25 Feb 2021

SIBELIUS: Finlandia

From Music Alive, 8:01 pm on 25 February 2021

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vincent Hardaker

Lake Keitele by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Lake Keitele by Akseli Gallen-Kallela Photo: public domain

In 1892, Sibelius was propelled to the top ranks of Finnish composers with a suite of five tone poems based on Finnish folklore. But it was 7 years later that Finlandia made him an international name – the work's specific national flavour proving to hold a very universal appeal.

It was composed as part of an accompaniment to a dramatic presentation ostensibly raising pension funds for newspaper workers, but in truth protesting censorship imposed by the Russians who controlled the country.

Finland Awakes, as the work was first called, was the climax of the event and it crystallised the general mood of the public.

A year on and Sibelius had reworked this piece into the form know today as Finlandia. Its impact on Finns didn't go unnoticed by the Russians and it was banned for several years in Finland. Given the political context, it was played by European orchestras under a variety of other titles: in Germany Das Vaterland, in France, La Patrie, and in the Baltic provinces under the innocuous header of Impromtu.

Finlandia was performed under the title we now know for the first time by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra at the Paris World Exhibition.This was inspired by a suggestion from an admirer of the composer who wrote to Sibelius: "You should put something really devilish in your [Exhibition] overture. Rubenstein wrote a fantasy completely based on Russian motives for the 1899 Paris Exhibition and called it Russia. Surely yours must be called Finlandia."

A few years later, Sibelius wrote in his diary: 'Why does this tone poem catch on with the public? I suppose because of its plein air style. The themes on which it is built came to me directly. Pure inspiration.'

Recorded by RNZ Concert in Auckland Town Hall, 25 February 2021
Producer: Adrian Hollay; Engineer: Rangi Powick