Finlandia : Work information

Jean (Julius Christian) Sibelius ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

This work

Work name
Work number
Op. 26
1899-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
John H. West
John Timperley
Recording date

Track listing

  • Finlandia 8:30 min


Although it makes no use of Folk song, Finlandia has come to symbolise Finland's national spirit more than any other piece. Composed in 1899 to help raise money for a press pension fund in Helsinki, it formed the final Tableau of a nationalist pageant.

From the sinister opening snarl of trombones and the rumbustous allegro, to the serenity of the hymn-like middle section, this is stirring stuff. The triumphal return of the hymn at the conclusion prompted aspiring Finnish nationals to adopt it as their rallying-cry. It is easy to see why this has become one of Sibelius' most peformed works. 

The Composers

Jean (Julius Christian) Sibelius

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