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Posted by Sadie from libsci054.library.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Thursday, April 17, 2003 at 2:39PM :

This article is about "Finlandia", as an orchestral work (by Sibelius), & then it's *original* set of lyrics (the *Finnish* lyrics, which do NOT mention God & actually refer to Finland's pre-Christian, "pagan" state & which are nationalist to the extent that the struggling nation defined itself, but did not express the wish to oppress others through its nationalist movement). Anyway, I'm drawing very general parallels between Finland, under occupation by the Russians, & Iraq, under occupation by the U.S.

A side note: I was just thinking about how much war affects people for generations. I will never forget how my mother cries whenever she speaks about the Finnish wars for independence - tells me about how she would watch, as a child, the sky at night to see which direction the bombs were exploding (she could then tell which city was under attack). Or how she cries when she tells me about her orphaned friends (orphaned by the war), how they struggled in life with no parents to love them. Or how she tells me to pray for Bush to die, just as she prayed for Stalin to die until he finally kicked the bucket when she was 12 (Stalin was constantly threatening Finland with invasion/a sort of occupation).

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.11.1999

Finlandia - Jean Sibelius's "protest song" marks up 100 years

By Vesa Sirén

A hundred years ago almost to the hour, protest-composer Jean Sibelius, 33, was tugging at his moustache and running his hands nervously through a thinning head of hair. The composer was in the most dreadful hurry, having travelled from his home in Kerava to Helsinki to pore over the score for his new piece of incidental music. He probably had no idea at this point that he was a day away from hearing his greatest hit performed for the first time in public.

However, before we go on, a little bit by way of background...

Finland declared herself independent in 1917, but prior to this there had been a couple of decades at least of political manoeuvring and campaigning on behalf of the idea of an independent Finland. The project can be seen against the background of stirring nationalism in Europe, the Romantic Age, the arrival on the scene of a national epic in the shape of Kalevala, and to some extent a feeling that since Finland already had a good deal of autonomy under Imperial Russia, why not go all the way?

Russification and the
February Manifesto

Nevertheless, the real petrol on the flames was provided in the 1890s, when the Czar's Ministers in St. Petersburg (who had also been eyeing Finnish autonomy, but with a very different viewpoint) began to introduce progressively more oppressive legislation to appease their own Pan-Slavists at home. This process, known as "Russification", revoked and curtailed many of the privileges and freedoms that the Grand Duchy had enjoyed. By the end of the century and the "February Manifesto" of 1899, things had gone so far that the Diet only held nominal authority and formal power had been more or less usurped. In order to smooth the passage of the reductions in Finnish autonomy, St. Petersburg invoked heavy press censorship, and even the Finnish language came under pressure.

Art as a means of
evading the censor

The censorship also extended into artistic life, but as always artists found a way around this in the form of allegory, putting forward ideas (often with the thinnest of veils over them) that could otherwise have never passed the censor's pen.

Open discussion of Finland's being oppressed might have been taboo, but the presence on a stage of a tableau featuring a flaxen-haired damsel in distress in national costume could possibly sneak past, even if everyone up to and including the Russian Governor-General really knew what was going on. Allegories and tableaux like this were harder to gag than the press.

Two forgotten sets with
well-remembered parts

To return now to the young Jean Sibelius; his works include two sets of incidental music to go with such tableaux, and both of them had immense political significance. They shared another common feature: as entire pieces of music, they have been largely forgotten, but certain parts of them are very familiar indeed to the modern listener - unless you can claim never to have heard of the Karelia Suite or Finlandia.

The earlier set (which gave us the embryo Karelia Suite) dated from an educational gala in 1893, and the later one is what is being celebrated this week as it reaches its 100th birthday: the Music for the Press Celebrations, to accompany a series of tableaux arranged by Kaarlo Bergbom, with words by Eino Leino and Jalmari Finne. Both works suffered neglect and more; amazingly enough, the performance this week of the complete Press Celebrations Music is only the first since November 1899, and Sibelius actually destroyed much of the score for the so-called "Karelia Music" after plucking out the material for his Karelia Overture, Op. 10 and Karelia Suite, Op. 11.

Not much to celebrate,
but much to protest

"The Press Celebrations" is a curious name, given that Finland's press had little to celebrate in late 1899. The liberal Päivälehti, forerunner of Helsingin Sanomat, had been shut down for three months. The more cautious Uusi Suometar was allowed to continue publishing under a watchful eye. The culmination of the exercise in solidarity on behalf of a free press was a gala evening at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki, to which the cream of the capital were invited.

Ostensibly the ticket proceeds were to benefit a journalists' pension fund, but the real reason for the show was to provide a high-profile display of protest and resolve in defiance of Governor-General Nikolai Bobrikov. The hall was packed out, naturally. After speeches and some short musical numbers, it was time for the main event, provided by Mr. Sibelius, who was also to conduct his new work.

Last show of solidarity
before independence

This was the last occasion when all the small factions that made up Finnish society stood as one against Czarist oppression, and it is a measure of the remarkable solidarity of the protest movement that the director Kaarlo Bergbom (founder of the Finnish National Theatre) and Eino Leino (by this time fast becoming a national poet despite being only 22) loathed one another with a rare passion, but still managed to work side-by-side on this project. Needs must when the devil drives...

