He tries to do the Tchaikovskian "big tune" in the finale of the 2nd symphony, but it doesn't take off. He gives it a big build-up, but when tune arrives, it's Do-Re-Mi-Si-Do-Re-Do [stop]. Compare with its apparent model, the Adagio of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, which has the same Do-Re-Mi-Si-Do-Re, and then continues to spin a large-spanned lyrical melody that just soars and soars.

Sibelius didn't have Tchaikovsky's gift of melody. What he did have, and Tchaikovsky didn't, was a sense of large-scale symphonic architecture. What he did magnificently (and the 1st movement of the 2nd is an excellent example of this) is build from small fragments into something that soars from the accumulation of momentum.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Heck148 » Mon Apr 17, 2017 11:32 am

I guess I find myself someplace midway between the preferences expressed re Sibelius symphonies - #5 is my favorite, most satisfying in both form and content. next, I love #1, for me, one of the greatest "First" symphonies....great tunes, esp in mvts I and II. I like his use of the opening clarinet theme [mvt I] as the theme for mvt 4 - this time presented for full orchestra, that adds a really dark foreboding tone to it.
I do like #7, perhaps next, after 5 and 1, tho I'm very fond of 4, 2 and 3 as well, no special order. I love the concise, compact style of #7, with its fine trombone solo, which seems to provide a structural unity to it.
I don't get #6 at all, never have. it just doesn't seem to go anywhere...I keep revisiting it, since Sibelius is one of my favorite composers.

I don't necessarily agree with this dictum that early Sibelius is just some sort of "Scandinavian Tchaikovsky" - yes, they are romantic era symphonies, but I don't really hear that much of a parallel between Sibelius 1, 2, and Tchaikovsky...for me, Sibelius does sell the "big tune" - very convincingly, esp in #1/I,II and #2....

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by John F » Mon Apr 17, 2017 5:40 pm

For those who would like to read about this music, there's a short intelligent guide not just to the symphonies but all the orchestral music: "Sibelius, The Orchestral Works - An Owner's Manual," by David Hurwitz. Despite the gimmicky title, this is a serious work, enlightening in unexpected ways. It comes with two CDs, the first with musical examples by Sibelius, the second by other Finnish composers from Merikanto to Lindberg.
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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by Belle » Mon Apr 17, 2017 7:44 pm

This sounds like the way to go. Thanks for that excellent reference. I've read all the other interesting and insightful comments about Sibelius posted here, plus musical links. All good.

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Re: The symphonies of Sibelius

Post by absinthe » Sat Apr 22, 2017 10:01 pm

Must admit I've never really liked them until he got to his 4th. As a composition student I was warned never to get involved with the 6th and 7th as "they were so infectious." I got on well with those. The string writing is brilliant.

Music didn't seem to flow too well for him. His #2 took him ages and I suspect he got away with that early work because Finland was going nationalistic and missing out not having a national composer at the time. Almost anyone who could put notes on music paper would probably have fitted the bill.

I found the symphonies of Nielsen and Rosenberg far more fulfilling, Rosenberg being a Swede and Nielsen a Dane.

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