Sibelius – Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 42

by Max Derrickson

Jean Sibelius     (b in Tavestehus (Hämeenlinna) Finland, December 8, 1865; d in Järvenpää,Finland, September 20, 1957)

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 42
1. Allegretto
2. Andante ma rubato
3. Vivacissimo
4. Allegro moderato

Inside the sprawl of Helsinki, before the urban streets begin to fade out into the wild, vast and beautiful landscapes ofFinland, there is an extraordinary monument to Jean Sibelius called “Passio musicae.”  A 24-ton stainless steel sculpture, couched in a small park, and curiously unimposing at first, entices passersby in for a closer look.  Different lengths and widths of rough-hewn pipes are fashioned vertically, set slightly above the ground, and arranged like a forest filled with the impenetrable trunks of a million beautiful trees.  Through this woods made of steel, the visitor is beckoned toward a dark, but magical, doorway into the great wilds of nature.  It’s a perfect tribute – for as much as nature is intrinsically associated with Finland, so is Sibelius with both, as perhaps Finland’s most revered National hero.  In another way, the monument is a perfect representation of Sibelius’ music, certainly his Second Symphony, which beckons his listeners into incredible musical landscapes that he was so original in creating.

The Symphony begins with a lazy, repeating chordal string motif of a rising musical figure that serves as a thematic launching point for other themes in the Symphony, and whose bottom note of the chord returns as a main theme in the Finale.  A folksy, falling musical theme in the winds follows and completes the idyllic feel of the opening.
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The second movement, Andante ma rubato, opens with the timpani setting a rather ominous tone, and it’s taken up by an almost menacing “walking” pizzicato string bass part.  Eventually, overtop of this incessancy, a lonesome bassoon melody sounds, plaintive and almost “out of time” with the pizzicatos.
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All is in flux like the energy and entrancing madness of the Aurora borealis.

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Over the ostinato (a repeating figure) in the Finale soars a noble string melody, crafted out of the first string motif in the first movement, which shares phrases with a fanfaring high brass.
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The effect is breathtaking, for when the climactic finish finally arrives, the tension has become so great that its emotional impact is as liberating, triumphant and moving as any symphonic finale ever created.