Suffice it to say that the tableaux were laden with all-in-a-good-cause pathos, as was Sibelius's music. After the ceremonial Overture or Preludium came the music to Tableau I, entitled The Song of Väinämöinen. Väinämöinen was the aged seer of the national epic Kalevala. This idyllic portrayal of Finland's mythical past was followed by the landfall of Christianity on these shores in The Finns are Baptised into Christianity. This accompanied Tableau II, a devout portrayal of the 12th century Bishop Henry (who came to an unpleasant end, but that is another story).

Tableau III describes the revels at the court of Duke John in the mid-16th century in Turku Castle, and makes the point that the good Duke loves Finland and will devote himself to her happiness and good fortune. Things take a more gloomy turn in Tableau IV, The Finns in the Thirty Years War. They then get a great deal closer to the bone in Tableau V, which presents the period known rather clumsily as "The Great Hostility", which began in the Great Northern War with the capture by the Russians of Viipuri (in Karelia) in 1710. By this stage the audience must have been on the edge of their seats as Sweden's might is humbled, the Russian conquerors lay waste the countryside, and "Mother Finland sits in the snowdrifts with her shivering children."

Finland Awakes, but the
first-night audience is non-plussed

From here, Sibelius sweeps into the music for Tableau VI, Finland Awakes, to which Eino Leino had supplied a suitably pathos-rich text. Sibelius lifted his baton and crushed any whispering in the gallery with those defiant brass chords that definitely hit the spot. The young Heikki Klemetti (later to win fame as a choral conductor and composer) was there on the night, and described how "those grim, imposing tones at the opening of what we know as Finlandia rolled out at the close of the horrors of The Great Hostility".

The stage was packed with action and characters for the last Tableau, including Czar Alexander II (the Russian leader who had granted Grand Duchy status back in 1809), a clutch of figures from the "National Awakening" of the mid-19th century, an elementary school (!), and a steam locomotive (!!!). The music was hardly written to describe precisely the events on the stage, however, but rather as the composer's more general image of Finland's awakening towards statehood and her fighting spirit. Sibelius could be a political composer with the best of them, and this was pure protest-music.

Not to be unkind to the first-night audience of journalists and Helsinki gliterati, but it seems as though few people listened very carefully to the actual music. One person did, however: Robert Kajanus, conductor of the Helsinki Orchestral Society (later the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra), performed four parts of the work in concert a month later, including the finale, Finland Awakes.

This time the critics sat up and took notice, and things really got moving in the following summer when Kajanus included the piece in the repertoire of his orchestra's European tour. It still didn't have a name, however, but went variously under the title "Suomi", "Finland Awakes", "Impromptu", and plain simple "Finale". On tour it also was presented as "Vaterland" and "La Patrie". By November 1900 a piano arrangement took the title suggested by Baron Axel Carpelan - Finlandia - and in February 1901 Kajanus finally conducted the work under that name. Soon afterwards a revised version was published, and Finlandia (Op. 26) set off to conquer the world.

Finlandia starts to
live a life of its own

Finlandia became a hit in all manner of guises: there was a military band arrangement from 1909, a version in English for orchestra and chorus as early as 1925, and an arrangement for marimba ensemble in the 1940s. Sibelius was not always very receptive to new suggestions - in 1921 he politely forbid the musicians in a Bergen restaurant from playing it as a trio, and he shuddered at the several jazz arrangements that surfaced. And there was more; the central hymn section was made to be sung, even if the composer railed against the idea.

Before very long, Finlandia was being sung around the world under such names as "Dear Friend of Mine", "Land of the Pine", and "Christian Life". The Finns, perhaps out of respect for the maestro's wishes, were slower off the mark, but in 1937 the operatic tenor Wäinö Sola sent the composer a version for male voice choir that was used with harmonium accompaniment in Masonic rituals. Finally, in 1940 a very similar arrangement appeared but with words by V. A. Koskenniemi, and this melted Finnish hearts once and for all. Naturally by this time the music was also indelibly associated abroad with Finland's struggle against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40.

The modern era: Biafra, Tienanmen
Square, and Hollywood

Since the composer's death in 1957, Jean Sibelius's Finlandia has been heard in contexts its author could never have dreamed of. When Biafra was fighting for its independence in Africa, the piece rang out as its national anthem. When Chinese students demonstrated in Beijing a decade ago, they were heard to sing it. Sibelius might have understood the use of Finlandia at the end of Edvin Laine's film-version of The Unknown Soldier, but what would he have made of Bruce Willis killing villains to it in Renny Harlin's Die Hard II? And one hardly dares imagine what he might have said about a speed metal version for guitars, featured on an album by the name No Anaesthesia.

And yet he might not have minded that much after all: Sibelius himself had the highest regard for his symphonic output, particularly the difficult "expressionist" Fourth Symphony. It was nevertheless Finlandia and of course Valse Triste (a work that could have made him a small fortune had he been a thriftier man) that brought him international fame. He never quite could understand it: "Everybody else but the critics shouts bravos for this thing, a piece that is really very trivial by comparison with my other works", he once remarked.

Finlandia and the other parts of the Music for the Press Celebrations were performed for the first time since 1899 on November 4th, 1999 in Finlandia Hall, Helsinki. The Radio Symphony Orchestra concert also featured Sibelius's intensely patriotic War Song of Tyrtaeus (Op. 31:3, 1899). On the same day a plaque was unveiled at the Swedish Theatre marking the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Finlandia.

-- Sadie
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