Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Sibelius: First and Second Symphonies

Sibelius completed his First Symphony, E minor, Op.39, in 1899. Though it was his first effort in this type of composition, it was immediately successful in gaining recognition and almost unchallenged admiration. Its Themes are simple; national in spirit; inclined to the melancholy and even somber moods; intrinsically patriotic in conception.

The first Movement opens with the intonation of a weird melody as clarinet solo; the Allegro (6/4 measure, in G major) which follows, displays tremendous vigor and determination, and---as details contribute to the distinctive character of the music---the frequent, nearly prevailing, rhythms of eighth-notes, and the multifold repetitions of brief figures, so inherent in the natural musical habits of the Finns.

The usual slow movement, an Andante, assumes its conventional location as second in order, and contains exquisite picturesque touches. This is followed by the Scherzo, as third Movement. The true Scherzo quality is apparent in its rhythm only; its mood is dark, and harsh dissonances are plentiful. The Trio, however, is kindlier and more tender in tone.

The Finale, entitled Quasi una Fantasia, begins with the clarinet solo of the first Movement, pronounced with great force by the whole body of strings, in unison, and then unfolds a somewhat gloomy perspective, ending in a broad hymn of sadness.

The Second Symphony of Sibelius, in D, Op.43, is no less popular than the First---perhaps it is even more generally admired, because of its brighter countenance, and friendlier aspect; though it is less effective, less volcanic, imbued with less elemental power.


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