Sibelius – the less well known works

Last meeting of the season focused on Sibelius

Just over a century ago, Finland declared its independence at the time of the Russian revolution in 1917. At the start of the second world war in 1940, they then had to fight a fierce war against Stalin’s Russia who invaded the country with overwhelming force. The Russian general assumed it would all be over in around 12 days but the Russian army, although vast, was poorly led – following Stalin’s murder of thousands of Red Army officers – poorly equipped and the Finns put up a fierce resistance. They were ultimately successful losing only a small piece of territory but, they maintained their independence.

There is something faintly familiar with that story in the current events in Ukraine. Russia invading a neighbouring country with overwhelming force with the hope of a quick victory, being resisted by a much smaller but better led army. So what has this to do with the Recorded Music Society you ask? Living through this period was Finland’s greatest composer, Jean (as he is known today) Sibelius. His music contributed to Finland’s sense of nationhood from the time of independence and subsequently the war against Russia. So in addition to writing brilliant music, he was important giving the Finns a sense of national identity and pride. These things are significant during a time when a country is under threat.

Many of Sibelius’s works are well known and receive a regular airing in concert halls around the world. But like many composers, there is the well known and there is the less familiar. At last nights meeting, we were delighted to welcome again, Simon Coombs, who presented a range of less well known works, combining them with the life of the composer through his nation’s sometimes troubled history.

Sibelius started by studying law but while doing so, joined the Helsinki Music Institute. He was a capable violinist but decided to concentrate on composition and to that end, studied in Berlin and Vienna where he met Bruckner. He returned to Helsinki to compose his first major piece Kullervo. Among the pieces selected by Simon was A Conferment Cantata, A Song for Lemminkäinen, Finlandia, and a number of examples of incidental music. Also an extract from Pelléas et Mélisande and incidental music the the Tempest.

Simon was helped in his presentation by discs produced by Bis Records who have produced recordings by all of Sibelius’s music. Simon ended with some fragments of the 8th Symphony: it is not clear if Sibelius ever finished the work and destroyed it. Members were delighted with the presentation and the curation of the pieces linking it to key events in the composer’s life.

Sibelius’s music was an element of Finland’s struggle to achieve statehood and independence from Russia. It is strange to note that Ukraine’s famous composers; Prokofiev and Szymanowski among others, have not played a similar role in Ukraine’s resistance. Tchaikovsky is of Ukrainian extraction – the family name was originally Chaiko before the move to Russia.

This was the last meeting of the current season and the programme for the autumn is in final stages of preparation.

Peter Curbishley

Next (and last!) meeting

Secret Sibelius is the title of the last meeting of the 2021/22 season

TONIGHT!

We are delighted to welcome back Simon Coombs who is going to speak on the

subject of Sibelius and he will be focusing on the lesser known works by this famous composer. Like many composers, people are often familiar with the great works but there is often a hinterland of lesser known works which are worth listening to.

This is the last meeting of the current season so we look forward to meeting you at 7:30 as usual. Work is well advanced with the 2022/23 season and we will be producing a leaflet as usual in the summer.

Meeting tonight

The next meeting is tonight, Monday 25th October, when Ed Tinline will be presenting: Harmony around the Baltic

He hopes you’ll be able to join him on a musical journey around some of the Baltic countries, enjoying pieces by local composers including Jean Sibelius,  Arvo Pärt, Hugo Alvén, and others.

We shall have an interval when we will be able to offer tea or coffee, but you’re welcome to bring your own drink.  As before, we ask all attending to follow the Covid safety measures we have in place including signing in and sanitising procedures on arrival, well spaced seating, wearing a mask, minimising moving around and maintaining social distancing. 

Copies of the full programme for the season will be available at the meeting.

However please would you note that while the dates of coming meetings are unchanged we have had to alter the running order in November. The amended programme up to Christmas is now:

  • On 8th November  Alan Forshaw will present ‘Listening to Beethoven in a different light’.
  • And then on 22nd November we shall have a Members’ Evening. If you have a piece of around 10 minutes that you would like bring and have played please let a committee member know.

