by Jean Sibelius/arr. Patrick J. Burns (Grade 4, 8:00)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was perhaps Scandinavia’s most prominent composer of the 20th century, his music reflective of the waning but still prominent late Romantic style of orchestral writing. He composed highly expressive, impassioned music on a grand scale, often using as inspiration the national legends and natural beauty of his native Finland.
Spring Song (1902 version) is a relatively short symphonic poem which has its roots in a composition from 1894 entitled Improvisation for Orchestra, a work which has unfortunately been lost. A substantial revision was made to this original work in 1895, at which time Sibelius changed the title to Spring Song – a version which survives and is performed with some frequency. Upon hearing this revision, the Finnish music critic Nya Pressen wrote, “Whatever Mr Sibelius may have imagined before about this music creation…it now illustrates so perfectly those spring feelings and hopes that a better name than ‘Spring Song’ can hardly be given to this youthfully fair composition.”
In 1902, Sibelius pared down all he could from the 1895 iteration of the piece and we are left today with a slightly shorter and very much simplified composition when compared to the earlier piece. The music is much more direct in its approach: the introduction shortened, the melody devoid of syncopation, and the harmonic language more conservative. Sibelius has stripped away all of the complexity and ornamentation of his earlier work and has left us with the undiluted, dramatic essence of his impression of the arrival of the Nordic Spring. The addition of a curious subtitle, La tristesse du printemps, (“The sadness of spring”), perhaps suggests a tinge of regret at the faded memory of days gone by, even as the world awakens to a new day.