This piece dates from 1899. Sibelius was invited to write music for a pageant, ostensibly for a press pension fund but in reality as a protest against press censorship. The music accompanied the declamation of patriotic texts, and was presented at Helsinki’s “Swedish Theatre”.
The sixth number was entitled “Finland Awake”. In 1900 Sibelius published this piece separately under the present title.
Music of such stirring sentiment soon touched a patriotic nerve. It was suppressed by the authorities, but raised Sibelius to the status of a patriotic hero. It is safe to say that the stirring music is universally popular to this day.
The music opens in an oppressed mood. A growling brass crescendo and thundering timpani are answered by quieter organ-like chords as the opening theme triumphantly breaks through. As it fades, flutes introduce the famous theme which tugs at the heart strings. The triumphant music returns, and the flute theme is heard in full orchestral majesty. The piece ends in the most assertive manner, with the fervour of the music spanning the whole of this dying century.
Footnote: With adapted 17th century German words, the “great tune” of Finlandia has been sung as a popular hymn, viz.: “Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side”