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Celebrating The 150 th Birthdays Of Two Great Scandinavian Composers - Sibelius & Nielsen .

   This year  marks the 150 th anniversity of the  the birth of two great Scandinavian composers , Jean Sibelius of Finland and Carl Nielsen of Denmark .  Sibelius is the better known of the two to the concertgoing public , but Carl Nielsen of Denmark has been  steadily gaining  more recognition  .  Nielsen died in 1931 and Sibelius in 1957 .   Both composers knew and admired each other , but their music is vastly different .  

   Jean Sibelius put the small  nation of Finland , which had long been ruled by Sweden and Russia  at different times, on the musical map , and while Nielsen was by no means the first Danish composer  to achieve some reputation in his country , he was the first truly great and original one .  Both were greatly honored in their native countries , but  Nielsen did not become  well known outside his native Denmark and Sweden   until  many years after his death .  

   The music of Sibelius, on the other hand ,  was widely performed outside of Scandinavia during his long lifetime , and his orchestral works ,including  seven symphonies, a violin concerto and assorted  highly descriptive works evoking the folklore and colorful wild landscapes of Finland , were championed by such great conductors as Serge Koussevitzky, Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli and others .  But Nielsen's quirky , strange and  highly individual music was almost totally unknown in America until Leonard Bernstein  discovered it in the 1960s while music director of the New York Philharmonic and began to perform and record it .  And since then, many other leading comductors  have perforned and recorded his music .

    Nielsen is best known for his highly original six symphonies, the delightful woodwind quintet , and his delightfully weird  his clarinet concerto ,but he aso wrote a number of  symphonic poems , concetos for violin and flute,  , various choral works , piano pieces , songs , and two operas etc .  Sibelius also wrote numerous works for piano even though he was a violinist, not a pianist . Nielsen was also a  violinist , and both composers were also active as conductors . 

    The orchestral works of Sibelius are often  brooding , mysterious and  full of  misty colors ; the music of Nielsen is robust , extroverted , muscular , filled with bright colors  and unlike the Finn , even  witty and humorous at times .  Nilesen's  music, particularly his later works , are much more harmonically adventurous  and even approach atonality at times .   

   According  to Leonard Bernstein, one characteristic of  Nielsen's music is its "total unpredictability ".  His music is always full of surprises .  For example, the two sets of battling antiphonal   tympani in the finale  of his tumultuous 4th symphony, subtitles "The Inextinguishable" ,  and the passage in the 5th symphony where the snare drummer   is instructed by the composer to imprivise his part, flailing away madly as though he had gone berserk , with no regard for what the rest of the orchestra is doing !  In the flute concerto , a bass trombone acts as a kind of heckler to the solo flute !

    Some of the most important works of Sibelius are based on the ancient epic of  pagan Finnish history the Kalevala ,   with its  gods, heroes, sorcerors and  magic spells .  The Kalevala has been translated into many different languages, including English , and is well worth reading .  These include the early choral symphony "Kullervo ",, which the composer suppressed and which was not perfomed until the 1970s, the "Four Legends from the Kalevala ", the most famous part being the haunting  "Swan of Tuonela ", with its portrayal of a swan wandering through the gloomy waters of the Finnish Hades , uding an English horn as soloist .  

    One of the last works of Sibelius is the  harrowing  Tapiola" , a  chilling description of the wild winds and storms of the Fiinnish forests . Tapio is the Finnish god of the forests .  For some reason, Sibelius  seems to have burned out as a composer for   the last 20 years of his long life ,  producing almost nothing and  destroying a number of works he had written .  There were rumors of an 8th symphony , but it was either never never completed and left in fragmentary sketches or possibly destroyed by the composer .

    Sibelius lived a rather isolated life in his  home "Ainola" , named after his wife Aino  (  pronounced I know ) , sometimes receiving visitors and listening to performances of his music over the radio .  Ainola lies not too far from the Finnish capitol Helsinki , and you can still visit it .  

   Carl Nielsen died of  a heart ailment in 1931 at the height of his powers as a composer .  But you should not miss the music of either composer .     There are numerous recordings of the symphonies and other orchestral works of these two Scandinavian giants by such great conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein , Serge Koussevitzky , Paavo Berglund, Herbert Blomstedt, Neeme Jarvi ,  and many others , and  most of the greatest violinists of the 20th century have recorded the violin concerto . 
Posted: Jan 24 2015, 03:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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