Our final meeting before Christmas will be on 6th December 2021 when Ruth Barlow will present ‘Classical Music in Animations’ and invite us to join her in an end of term scamper  through some cartoons with great classical music, including considering whether Fantasia was Mickey Mouse’s finest hour and listening to Tom and Jerry playing Liszt.

We hope you will be able to come on Monday 25th  October at 7.30 and to feel comfortable with the arrangements we plan to have in place.

Re restarting

Zoom meeting planned

After the problems which we are all aware of, we were unable to restart earlier this month but the committee has been active in thinking up a solution.  So, on the 5th October at 7:30 pm, we shall be doing an experiment with Zoom and YouTube built around some early work by Sibelius.

This is an experiment of course and members are invited to get in touch with Committee member Ruth for details and the necessary links.  If you haven’t used Zoom before, it’s quite easy if you follow some fairly straightforward steps.  YouTube is likewise pretty easy.  You will need a little camera for your pc if that is your system: laptops and Apple machines have one installed, not all monitors do.  They are cheap at under £30 and you just plug it in.

You might need to ‘mute’ when someone is speaking because interference or noise builds up if you don’t.   Hover over the bottom of the screen and a microphone symbol will appear and you can ‘mute’ or ‘unmute’ by clicking it.

We look forward to as many of our members as possible joining this innovative solution in these troubled times.

Sibelius Concert notice

Those members who came to the first meeting this year given by our chair Ed Tinline might like to know there is a live follow up, in Salisbury, to his presentation in September of Music from a Sibelius 150th Anniversary Festival!

Sibelius
Sibelius

Folke Gräsbeck (two of whose recordings he included in his programme) will be giving a piano recital on Wednesday 4th November at 7.30pm in St Martin’s Church, Salisbury.

 The publicity for the event says
Finnish pianist Folke Gräsbeck has recorded much of Sibelius’s piano music for Scandinavian record label BIS’s Sibelius Complete Edition, including a well-reviewed recital on the composer’s own piano at his home Ainola.
The programme is still to be confirmed in detail, but will feature several more well known pieces such as valse triste and may well include some UK premières of Sibelius’s lesser known piano works. 
Ticket Prices:  £10 available at the door

New season gets underway

The new season started well last night with a presentation by Ed Tinline of the

Sibelius

music of Sibelius.  His music is familiar enough of course and it got a good hearing at this year’s proms concerts in honour of his 150th anniversary.  He is Finland’s most famous composer although curiously, he spoke Swedish – a reflection of that country’s complex history.

Ed had just returned from Lahti in Finland where he attended the anniversary festival there.  He selected for the Society music played at that festival which mixed familiar works with several less well known.  It is often a curious fact that even top flight composers have a body of work which may seldom if ever be heard.  This might be because it received a poor review when it was first performed or because the composer was unhappy with it and it was ‘withdrawn’.

The evening started with a performance of the Wood Nymph from 1894 performed by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Otto Vänskä in a world premier recording made in 1996, that is a century after it was composed.  At 21 minutes it was quite long but contained much interesting and delightful music.  It is a mystery why Sibelius never arranged for its publication but it might be because he was unsure of its merit.

After the second movement of Symphony No 3 we heard two songs sung by Lilli Paassikivi: Since then I have questioned no further and Astray from a set of songs opus 17.

Another rarely heard piece was Oceanides a ‘Rondo of the Waves’ by the same orchestra and conductor, recorded in 2003.  Originally written in D Flat major, Sibelius transcribed it into D major for its first performance in the States because of the difficulty for the strings in playing it in the original key.  It was favourably received.

We also heard the fourth movement from the familiar Symphony No 6 under Otto Kamu recorded last year and the evening finished with Andante Festivo op 34 performed by Tempera String Quartet.

The next evening is on October 5th.

Salisbury Journal