18 May 2019

SIBELIUS: Symphony No 6 in D minor Op 104

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 18 May 2019

“Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public cold spring water.” ~ Jean Sibelius

Conductor Thomas Søndergård

Conductor Thomas Søndergård Photo: Supplied

Rather than try to match his contemporaries, Jean Sibelius decides to reach back to the past and into pre-medieval Finnish tradition to find the harmonic basis for the Sixth Symphony. By using the Dorian modes as heard in ancient Finnish folksong Sibelius creates a palette that sounds paradoxically new.

Like water, the symphony flows. Sibelius said in an interview that “it has four movements, which are formally completely free and do not follow the ordinary sonata scheme”. By the time he came to write his final three symphonies (around the 1920s), he had decided to set aside traditional forms like sonata form or the rondo, instead allowing his musical ideas to have their head and dictate their own form as they organically grew and developed.

It is the least performed of his seven symphonies, and the least flashy. Early audiences were impressed by the work, but vaguely puzzled by its quietness and lack of overt drama (especially when compared to the grand majesty of the composer’s Fifth Symphony). The general consensus is, however, that the Sixth Symphony reveals its considerable qualities only over time, and it rewards repeated listening. Moreover, Sibelius clearly felt it was not simply a piece of entertainment, saying, “I do not think of a symphony only as music in this or that number of bars, but rather as an expression of a spiritual creed, a phase in one’s inner life.”

Recorded 18 May 2019, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Darryl Stack