The Finnish Symphony

(cover image by Pasi Jormalainen)

The final feature of the year, the Finnish symphony series, finally! It’s a contrast to the two English-speaking symphony series we did this year, and I guess kind of a callback to the end of last year, when we did Swedes and Danes (even though Finns are ‘Scandinavian’ by geography only; the culture is all their own). Interestingly, I’d been planning this series for a few months, and finally had all my composers and works lined up and ready to go before I learned that 2017 is the Finnish centennial, independence and all that, so it’s not intentional, but it may mean more traffic!

I’ve blabbed in the English and American symphony series intros about why those interested me specifically, but Finland is an excellent example of the kind of phenomenon that we see in classical music overall, if you ask me.

Ask just about anyone who knows anything about classical music to name a Finnish composer, and they’ll say Sibelius. The mother tongue of both Jean and his father was Swedish, not Finnish, something some people likely don’t know. He grew to become Finland’s greatest composer, a national treasure, and for good reason. I don’t need to discuss here why that’s the case, because we’ll be discussing him twice in this series. It has been a very long time since we’ve seen his name appear on the blog, by this time nearly two years. Time to fix that.

But is there more to Finnish music than just Sibelius? Of course. You should know there is, even if you can’t name anyone specifically. We’ll be discussing a number of Finnish composers in this series who coexisted with Sibelius and who also wrote wonderful music, but played second fiddle to the Finn who would become and arguably remain the most famous Finnish composer in history.

Obviously that stands true mostly for those contemporary composers of Sibelius at the time, but there’s also an interesting sense of ‘responsibility’ or heritage as later Finnish composers carry that baton, on the one hand recognizing The Finnish Master’s influence, but on the other trying also to continue innovating and growing.

There will be a list of apologies for composers who I didn’t include, and this collection will necessarily only be a snippet of the overall wealth and variety that Finland has produced, again focusing on symphonies and chamber music. The largest deficit will be in covering modern composers, as there seems to have been a sudden abundance of Finnish composers in the latter half of the 20th century. This could be due to the political or cultural climate, but at the very least is more directly related to the quality of music education. More and more of those people who you might ask about Finnish composers would just as readily mention Salonen, Saariaho, Segerstam, or Lindberg as they would Sibelius, but maybe still not many.

We’ve got something like 18 Finnish composers featured in this series, with the typical approach (symphonies midweek and chamber works on the weekends), and only a select few of them (four, or at the most, five) getting more than one piece in the series. It’s a lot of music, but not too much. You’ll notice we aren’t beginning at the first of any month, but the series will take us right through to the end of the year, spanning more than a century of music from Finland. Enjoy, share, and stay tuned. Thank you for reading. Nähdään pian!

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