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6.110056 - SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto / SINDING: Violin Concerto No. 1
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Jean Sibelius (1865-1957):
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 • Serenade in G minor, Op. 69b
Christian Sinding (1856-1941):
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 45 • Romance in D major, Op. 100
<9> The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born in 1865, the son of a doctor, in a small town in the south of Finland, the language and culture of his family being Swedish. It was at school that he was to learn Finnish and acquire his first interest in the early legends of a country that had become an autonomous grand-duchy under the Tsar of Russia, after the defeat of Charles XII of Sweden. Throughout the later nineteenth century there were divisions between the Swedish-speaking upper classes and the Finnish-speaking people, the cause of the latter embraced by influential nationalists and accentuated by the repressive measures introduced by Tsar Nicholas II, before the revolution of 1905. In this society Sibelius was deeply influenced by his association with the family of General Järnefelt, whose daughter Aino became his wife. Nevertheless linguistically Swedish remained his mother tongue, in which he expressed himself more fluently than he could in Finnish.

The musical abilities of Sibelius were soon realised, although not developed early enough to suggest music as a profession until he had entered university in Helsinki as a law student. His first ambition had been to be a violinist. It later became apparent that any ability he had in this direction was outweighed by his gifts as a composer, developed first by study with Martin Wegelius, then with the pedantic Becker in Berlin and with Goldmark and, more effectively, Robert Fuchs in Vienna.

In Finland once more, Sibelius won almost immediate success in 1892 with a symphonic poem, Kullervo, based on an episode from the Finnish epic Kalevala. There followed compositions of particular national appeal that further enhanced his reputation in Helsinki, including the incidental music to the patriotic student pageant Karelia, En Saga and the Lemminkäinen Suite. During this period Sibelius supported himself and his wife by teaching, as well as by composition and the performance of his works, but it proved difficult for him to earn enough, given, as he was, to bouts of extravagance, continuing from his days as a student. In 1896 he was voted the position of professor at the University of Helsinki, but the committee’s decision was overturned in favour of Robert Kajanus, the experienced founder and conductor of the first professional orchestra in Helsinki. As consolation for his disappointment Sibelius was awarded a government stipend for ten years, and this was later changed into a pension for life. The sum involved was never sufficient to meet his gift for improvidence, inherited, perhaps, from his father, who at his death in 1868 had left his family in some difficulty.

Sibelius continued his active career as a composer until 1926, his fame increasing at home and abroad. The successful Symphony No. 1 of 1898 was followed by the still more successful Finlandia. Busoni had tried to arrange for the publication of his music by Belyayev, patron of the later nineteenth-century Russian nationalist composers, on the excuse that the Finns were, in a sense, Russians, or at least citizens of a Russian grand-duchy. This came to nothing, but subsequent publication by Breitkopf and Härtel ensured a wider public abroad than provincial Finland itself could ever offer. Symphony No. 2 in 1902 won an unprecedented success in Helsinki. This was followed by the Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 3, and after an illness that put an end for the moment to his indulgence in alcohol and tobacco Symphony No. 4, with travel to the major musical centres of Europe and international honour. Symphony No. 5 was written during the war, after which Sibelius wrote only four works of any substance, Symphony No. 6 in 1923 and, in the following year, Symphony No. 7, incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and, in 1926, the symphonic poem Tapiola. An eighth symphony was completed in 1929, but destroyed. The rest was silence. For the last 25 years of his life Sibelius wrote nothing, remaining isolated from and largely antipathetic to contemporary trends in music. His reputation in Britain and America remained high, although there were inevitable reactions to the excessive enthusiasm of his supporters. On the continent of Europe he failed to recapture the earlier position he had enjoyed before the war of 1914 in Germany, France and Vienna. He died in 1957 at the age of 91.

Sibelius completed the first version of his Violin Concerto in 1903 and it was first performed in Helsinki the following year by Victor Novácek with indifferent results. The concerto was revised and successfully performed in Berlin in 1905 by Karl Halir, under the direction of Richard Strauss. The choice of soloist, however, offended the violinist Willy Burmester, who had originally been promised the work. The earlier version of the concerto was technically ambitious, and as a violinist Sibelius had needed no help with the layout of the solo part, although this presented technical difficulties that were beyond his own command. The later version made necessary revisions in the solo part and it is in this definitive form that the work has become a standard part of the solo repertoire. The work was dedicated to the young Hungarian virtuoso Ferenc Vecsey, who had given a later performance of the concerto in Berlin in the presence of the composer.

The concerto opens with no lengthy orchestral introduction, the soloist making an almost immediate appearance, accompanied by a Scandinavian mist of muted strings. Although the movement is in the traditional tripartite form, the central development section is replaced by a cadenza-like passage for the violinist. The lyrical slow movement brings a deeply romantic melody, with the soloist proceeding to weave his own fantasies above the orchestra. There follows a finale which the composer once described as a danse macabre, providing an opportunity for virtuoso display in a work in which the solo part is generally entwined with the orchestral texture.

The two Serenades for violin and orchestra were written in 1912 and 1913 respectively. They had their first performance in Helsinki in 1915 in a fiftieth birthday programme that included the new Fifth Symphony and the tone-poem The Oceanides. The second of the two serenades, the Serenade in G minor, Op. 69b, opens with a gently lilting theme for the solo violin, accompanied by the sustained chords of the muted strings of the orchestra. This forms the basis of the first part of the work, its initial serenity subtly threatened by an intrusive and whispered C sharp from the double basses and timpani. The 6/4 metre of the opening is changed to duple time with a livelier dotted theme from the soloist, over a triplet semiquaver accompaniment, in a section that again finds a place for the intrusive whispered C sharp, before the brief return of the opening theme. The dotted rhythm is heard again and the low C sharp eventually heralds the return of the first theme, unaccompanied, before the Serenade ends in final, brief optimism.

Widely remembered by an earlier generation as the composer of The Rustle of Spring, the Norwegian composer Christian Sinding was born into a culturally gifted family in Kongsberg in 1856. He trained first as a violinist, studying under Schradieck at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he was also a pupil of Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. During his four years in Leipzig he turned his attention increasingly to composition, an art in which he became prolific, writing very much within the German late Romantic tradition. He made his real début as a composer in Oslo in 1882, when his Piano Quartet was performed. Sinding received state support from Norway from 1880 and in 1924 was given the use of Henrik Wergeland’s house ‘Grotten’ in the castle park in Oslo. Before this he had generally, since 1874, spent the winter months in Germany, returning to Åsgårdsstrand in Norway in the summer.

Sinding left three violin concertos. The first of these, the Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 45, was written in 1898. The first movement opens with cheerful ebullience, its emphatic first theme leading to a more lyrical secondary theme, of which the soloist makes much. It is the opening thematic material that returns, leading to the end of the movement with a final chord that heralds the more sombre start of the slow movement, with a finely crafted principal theme, developed by the soloist in music of general serenity. This leads without a break to the lively finale, with its varied episodes offering romantic contrast and thematic reminiscences, before the energetic conclusion.

Romance in D major, Op. 100, was completed in 1910. Like much of the composer’s other work it proclaims his Leipzig training in its technical assurance, its handling of the orchestra and its lyrical charm. It is, nevertheless, a world away from the Scandinavia of Sibelius.

Keith Anderson


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