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Sibelius’s Oeuvre in High-Res

12 May 2017

Jean Sibelius, BIS, Ondine

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Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) is widely considered as his country’s greatest composer. He had a profound love of nature and an unparalleled affinity with the northern landscape, while he was also devoted to Finnish literature, particularly the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic that served as basis and inspiration for a large number of his works.

At the heart of Sibelius’s oeuvre lie his seven symphonies, the first of which appeared in 1899 and the last in 1924. Other compositions of his that still remain popular and are regularly performed include the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto, and the symphonic poem The Swan of Tuonela. Sibelius’s music was pivotal in forging Finnish national identity, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in his celebrated patriotic tone poem Finlandia, first performed in November 1899 and revised in 1900.

Sibelius wrote prolifically until the mid 1920s, however he produced no important works during the last 30 years of his life, spending much of his time in his beloved Finnish countryside. On 20 September 1957, he died of a brain haemorrhage at age 91 in Ainola, where the composer had built a home near Lake Tuusula. His Fifth Symphony, conducted by English conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, was being broadcast from Helsinki at the time of his death.

Although he is primarily known for his orchestral works, especially his symphonies and tone poems, Sibelius composed a good deal of chamber music, several vocal and choral works, as well as theatre music and pieces for solo piano. There have been numerous recordings of Sibelius’s works over the years, however one particular edition stands out: The Sibelius Edition by Swedish record label BIS, which includes no less than 68 discs in 13 thematic volumes containing all the music Sibelius wrote throughout his lifetime.

The epic undertaking, realized over a period of 4 years, commenced in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of Sibelius’s death. Along with already published recordings, the series also contains rare original versions of Sibelius’s works as well as world premiere recordings of compositions from the composer’s youth. The edition includes performances from several prominent musicians such as singers Monica Groop and Anne Sofie von Otter, pianist Folke Gräsbeck, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, conductors Osmo Vänskä and Neeme Järvi, as well as acclaimed ensembles like Brass Partout and the Gothenburg and Lahti Symphony orchestras.

An important landmark in the recording history of Sibelius’s works, this remarkable achievement pays tribute to the genius of Sibelius while offering listeners the unique opportunity to hear every single note ever penned by the Finnish master, captured in exquisite performances and recorded according to the highest standards. Listening to the various parts of his oeuvre put together makes for a truly delightful, at times even revelatory, experience. As Sibelius himself put it: “Music is for me like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces.”

Mimis Chrysomallis
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Kaj Hjorth posted 6 months ago

Having read and seen the article "Sibelius’s Oeuvre in High-Res" I wonder what the editors have in mind posting an image of a Lapp community to exemplify Sibelius interest in Finnish Folk Poems i.e. Kalevala. The Lapps are an indigenous people of Northern Scandinavia but they are not the ancient Finns we meet in Sibelius music and the poems of Kalevala. Yours faithfully Kaj Hjorth, Tampere, Finland

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