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Symposium

Donald Macleod explores Sibelius's decadent life in 1890s Helsinki and the increasingly harsh restrictions placed on Finns by the Russian Empire.

Donald Macleod explores Sibelius's decadent life in 1890s Helsinki, and the increasingly harsh restrictions placed on Finns by the Russian Empire.

150 years after he was born, Jean Sibelius remains the most famous and important artistic figure in Finland's history, and indeed, their most famous celebrity in any field. His music helped rouse the Finnish people and galvanise their struggle for independence - and yet, the long life of this proud Finn (he lived to the age of 91) is a mass of contradictions. At home, Sibelius spoke Swedish, the language of his childhood, and it's often forgotten he was a Russian citizen until he was 52. This week, in conversation with the Sibelius scholar Glenda Goss, Donald Macleod explores the key musical works by Sibelius that helped articulate the idea and essence of Finnish identity.

After decades of relatively contented existence within the Russian Empire, the 1890s saw Finland's autonomy being gradually eroded by the "Russian bear" to the West. Today's episode begins with a portrait of Sibelius by his colleague Busoni, before presenting a rare and highly-charged choral work, "The Boat Journey", whose premiere was described as "a bombshell" in the move towards independence. We also hear about Sibelius's drunken adventures as part of the notorious "Symposium": a group of artists who would congregate in Helsinki to debate, over considerable quantities of alcohol, the great philosophical and aesthetic questions of the time. The programme ends with two much-loved works that helped proclaim a distinct Finnish identity: Sibelius's "Karelia Suite" and "The Swan of Tuonela" from his "Lemminkäinen Suite", drawn from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.

Busoni: Orchestral Suite no.2, Op.34a: I. Prelude
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor

Sibelius: Adagio In D Minor
Jean Sibelius Quartet

Sibelius: The Boat Journey, Op.18 no.3
YL Male Voice Choir
Matti Hyökki, director

Sibelius: Karelia Suite
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor

Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Leif Segerstam, conductor

First broadcast in December 2015 as part of BBC Radio 3's "Northern Lights" season.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Ferruccio Busoni

    Orchestral Suite no.2, Op.34a: I. Prelude

    Orchestra: BBC Philharmonic. Conductor: Neeme Järvi.
    • CHANDOS : CHAN-9920.
    • CHANDOS.
    • 1.
  • Jean Sibelius

    Adagio In D Minor

    Performer: Jean Sibelius String Quartet.
    • ONDINE : ODE-850-2.
    • ONDINE.
    • 6.
  • Jean Sibelius

    The Boat Journey, Op.18 no.3

    Choir: Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat. Conductor: Matti Hyökki.
    • BIS BISCD1433.
    • BIS.
    • 3.
  • Jean Sibelius

    Karelia Suite

    Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor: Vladimir Ashkenazy.
    • DECCA : 4554022.
    • DECCA.
    • 6.
  • Jean Sibelius

    The Swan Of Tuonela

    Performer: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Leif Segerstam.
    • ONDINE : ODE-852-2.
    • ONDINE.

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