Sibelius’ best works are to be found in his seven symphonies and symphonic poems. However, he is probably most renowned today for his tone poem Finlandia which he composed in 1899.
At this time the Grand Duchy of Finland was struggling for independence from the Russian Empire. Sibelius was invited to write music for a pageant supposedly for a Press Pension. However, it was a cover for a protest against press censorship. He composed six tableau the last one of which was called Finland Awakes. When he rearranged it for piano, it acquired the title Finlandia.
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 that 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”
Roy Saberton, Former Lead Viola (at the foundation of the BHSO) and Honorary Life Patron.
and Lynne Haslam 2nd Violin