Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic playing an excerpt from Sibelius – Karelia Suite

On this Day:

In 1902, was the 1st performance of Jean Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony, his most popular, by the Helsinki Philharmonic Society. The Karelia suite is part of the 2nd Symphony and is one of Sibelius’ best known and loved pieces.

Jean Sibelius; born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, 8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957, was a Finnish composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. He is widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer, and his music is often credited with having helped Finland develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.

The core of his oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies, which like his other major works, are regularly performed and recorded in Finland and very many other countries. His other best-known compositions are Finlandia, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto, the choral symphony Kullervo, and The Swan of Tuonela (from the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other well known works by Sibelius include pieces inspired by nature, Nordic mythology, and the Finnish national epic; the Kalevala, over a hundred songs for voice and piano, incidental music for numerous plays, the opera Jungfrun i Tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music, piano music, Masonic ritual music, and 21 publications of choral music.

Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s, but after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music for The Tempest (1926), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he stopped producing major works in his last thirty years, a stunning and perplexing decline commonly referred to as the “silence of Järvenpää”, the location of his home. Although he is reputed to have stopped composing, he attempted to continue writing, including abortive efforts on an eighth symphony. In later life, he wrote Masonic music and re-edited some earlier works, while retaining an active but not always favourable interest in new developments in music.

The Finnish 100 mark note featured his image until 2002, when the euro was adopted. Since 2011, Finland has celebrated a flag flying day on 8 December, the composer’s birthday, also known as the “Day of Finnish Music”. In 2015, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, a number of special concerts and events were held, especially in Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

First, a Story:

Without any natural border separating the countries, how can you tell when you’re in Finland, and when you’re in Lapland?

Once you pass the last Lap, you’re at the Finnish line.

Second, a Song:

The Karelia Suite, Op. 11 is a subset of pieces from the longer Karelia Music (named after the region of Karelia) written by Jean Sibelius in 1893 for the Viipuri Students’ Association and premiered, with Sibelius conducting, at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland, on 23 November of that year. Sibelius first conducted the shorter Suite ten days later; it remains one of his most popular works.

The Karelia Music was written in the beginning of Sibelius’s compositional career, and the complete Music consists of an Overture, 8 Tableaux, and 2 Intermezzi. It runs for about 44 minutes, whereas the Suite lasts about 12 minutes.

The rough-hewn character of the Music was deliberate – the aesthetic intention was not to dazzle with technique but to capture the quality of naive, folk-based authenticity. Historical comments have noted the nationalistic character of the music.

Sibelius conducted the Karelian Music at its premiere on 13 November 1893 at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland. The behaviour of the audience was, however, far from ideal. As Sibelius noted later:

You couldn’t hear a single note of the music – everyone was on their feet cheering and clapping.

(Jean Sibelius, in a letter to his brother Christian)

Ten days later, Sibelius conducted a popular concert that included the Overture, followed by the three movements that would become the Karelia Suite.

The suite was one of the 17 classical compositions used to create the title track of the 1981 Hooked on Classics project (per Wikipedia).

Sibelius was commissioned to write it in 1893 by the Viipuri Students’ Association for a lottery to aid the education of the people of the Viipuri Province. Accordingly, I think it is fitting that we have a performance of an excerpt of the Karelia Suite by the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic, Kristjan Järvi, conductor, live from the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 31 March 2015, courtesy of I hope you enjoy this! (You may have to click this link to play the piece:

Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic playing an excerpt from Sibelius – Karelia Suite


Thought for the Day:

“The origins of my career as a peace mediator can be found from my childhood years. I was born in the city of Viipuri, then still part of Finland. We lost Viipuri when the Soviet Union attacked my country. Along with 400,000 fellow Karelians, I became an eternally displaced person in the rest of Finland.” – Martti Ahtisaari.

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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