August 7 2015

The New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts began in 1924. Bernstein ran the orchestra from 1958 to ’69, and the Young People’s Concerts from ’58 to ’72: he conducted and spoke at 53, all televised on CBS.

This came from Lincoln Center on February 19 1965, Friday, at the start of the Sibelius centenary year (2015 is Sibelius 150). It’s the first of four clips.

He introduces Sibelius and performs Finlandia “in honour of Sibelius and of the free people of Finland”.

He then introduces the violin concerto and the man who is about to perform it, Sergio Luca.

Clip 2: Concerto, first movement. Fiery, yes, but it is hard to say why this is so much less involving than, say, Oistrakh. Clip 3: introduces the second symphony. The kind of lesson a child might remember for the rest of his life. Sibelius is much more than a nationalist composer, but “to the people of Finland [the] ending will always mean only one thing: freedom”. Clip 4: last movement of the second symphony.

Finlandia (1899-1900) was nakedly, embarrassingly, political. So obvious was its meaning that the Russians forbade performances (at what date?). It had to masquerade under names such as Happy Feelings at the Awakening of the Finnish Spring and A Scandinavian Choral March.

Perhaps the Russians banned it not only because it would whip up national feeling, but because it might sap their own will to govern. The music is telling them that they will lose. Though, in the event, it was Russia’s collapse which gave the Finns their chance.

It was composed for a three-day money-raising event for the press pension fund which was also a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. It was the last of six pieces performed (on November 4 1899) as an accompaniment to tableaux depicting episodes from Finnish history.

We have looked at one such set of tableaux in connection with his Karelia music. The Musiikkia sanomalehdistön päivien juhlanäytäntöön (Music for the Press Celebrations Days) had:


Tableau 1 – Väinämöinen Delights Nature with His Song (arranged in 1911 as no 1, All’overtura, in Scènes historiques No 1)

Tableau 2 – The Finns are Baptised

Tableau 3 – Duke Johan’s Court (arranged in 1911 as no 3, Festivo, in Scènes historiques No 1)

Tableau 4 – The Finns in the Thirty Years’ War (arranged in 1911 as no 2, Scena, in Scènes historiques No 1)

Tableau 5 – The Great Hostility

Tableau 6 – Finland Awakes (arranged and performed in 1900 as Finlandia)

There appears to be one or more performing versions of the whole work.

Tableau names may not be exactly as in 1899. Some of the history is in recent posts.

Väinämöinen is the magician-hero of the Kalevala.

Christianity had started to gain a foothold in Finland during the eleventh century. The church in Finland was still in its early development in the twelfth century.

The Finns are Baptised referred to the mission of Bishop Henrik, who became Finland’s patron saint. It seems that he was English (if he existed) and had come to Sweden in 1154 under the protection of the English papal legate in Scandinavia, Nicholas Breakspeare, the future Pope Adrian IV. He was sent from Uppsala to organise the church in Finland and was martyred there.

Finns had their own chiefs, but probably no central authority. Several secular powers wanted to bring the Finns under their rule: Sweden, Denmark, Novgorod, and probably the German crusading orders as well. Another Englishman, Bishop Thomas, became the first bishop of Finland (1234-45). From roughly 1249 until 1809 Finland was under the control of Sweden.

Duke Johan ruled Finland from 1556 to ’63 and was the future King John III of Sweden. He had Catholic leanings.

The Great Hostility refers to the Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden.

Finland Awakes was arranged in 1900 as Finlandia and performed on July 2 in Helsinki by the Helsinki Philharmonic Society conducted by Robert Kajanus.

(A second set of Scènes historiques appeared in 1912, but has nothing to do with the press celebrations and as far as I can see does not illustrate particular events. In 1898, he had produced a King Christian II Suite, a selection from his incidental music for the historical play King Christian II, written by his Swedish friend Adolf Paul, about the love of a king for a commoner. Cf Hugo’s Ruy Blas.)

On a spring morning in the Worcestershire countryside in 1901, at his house Craeg Lea in Malvern Wells, Edward Elgar, aged 44, seated at his piano, heard his friend Dora Penny arriving downstairs for a visit and called to her: “Child, come up here. I’ve got a tune that will knock ’em – knock ’em flat.” (Michael Kennedy) Elgar played her the tune that would become known as Land of Hope and Glory.

One wonders whether Sibelius, two years earlier, had said something similar when he came up with the tune which knocked the Finns flat. Two highly unlikely extremities of European music, Finland and England, came up with sensational tunes in the same years.

Finlandia owed nothing to folk music. It was an original tune. Sibelius claimed, or others have done, that his music in general owed nothing to folk tunes. Elgar positively disliked English folk music – which must have placed a barrier between him and Vaughan Williams.

Neither Elgar’s march nor Sibelius’s symphonic poem, if one can call it that (did he?), was written for words (I can’t think of a “symphonic poem” with words). Finlandia’s were written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi. Surprisingly late if that date is correct – and at the start of the Continuation War. The words of the tune which Elgar came to detest (I suppose mainly when sung) were added almost immediately, in 1902, at the suggestion of Edward VII, and were by AC Benson. At least two Christian hymns have adopted the tune of Finlandia. So did the anthem, Land of the Rising Sun, of the short-lived (1967-70) ex-Nigerian state of Biafra.

The Finlandia tune being sung by IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) in Mexico City:

3 Responses to “Finlandia”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    What is the point of the new look of embedded YouTube? You now see no indication of the length of the clip before clicking Start and even less of the title than before.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Another witnessing of the genesis of an Elgarian tune at this time was when his sharp-eared wife Alice heard the Enigma theme as he was tinkering on the piano, as it turned out momentously, after a day’s teaching, at Craeg Lea on the evening of October 21 1898 and said something to the effect of “what’s that?”

  3. davidderrick Says:

    The noisier sections of Finlandia may have something military about them, but we think of this as music of peace.

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