Sibelius and Finlandia
Jean Sibelius’ music is synonymous with Finnish national identity and his magnificent symphonic poem “Finlandia” is one of his greatest works. Originally it formed part of his setting of a majestic and patriotic poem by the poet Zachria Topelius, but Sibelius reworked it into a stand-alone work for Symphony Orchestra. Since its premiere on 2 July 1900 in Helsinki, it has become Finland’s best-known work and a musical symbol for the country.
The Finnish people had had a tough time asserting their individual nationality up until then. After being a part of the Kingdom of Sweden for several centuries, Finland was under Russian rule when Sibelius was born. In late 1899, while the country was suffocating under the ever-tightening grip of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, the 34-year-old composer began work on “Finlandia” as a thinly veiled protest against increasing sanctions from the Russian powers. While Finland was still under Russian rule, it was programmed in concerts under covert titles such as “Impromptu”.
Listen to Sibelius’ masterpiece on this spirited recording by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. From its rousing opening chords and drum rolls, to the beautifully calm and folksong-like “Finlandia Hymn” near the end, “Finlandia” is a journey through the history and landscape of a unique country. Although born out of the Romantic nationalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s raw theatrical energy and musical craftsmanship has meant it has lived on as one of the best loved orchestral works of the last century.