To mark Finnish Music Day, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is going on a tour of our hometown. The concert programme has even more historical significance this year, as it has been 150 years since the birth of Armas Järnefelt. His Festive Overture debuted in 1902 at the opening of the Finnish National Theatre. The concerts will be performed without a conductor, showcasing the chamber music dimensions of the orchestra.
Armas Järnefelt: Festive Overture
Armas Järnefelt (1869–1958) was one of the many Finnish composers unjustly overshadowed by Jean Sibelius. He was, however, first and foremost a conductor, of performances at Sweden’s Royal Opera for more than 25 years and over 270 in Finland alone in half a century. He was Chief Conductor of the HPO in 1942–1943 and last conducted the orchestra on Jean Sibelius’s 85th birthday in 1950.
Järnefelt’s Festive Overture (1902) is a good example of a work composed in the golden era of Finnish music. He wrote it for the official inauguration of the Finnish National Theatre but in all the excitement of the event it passed almost unnoticed. The Päivälehti newspaper reported that the opening gala began with an overture performed by an orchestra conducted by Armas Järnefelt, describing it as beautiful and colourful and as enjoying an enthusiastic reception. Sadly, it was then forgotten for nearly 120 years. A work of fanfares and mighty build-ups, it now receives what is believed to be only its second performance.
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 3
The swelling strains of his first and second symphonies had made Jean Sibelius a national icon, so the third (1907), cautiously pointing to a less lavish future idiom, came as something of a surprise. The critics shook their heads and composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov asked him why he did not write in the usual way, telling him that the audience would not be able to follow or understand his symphony. This criticism must, however, be read in its temporal context, for it was in complete contrast to the mammoth works of such contemporaries as Rachmaninoff, Glière and especially Mahler. The romantic symphony was, however, on the way out. Sibelius, on meeting Mahler, said he admired the austerity and profound logic of a symphony in which all the motifs are interconnected. But Mahler disagreed: “No,” he said. “A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.”
Sibelius’s third does not embrace everything, but nor does it lack anything. In 1940, by which time his pen had been gathering dust for a decade already, Sibelius recalled his symphony’s reception and Rimsky-Korsakov’s fatherly advice. “And now,” said Sibelius, “I am certain that my symphonies are played more than his.