Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105
b. Hämeenlinna, Finland / December 8, 1865; d. Järvenpää, Finland / September 20, 1957
Sibelius’s seven marvellous symphonies trace a compelling arc from the emotionally heated and colorful school of late Romanticism (Nos. 1 and 2) to the lean scoring and emotional reserve of No. 7.
In 1918, he envisioned a symphonic composition in three movements, planning to make the last one “a Hellenic rondo.” By the early `20s it had come to have four movements, but during the summer of 1923 it began to take on its final, one-movement form.
Under the title Fantasia sinfonica (Symphonic Fantasy), it was premiered in Stockholm on March 24, 1924. Sibelius conducted six further performances before the year was out, none of them, surprisingly, in Finland. Its debut in his homeland was delayed until April 1927. It was only when it was published in 1925 that Sibelius settled on calling it Symphony No. 7.
For some years he had been pursuing the process of symphonic compression. This imposing, emotionally compelling and leanly orchestrated work takes that concept to its ultimate goal, distilling the contrasting sections of a traditional symphony into one continuous, closely integrated whole – albeit with the slow movement placed first, and a tranquil conclusion appended.
Author Robert Layton has written of it, “No work could be more symphonic in its organic growth, in its capacity for what one might term ‘continuous creation.’ In its seemingly inexhaustible capacity for evolving new material from the same basic germinal ideas and in its control of contrasting tempos, the Seventh Symphony is a remarkable achievement with few precedents in the symphonic repertoire.
“It explores the heroic, epic world of Man pitting himself against a hostile environment. The chief landmark in the work, a kind of Alpine chain that runs along its spine, is the appearance on three occasions of a massive, noble idea on the trombone; each time, its grandeur and intensity become more commanding.”
After creating two more major works, an incidental score for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, and the symphonic poem Tapiola, Sibelius lived out the remaining three decades of his life without releasing any significant new music – despite working on an Eighth Symphony for several years. His ever-increasing sense of self-criticism would not permit him to release it, nor possibly even complete it.
Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2019