The Second Symphony was sketched in 1901 while Sibelius was staying amidst the beautiful mountain scenary of Rapallo, Italy. The composer had been on an extended trip abroad from his native Finland, visiting Berlin and meeting Dvorak in Prague. Still, however, Sibelius yearned for his homeland and the Second Symphony bears witness to this homesickness. The ostinato passages and atmospheric string sounds used by Sibelius are often said to represent the Finnish wind. And the stirring finale, though far from sophisticated, must have raised the spirits of his countrymen labouring under the yoke of Russian oppression.
Sibelius (1865-1957) learned about and loved music and nature from an early age, and he grew to be an exceptional player of the violin he had been given on his fifteenth birthday. His family didn't approve of his desire for a career in music and composition though, and enrolled him in Helsinki University to study law. He also enrolled in the Helsinki Academy of Music, and with the later encouragement of an uncle moved over to it full time, composing a String Trio in A major and a String Quartet in A minor among others. He went on to study in Berlin and Vienna, but on his return to Finland, the country's nationalism (prompted by fears of its Soviet-controlled future) sparked an urge in Sibelius to use his music to express Finnish identity.
The Kaleva, a Finnish epic, inspired many of Sibelius' works. The first to bring him fame was a five-movement symphonic poem Kullervo (1892), followed by En Saga, the Karelia Suite, and his most well-known work, Finlandia. This last was banned by the Russian authorities because of its morale-boosting effect on the population. His First Symphony in E minor is a romantic work (owing a lot to Tchaikovsky), but the Second Symphony in D minor is more characteristic of Sibelius' technique of constructing movements from small 'cells' which expand and transform.
The tone poem Tapiola marked the end of Sibelius' composing career in 1926, though he lived until 1957. In his seven symphonies, orchestral, choral and chamber music, the Finnish country and native folk songs inspire a majestic and richly harmonic expression of proud national identity. Some of Sibelius' works also seem to portray a feeling of animosity, directed at the Russian dominance and restriction of his country.
Related composers: Tchaikovsky