Conducted by Hugh Wolff, the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) performs Jean Sibelius‘ Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 82. Recorded live at Alte Oper Frankfurt on January 15, 2016.
Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5
Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 is a remarkable piece in the landscape of classical music, notable for its distinctive style and historical context. Composed during World War I, it was initially premiered on Sibelius’s 50th birthday in 1915. However, not fully satisfied, Sibelius revised it, and the final version was completed in 1919.
On the 22nd of April, 2019, Sibelius wrote: “The fifth symphony – mirabile, [not] to say horribile dictu: completed in its final form. Been struggling with God.” Six days later he was already striking out the second and third movements! However, after one more revision of the finale, the whole work was at last ready. Now it is good,”
The symphony is often celebrated for its vivid imagery and naturalistic inspirations. One of its most famous moments is the “swan theme,” inspired by the sight of sixteen swans flying over Sibelius’s home. This theme has come to symbolize a sense of freedom and natural beauty, which is a recurring element in Sibelius’s works.
The symphony’s structure deviates from traditional symphonic forms, showcasing Sibelius’s innovative approach to composition. It blends various elements together, creating a seamless flow rather than distinctly separate movements. This approach reflects Sibelius’s affinity for organic, evolving musical narratives, as opposed to more rigid, formalistic structures.
Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 is also known for its use of tonality and orchestration. The composer employs a rich palette of orchestral colors and textures, creating a sound that is both powerful and nuanced. The symphony’s finale, in particular, is famous for its grandeur and emotional impact, building to a climax that many listeners find profoundly moving.
This symphony holds a special place in the Finnish national identity, as Sibelius himself is a key figure in Finnish culture. His music, including Symphony No. 5, is often seen as a symbol of the Finnish struggle for independence and the country’s unique landscape and spirit.
There are three movements. With start times in the video:
- Tempo molto moderato 00:30
- Andante mosso, quasi allegretto 15:00
- Allegro molto 23:50
1. Tempo molto moderato
The first movement of Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 is a compelling and innovative piece of music that sets the tone for the entire symphony. Known for its unique structure and thematic development, it opens with a sense of mystery and anticipation.
The movement begins with a gentle, almost whispering theme in the timpani and low strings, creating an atmosphere of calm introspection. This quiet opening soon gives way to a broader, more expansive melody. Sibelius masterfully builds the texture and intensity, layering instruments to create a rich tapestry of sound.
One of the key features of this movement is the way Sibelius handles thematic development. Rather than following a traditional sonata form with clear divisions between themes and sections, Sibelius opts for a more fluid, organic structure. The themes evolve and intertwine, giving the sense of a continuous, unfolding narrative. This approach reflects Sibelius’s affinity for the natural world, as the music seems to mimic the organic growth and evolution of nature.
The orchestration in this movement is particularly noteworthy. Sibelius uses the orchestra to create a wide range of colors and textures, from the delicate, shimmering sounds of the strings and woodwinds to the powerful, resonant brass. This varied orchestration adds to the movement’s dynamic character, shifting from moments of serene beauty to passages of grandeur and intensity.
The first movement also sets up some of the key motifs and themes that will be explored further in the later movements. The sense of journey and transformation that begins here is a crucial part of the symphony’s overall narrative.
2. Andante mosso, quasi allegretto
The second movement of Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5, while distinct from the first, continues to reflect the composer’s unique style and deep connection to nature. This movement is often characterized by its lyrical quality and more introspective mood compared to the surrounding movements.
In this movement, Sibelius explores a more traditional structure, creating a contrast with the fluidity of the first movement. It features a more defined, almost dance-like rhythm, which provides a sense of grounding and clarity. The orchestration here is more restrained, focusing on creating a gentle, almost meditative atmosphere.
The thematic material in the second movement is characterized by its simplicity and elegance. Sibelius uses a series of melodic and harmonic ideas that are interwoven throughout the movement, creating a tapestry of sound that is both rich and subtle. The themes are often passed between different sections of the orchestra, allowing each instrument to add its own color and character to the music.
One of the most striking aspects of this movement is its use of dynamics. Sibelius masterfully shifts between softer, more intimate sections and louder, more passionate passages. This dynamic range adds an emotional depth to the music, reflecting a range of feelings from contemplation to yearning.
The second movement also serves as a bridge between the bold, expansive first movement and the triumphant finale. It offers a moment of reflection and introspection, preparing the listener for the concluding movement’s return to grandeur and intensity.
3. Allegro molto
The third and final movement of Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 is a triumphant and exhilarating conclusion to the symphony, known for its dramatic intensity and memorable themes. This movement is where Sibelius fully unleashes the orchestral forces at his disposal, resulting in a powerful and emotionally charged finale.
The movement opens with a sense of urgency and momentum. Sibelius employs driving rhythms and bold orchestral textures to create a feeling of forward motion. This energy propels the movement, giving it a sense of excitement and anticipation.
One of the most famous elements of this movement is the “swan theme,” which Sibelius reportedly conceived after witnessing a flight of swans. This theme is majestic and soaring, characterized by its long, sweeping lines and the grandeur of its orchestration. The swan theme has come to be one of the most iconic moments in Sibelius’s entire oeuvre, symbolizing beauty, freedom, and the power of nature.
Throughout the movement, Sibelius demonstrates his mastery of orchestration. The full range of the orchestra is utilized, from the delicate nuances of the woodwinds to the robust power of the brass. The interplay between different sections of the orchestra adds to the complexity and richness of the music.
The finale of the movement is particularly notable for its use of a technique known as “accelerando,” where the music gradually speeds up. This creates a sense of climax and urgency, driving the symphony towards its conclusion. The final chords are famous for their spaced-out, hammer-like quality, providing a bold and emphatic end to the symphony.
- Symphony No. 5 (Sibelius) on Wikipedia
- Fifth Symphony Op. 82 (1915-1919) on Sibelius.fi
- Symphony No.5, Op.82 (Sibelius, Jean) on the International Music Score Library Project website
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