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”I forge precious metal” Sibelius and the 5th Symphony

Text: Timo Virtanen

Composing of the 5th Symphony was a long and laborious process for Sibelius. The first mentions of plans for composing the Symphony are in Sibelius’ diary from spring 1912, and in summer 1914 began the true “forging” of the ingredients of the masterpiece in the composer’s workshop. Finally, the Symphony was ready completed in November 1915, just before the scheduled world premiere, Sibelius’ 50th anniversary concert at 8th of December.

Sibelius was still not satisfied even with the second version. In December 1917 a “new” Symphony started to take shape in his mind, and the final version of the 5th Symphony got its premiere only nearly two years later, in November 1919. The end result is considered to be one of the most notable and unique accomplishments of Sibelius; the 5th Symphony is balanced, extremely controlled and spiritualized masterpiece and simultaneously like a wild artful creation shaped by the forces of nature, in which one can feel the sensations of changing seasons, migration of the swans, the lights of sunny, cloudy and hazy days, shadows and twilight that the composer is describing in his diary.

The creation history of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony is a tale of artistic integrity, resilient and relentless aspiration towards flawless and intact shape and also towards unexaggerated, but strong expression. We can only imagine, how big effort, unflappable belief and trust were required from the artist, who now for the second time unravelled that mosaic, he had already twice assembled. Assembling the pieces of the mosaic to form a complete picture, the composer experienced, according to his diary markings, to be a riddle thrown from the heavens to the earth. But as many laborious efforts as it was needed to solve the riddle, Sibelius undoubtedly knew that there was something unique hidden in assembling the pieces of the mosaic.

The 5th Symphony

The design and the working up this collection was inspired by Sibelius’ music’s powerful connection to the nature, and it reflects as well the grandiose arcs of flying swans as the flickering reflections of water on the face of a faraway forest pond.