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CD 15 of 24
The music by the Czech Bedřich Smetana (1824 – 1884) and the Finn Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) combines two nineteenth-century trends. Both composers wrote works they designated with a descriptive title and both composed music that was nationalistic in character.
Programme music, as music given a descriptive title is known, had been around for decades. Vivaldi`s Four Seasons (CD 3) is such music, but in the case of Smetana and Sibelius, they upped the ante by adding patriotic fervour into their music. Smetana wrote operas based on Czech heroes and history, and symphonic poems based on Czech landscape, a symphonic poem being an orchestral piece of music, usually in one movement, with a programme provided by the composer. Vltava (The Moldau) from 1879 is a symphonic poem taken from a set of six called Ma Vlast (My Country). The Vlatava, at 430 kilometres the longest river in the Czech Republic, has at its riverhead two converging streams, which expand, make their way to Prague, pass under the Charles Bridge and eventually empty into the River Elbe. Smetana captures this flow, from its calm source through to its raging rapids.
Sibelius’ Finlandia is rooted in political protest. In 1809 The Grand Duchy of Finland became part of the vast Russian Empire and, for the most part, was given autonomy within that realm – that is, until the late 1890s when Russia dictated that Finland must now abide by the same rules as the rest of the Tsar`s Empire. Amongst the changes: the language used in schools and administrative offices must henceforth be Russian, and the Finnish military was to be merged with the Russian Army.
Finlandia, or as it was initially titled, Finland Awake, was the finale of a set called Tableaux from Ancient History. Finlandia was an overnight success, not only in Finland but around the world, and established Sibelius as one of the most popular composers of the twentieth century.
Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934) wrote The Planets, a programmatic symphonic suite, between 1914 and 1917, when, being hit with a wave of creativity, he said that “the character of each planet suggested lots to me”. Using the astrological character of each planet, his suite is full of memorable melodies, rhythmic vitality and a spellbinding novelty. In the last movement, Neptune, two women’s choruses are heard off-stage, the voices entering quietly, growing to a crescendo. At a live performance you believe your ears are playing tricks on you as you only hear, not see, the performers.
Unfortunately the popularity of The Planets did not bring Holst happiness. On the contrary, according to his daughter Imogen, “Holst never considered that The Planets was one of his best works, and it distressed him when it became a popular success”. With the discovery of the planet Pluto in 1930, Holst had an opportunity to add to his suite but did not. He wished for listeners to know him for his other works. Alas, this was not in the stars as The Planets eclipsed all that he wrote.
(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)
- Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)
- 1. Finlandia, Op.26, No.78:32Berliner Philharmoniker, James Levine
- Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)Má Vlast (My Country), JB1:112
- 2. 2. Vltava (The Moldau)12:01Wiener Philharmoniker, James Levine
- Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934)The Planets, Op.32
- 3. 1. Mars, the Bringer of War7:22
- 4. 2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace7:27
- 5. 3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger3:47
- 6. 4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity7:36
- 7. 5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age9:10
- 8. 6. Uranus, the Magician5:49Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine
- 9. 7. Neptune, the Mystic8:13Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Margaret Hillis