Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 in D Major was started in 1900 in Italy and finished in 1902 in Finland. It was first performed in Finland in that year with the composer conducting. The Symphony was an immediate success and established Sibelius as a major composer. Its reception outside of Finland was less enthusiastic, and it was a little while before the Second Symphony became established as the most popular of his symphonies.
At the time it was composed, Finland was under the rule of Tsarist Russia. Sibelius was deeply involved in the struggle to keep Finland free. Sibelius wrote music strongly tied to his homeland and its traditions, and he became a symbol of nationalism to the Finnish people. Some commentators have dubbed the Second Symphony the “Symphony of Independence”, written as it was at the time of Russian oppression.
The Symphony is arranged in four movements with no break between the third and final movement.
I Allegretto: The first movement is complex with the tunes, of which there are several, growing out of each other. As introduction, the strings present a chordal motive that courses through and unifies much of the movement. The opening theme is provided by the woodwind and horns.
II Andante: The second movement starts with bassoons, above a bleak accompaniment of timpani with cellos and bases in pizzicato notes. The upper strings and then the full orchestra take over, the tempo accelerates, and a huge brass climax is built. The movement ends quite bleakly – does this represent the lot of the Finnish nation?
III Vivacissimo: Lento: The third movement starts with an energetic scherzo, followed by a slower trio section with a remarkable oboe tune. The tension builds and the music surges its way directly into the finale.
IV Allegro moderato: The finale starts confidently with one of the very well known themes, a joy to play. The music pitches forward with different times and keys and has the feeling of an inner turmoil, finally exploding when the D minor key finally develops into the major key. Be prepared for the brass, not just playing forte but treble forte!!
The Second Symphony is a hugely emotional piece, a joy to play, and represents a considerable challenge. But what a reward! I trust you will enjoy our performance.