WorldView Episode 08: Jean Sibelius

Jean Sibelius is often considered the greatest Finnish composer of all time, but his symphonies, operas, and instrumental works are known and performed worldwide. Episode nine of WorldView features his Violin Concerto in D Minor, the only concerto the composer ever wrote. 

Johan Julius Sibelius was born in 1865 when Finland was an autonomous region of the Russian Empire. After the death of his father in 1868, Sibelius and his mother moved in with his grandmother; his uncle, the only remaining male influence in his life, gave Jean a violin when he was ten years old. He studied at the Helsinki Music Institute (later renamed the Sibelius Academy), and eventually gave up his career as a solo violinist in favor of composition. It was around this time that he met and married Aino Järnefelt, and the pair remained together until his death in 1959. 

Sibelius gained popularity at the tail end of the 19th century with the publication of compositions such as The Swan of Tuonela, Finlandia, and his first Symphony. Many of his earlier works have similar styles to that of Tchaikovsky’s music, as well as elements of traditional Wagnerian operas. Sibelius was also frequently frustrated by poor performances of his works, saying once: “Scarcely one of my best works has met with the right comprehension when first performed. They took at least 20 years to succeed.” Unlike other composers of the time, Sibelius focused on slowly developing themes throughout his music; it is difficult to find jarring or unexpected transitions in any of his works. 

Violin Concerto in D Minor remains one of the most difficult solo violin pieces ever written, and is known for its extended and challenging cadenza. The original work was written in 1904, but Sibelius released a revised and slightly less demanding edition a year later. In this episode of WorldView, Sibelius’s Violin Concerto is performed by Jascha Heifetz  and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

WorldView Episode Eight Playlist:

Edvard GRIEG, “Holberg Suite”, {Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra, Conrad van Alphen (cond)} – Telarc 

Gabriela MONTERO, “Improvisation in Blue”, {Gabriela Montero}  – Emi Classics 

Jean SIBELIUS, “Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47”, {Jasha Heifetz, Boston Symphony Orch, Charles Munch (cond)} – RCA 

Jennifer HIGDON, “Amazing Grace”, {Serafin String Quartet} – Naxos

WorldView is a classical music radio show featuring composers from everywhere in the world – except Western Europe. Tune in to hear works by lesser-known artists such as Gabriela Montero  and Bright Sheng, and widen your knowledge of classical music. Hinke Younger hosts each week’s episode of WorldView on Mondays at 9AM and again at 6PM on Charlottesvilleclassical.org.

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