“Our great composer, Jean Sibelius”

BBC Radio 3 played Jean Sibelius’s piece Andante Festivo this morning; a piece so lovely that it stopped me in my tracks as I got ready for work.  Sadly, Radio 3 suffered “technical difficulties” which meant the piece cut out after a couple of minutes.

The presenter, Clemency Burton-Hill, commented that “it wasn’t even the 1939 recording” – which of course prompted me to hunt out the 1939 recording, now embedded at the top of this post. 

This recording features Sibelius himself conducting, and was made for a Finnish radio broadcast in honour of the New York World’s Fair. The recording is poignant for several reasons. First, it is the only recording of Jean Sibelius conducting his own music. Second, for the announcer’s tragic optimism in the introduction:

Today we write a new page, we hope, in the history of man’s noble achievements, which will shine through the years to come as the beacon of light which marks the beginning of a new era, a period in which the nations of the world will be banded together in the inspiring cause of amity, better international understanding and peace: the ideal to which the great exposition in New York is dedicated.

The date on which those hopeful words about a future of international amity and peace were broadcast? 1 January 1939. Within a year, not only had the Second World War broken out, but Finland itself had been invaded by the Soviet Union.

On a happier note, I found the audible pride in the announcer’s next words deeply moving:

At the beginning of our programme, I have the pleasure to introduce to you our great composer, Jean Sibelius.

“Our great composer”. It’s the complete lack of any cynicism that is so appealing – that, and the sense that Sibelius is “their” great composer not as a possession to be guarded, but as a gift to be shared with the world, for the cause of “amity, understanding and peace”.

Enough, though! Just listen to the music. Glorious. 

One thought on ““Our great composer, Jean Sibelius”

  1. There’s a lot of interesting Sibelius material on YouTube. His funeral, for one thing. (I used to be able to find an older version with English translation of some sort.) It mentioned a song Sydämeni Laulu, which I find hauntingly beautiful. Look for the YL Male Voice Choir singing it. And I hope you’ve discovered Kullervo. If not, then look for it. I’ve enjoyed the performance by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

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