Taught by the Conductor of a Czarist Military Mand

gbnfgn © Charles Thibo
Sibelius’ family played chamber music at home. © Charles Thibo

The Scandinavian landscape and the love for his home country were the most important source of inspiration of this composer: Jean Sibelius. This remarkable composer from Finland has written in 1903 the beautiful Violin Concerto in A Minor, op. 47. It was performed for the first time in 1905 in Berlin under Richard Strauss, and is part of the repertoire of many violinists. One recording that I would like to recommend is the one by Lisa Batiashvili and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Born under the Russian crown

At the time of Sibelius’ birth, in 1865, Finland was a grand duchy belonging to the Russia. His family had Swedish roots, and he was actually baptized on the name of Janne. His father was a physician in a small town and also attended to the nearby Russian garrison. Sibelius was taught the violin by the conductor of that garrison. If Finland had to suffer under the fight of the Whites and the Reds in the Russian civil war 1918-20 and fought itself a bitter war in 1939/40 to avoid renewed annexation by the Soviet Union, the world owes it to a conductor of a Czarist military band that young Janne got early professional musical training.

Music and national politics

The Sibelius family enjoyed chamber music at home: Sibelius sister Linda played the piano and his brother Christian the cello. Logically his first compositions were pieces meant to be played at home by his family or his friends. While he had initially planned to study law, he abandoned this plan in 1886, and started to study music in Helsinki, in Berlin and in Vienna. A few years after his studies in Vienna in 1896, he had already written  several symphonic poems and was about to compose a first symphony. Upon his return to Finland, Sibelius took up a teaching position and became politically active by supporting the growing independence movement.

A galvanic violin concerto

Sibelius early compositions show the influence of Edvard Grieg and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The violin concerto is part of those. It is written in three movements, and the first movement starts with a slow, dreamlike theme played by the soloist, echoed occasionally by the woods. The full orchestra sets in only at a rather late stage – quite special. The second movement is very lyrical with a deeply Romantic texture. The third movement starts with brisk strings (cello , double bass) and timpani, after a few bars, the soloist is unleashed – mmmmh, I love this part, I could almost dance to it! Very powerful – I found the word “galvanic” in the dictionary. Wow. Galvanic. That’s it. Galvanic. Yeah. Go get it.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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