Sibelius: Pure Cold Water


I find that I can clog my arteries with certain pieces of music, so every now and again I’ll need to listen to something that may not necessarily be a favourite but will re-invigorate my listening ears (and not necessarily a piece I know).

I’ve found that playing some unknown Janáček (angular music with a touch of sugar) or an unknown Bach cantata, can really freshen things up. Or even some Schoenberg, such as the Piano Concerto – like cold mineral water splashing onto a metallic surface.

Since we have a hot summer to look forward to, two pieces I have always found remarkably refreshing for those days when we might feel like jumping head first into the deep freeze are Debussy’s Gigues from the orchestral Images, and the first movement of Honegger’s Fourth Symphony “Deliciae Basiliensis”. There’s something to the orchestration of these two works which, when listened to, is like a delicious cold refreshing drink.

A bit of Webern tends to help one to focus, I find. That’s why I always take Webern’s music with me on winter holidays in the Alps.

Dvořák’s American Quartet comes to mind, too. Also Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony – always very fresh, but I can’t work out why, as it’s not a favourite work for me, by any means.

But the ultimate palate cleanser, for me, is Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony. No padding, no note spinning – just good old Finnish gloom. As the composer himself said of this work:

“Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water.”

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