Sibelius: Idle Thoughts

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Does anyone have any mental images to accompany their favourite Sibelius moments? I often think of huge stone doors slowly grinding shut with clouds of smoke and steam as I listen to the close of his Symphony No. 7.

And for the big horn theme in thirds, in the last movement of the Fifth Symphony: a host of labradors running towards me in the snow, and then at the key change, the appearance of Aslan (I know, I’m just a sentimentalist).

Very often when he uses one of those sinuous woodwind phrases played over tremolando and creaking strings I see roots pushing their way between rocks and shoots forcing their way through frozen soil. Even in early works like Kullervo the harsh flat landscape of lakes and forests is vivid. Often it is bird flight; swans and cranes flap about, swoop and glide everywhere. And horse-drawn sledges from ancient times which spring away on their journeys. And some of the small works are exquisite: The Bard, timeless history encapsulated in a few chords and arpeggios.

The last movement of the Fourth Symphony suggests to me a man fleeing in terror across a snowy landscape, with the sun glinting on the snow (the bells/glockenspiel figure), and screeching birds around him. He falls exhausted at the end.

In the case of the opening of the slow movement of the Second Symphony, Sibelius himself had more than a mental image to accompany the music.

He told Granville Bantock that he was writing the passage in a hut at night when there was a loud knocking at the door. He opened the door but found no one there. He went back to his score and carried on, only to be interrupted by further knocking. I think it says a lot for his concentration that he could continue at all.

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