Sibelius’ second symphony represented the composer’s international breakthrough.
His first symphony had been a success, but was strongly coloured by the composer’s admiration of Tchaikovsky. His second symphony was a work written purely in his own style. The work opens with the featherlight introduction by the strings of the melodic theme, answered by the twittering of the woodwinds, everything in a spring-like, light D Major key. The second movement starts with mystical pizzicati in the deep strings before the bassoons sound one of Sibelius’ most melancholy themes. Gradually, the pulse quickens, leading us towards a violent, catastrophic outbreak of the brass, ending with the strings playing an ethereal theme. A ragingly wild scherzo, interrupted by two oboe songs of stoic calm, build a bridge to the finale, where an optimistic life force and melancholy battle side by side until the final triumph and the powerful conclusion.
When Sibelius’ second symphony was premiered in Helsinki in 1902, the disgruntlement with the Russian ruling powers had reached new heights in Finland, and the Fennomans’ crusade for Finnish language and culture had intensified accordingly. In this context, Sibelius − the composer who a few years earlier had given the people the explosive Finlandia, and the equally political The Breaking of the Ice on the Oulu River − seemed to fit the role of national hero and cultural icon perfectly. Despite the circumstances of the time and the symphony’s unambiguous narrative, the work should not be viewed as a political one. The composer was adamant that his symphonies did not have any programmatic content, and that the music should speak for itself.
In 1919, Jean Sibelius (1865−1957) was one of the hottest names in Nordic music life. The performance of his second symphony as part of "Nordic Music Days” in Copenhagen that year was described as the festival’s great highlight. The Oslo Philharmonic was quick to grasp the spirit of the times, and played the piece at its very first subscription concert, two days after its own inaugural concert, in September 1919. In 1921, Sibelius himself visited Christiania on his way home to Finland from Bergen. He conducted his own works with the young orchestra, was bequeathed a wreath, and met King Haakon II, Knut Hamsun, and many other central figures in Norwegian public life.
(Tekst: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; In photo: Dalia Stasevska; Photo: Jarmo Katila)Read more
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