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Arts Desk

Finland's Composer, Jean Sibelius, Wrote a New Kind of Symphony for His Homeland

JeanSibelius960px.jpg
Jean Sibelius in 1920. The composer was on the cover of TIME magazine on December 6, 1937.

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was so revered in his homeland that the government commissioned him to write a symphony as part of a national celebration of his 50th birthday. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on what has become one of the composer’s most famous works.

On Sunday, July 17th at 1 pm on WRTI, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance of Sibelius's Fifth Symphony. 

Sibelius5thSymphony113015SLLF.mp3
Listen to Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin talk about the significance of Jean Sibelius' great 5th Symphony.

Radio script:

MUSIC:  Sibelius' Symphony No. 5

Susan Lewis: Sibelius wrote his Symphony No. 5 during the tumultuous years of World War I - a time when he was also undergoing multiple surgeries for throat cancer. What’s more, writing this symphony was a momentous musical undertaking, says Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director YannickNezet-Seguin.

Yannick Nezet Seguin: Here we have a Finnish composer, taking a word - very much associated with Germanic repertoire, symphony, and the 5th – arguably since Beethoven being a symbolic one - and using songs which are, on the one hand, originating from the folklore, and by the end becoming something very large. As if masses of people would be united in the same song, and makes it a total different architecture and shape.

SL: Sibelius, says Yannick, created a new way of thinking about the form. 

YNS: Music lovers recognize very often the last few bars of the symphony. They are the most unusual ones because they are big chords, separated by huge pauses. This is the most unsettling, fascinating, uplifting writing.

SL: In 1915, Sibelius conducted the first version of his Symphony No. 5. A year later, he led a second version. And in 1919, he conducted the final version we know today. 

Sibelius5thSymphony113015SLLF.mp3
Listen to Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin talk about the significance of Jean Sibelius' great 5th Symphony.