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Even though Sibelius’ pieces such as Finlandia are more popular, his Symphony No. 1 is no less important. Sibelius premiered his Symphony No. 1 in 1899 and revised it in 1900.
Symphony No. 1 starts off its first movement slowly with a clarinet over a soft timpani roll and moves into a main theme in the strings. A contrasting theme is picked up by the woodwinds, then a standard development and recapitulation follow. The movement ends with two soft pizzicato chords in the strings.
The second movement is the slow movement that begins with a somber string theme which builds to a raging central section, in the emotional style of Tchaikovsky.
The third movement is a fiery movement featuring pizzicato strings and a timpani part similar in its conspicuousness to that of the scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
The fourth and final movement begins with virtually the same theme as that of the introduction to the first movement, but with richer orchestration. The energetic main theme features all of the percussion battery; this is the largest orchestra used in any of the Sibelius symphonies. The second theme is one of the most beautiful melodies in any symphony, but its full effect is only experienced later, in the reprise after the development of the principal theme. The coda of the symphony abruptly halts the beautiful melody with a return to E Minor ending with the same two soft pizzicato notes that concluded the first movement.
There’s a transcendent logic at work in the symphonies of Jean Sibelius. One gets the sense of a self-creating structure, something Sibelius himself described in a famous 1907 meeting with Gustav Mahler as “style and severity of form, and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motives.”
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