Finlandia Op. 26 (1899)
Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957)
By the 1890s Sibelius was well established as Finland’s greatest composer. Finland had been under Russian rule for almost a century and was subject to strict press censorship. In 1899 a group of artists in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, organised a series of so-called ‘press celebrations’, which, as well as supporting those journalists oppressed by the Russians, served to promote the call for Finland’s freedom.
The nationalistic Sibelius was the natural choice to compose music for the stage pageant that was central to the celebrations. As well as a prelude and pieces associated with each scene he created a stirring piece, Finland Awakes, for the grand finale that embodied both the Finn’s fierce spirit of resistance and the hope of eventual freedom. Its wildly enthusiastic reception prompted Sibelius to revise it as a standalone piece. Renamed Finlandia, it was premiered by the newly formed Helsinki Philharmonic and the performances of Finlandia on the orchestra’s inaugural European tour catapulted Sibelius to international fame.
Performed: March 2017