Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Finlandia, Opus 26 (1899)

Finlandia is an orchestral tone poem, the last and most famous, of a set of pieces describing episodes in Finnish history. It was written for an event celebrating the Finnish press, which was in reality a disguised protest against Russian censorship. The original title was "Finland Awakes". It was premiered in Helsinki in 1900.

Sibelius is often cited as the musical voice of Finland's struggle for independence from Russian rule and Finlandia is perhaps the most successful and popular nationalist piece that he wrote. In the early days performances were clandestine affairs. A number of different names were chosen for the piece to deceive the Russian authorities. These included "Scandinavian Choral March" and "Awakening of the Finnish Spring".

The piece begins with a slow threatening introduction played mainly by the brass instruments depicting the tyranny of Russian rule. A short episode transitions from discontent to determination and leads to the main allegro section describing a call to arms and uprising. It broadens out into a gentler lyrical section, sometimes called the Finlandia Hymn, before the allegro returns to bring the piece to a jubilant triumphant ending.

In keeping with other composers of the Nationalist period in music, Sibelius made extensive use of folksong idioms. Indeed many commentators have thought that the Finlandia Hymn was based on a traditional Finnish song. However no sources have been found for it, and it is now thought to be Sibelius' own invention.

Finlandia was performed by the Portobello orchestra on the 7th December 2019, conducted by Sam Jones.