JEAN SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
Symphony No. 4 (1909–11)
Jean Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony is acclaimed for being exquisitely dense and compact, and musicologists frequently discuss the “diabolus in musica” (three adjacent whole tones) that starts and pervades the work — a mysterious, disconcerting tri-tone interval straining to be resolved. That resolution comes much later, however, and then only with a feeling of resignation. Perhaps a subconscious reflection of Sibelius’s state of mind (the threat of recurring throat cancer hung over him), this symphony is a serious, austere composition, quite different from those he had completed heretofore. The composer wrote: “It stands as a protest against present-day music. It has absolutely nothing of the circus about it,” asking it be played “as harsh as fate with all sentimentality excluded.” From the intense, dark string voices to sweeping harmonies and the highest registers, the music grows and evolves slowly. This intense symphony has a noble restraint, anguish, and brooding about it; even the final movement, which begins in a somewhat brighter mood, ends quietly, hauntingly. All that being said, the listener willing to explore this unique symphonic masterwork will be richly rewarded, finding in it the composer’s steely resolve to endure whatever fate may have in store.