Author Topic: The Snowshoed Sibelius  (Read 339870 times)

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Offline amw

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2720 on: January 13, 2021, 01:16:09 PM »
The idea of a composition in a single movement being nevertheless called a symphony was not new to Sibelius; in 1906 Schoenberg wrote his first Chamber Symphony in one movement, Franz Schreker following with his own Chamber Symphony in one movement in 1916, and Karol Szymanowski completing his one-movement Third Symphony also in 1916. The earliest (post-Haydn) symphony in multiple movements all played attacca, essentially forming one continuous movement, is of course Schumann's Fourth Symphony from 1841, initially titled "Symphonic Fantasia", where all four movements also share thematic material, but this kind of experimentation with symphonic form did not really take off until the 20th century; e.g. Nielsen's Fourth Symphony (1916) is in four linked movements sharing thematic material, Zemlinsky's Lyrische Symphonie (1923) in seven linked movements, Scriabin's Third Symphony "The Divine Poem" (1902) in three linked movements. And Scriabin's Fourth (1908) and Fifth Symphonies (1911) are both in one movement, although Scriabin himself dithered over whether to call them symphonies or tone poems.

Essentially this was a time period when the distinctions between symphonies and tone poems were beginning to erode, and composers were developing radically different conceptions of symphonic form; including applying the title to works for small chamber ensemble (as small as seven players in Gavriil Popov's Chamber Symphony of 1927) as well as works in one movement or multiple linked movements, works as long as two hours (Havergal Brian's First Symphony of 1927) or as short as ten minutes (Anton Webern's Symphony of 1928), et cetera. In this artistic context Sibelius's Seventh Symphony (1924) fits in perfectly: by the time it was completed, the symphony had transitioned into much more of an abstract description of character, rather than a concrete form per se.

In other words it's a symphony because he called it a symphony, but there is a good deal of historical context for why he did so.

Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2721 on: January 13, 2021, 01:26:11 PM »
My point is whether you believe it to be a symphony or not will not change your mind about the music itself. Anyway, this should be of help:

http://www.sibelius.fi/english/musiikki/ork_sinf_07.htm

Thank you for that link. I feel that you have yourself proved that there is more to it than, because he said so and the link outlines the thematic constructions that probably lead him to say so.

The idea of my broaching this was to open a discussion, and not to close a book.

Mike
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Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2722 on: January 13, 2021, 01:34:45 PM »
The idea of a composition in a single movement being nevertheless called a symphony was not new to Sibelius; in 1906 Schoenberg wrote his first Chamber Symphony in one movement, Franz Schreker following with his own Chamber Symphony in one movement in 1916, and Karol Szymanowski completing his one-movement Third Symphony also in 1916. The earliest (post-Haydn) symphony in multiple movements all played attacca, essentially forming one continuous movement, is of course Schumann's Fourth Symphony from 1841, initially titled "Symphonic Fantasia", where all four movements also share thematic material, but this kind of experimentation with symphonic form did not really take off until the 20th century; e.g. Nielsen's Fourth Symphony (1916) is in four linked movements sharing thematic material, Zemlinsky's Lyrische Symphonie (1923) in seven linked movements, Scriabin's Third Symphony "The Divine Poem" (1902) in three linked movements. And Scriabin's Fourth (1908) and Fifth Symphonies (1911) are both in one movement, although Scriabin himself dithered over whether to call them symphonies or tone poems.

Essentially this was a time period when the distinctions between symphonies and tone poems were beginning to erode, and composers were developing radically different conceptions of symphonic form; including applying the title to works for small chamber ensemble (as small as seven players in Gavriil Popov's Chamber Symphony of 1927) as well as works in one movement or multiple linked movements, works as long as two hours (Havergal Brian's First Symphony of 1927) or as short as ten minutes (Anton Webern's Symphony of 1928), et cetera. In this artistic context Sibelius's Seventh Symphony (1924) fits in perfectly: by the time it was completed, the symphony had transitioned into much more of an abstract description of character, rather than a concrete form per se.

In other words it's a symphony because he called it a symphony, but there is a good deal of historical context for why he did so.

Thanks for this. It is useful to receive such context. Sibelius was a difficult character, from memory, he frowned on a number of the more radical moves in music. Perhaps he did look sideways to affirm his decision, or he may have plowed his own furrow. I have found it very interesting to explore this and I will look at what is written about some of the compositions you specified.

One of the first to radically experiment with the form was Berlioz, he perhaps sits aside from the mainstream somewhat. He was a prolific innovator in form/format. I will certainly now follow up on the Scriabin reference now.

Again thanks.

Mike
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2723 on: January 13, 2021, 01:37:49 PM »
Thank you for that link. I feel that you have yourself proved that there is more to it than, because he said so and the link outlines the thematic constructions that probably lead him to say so.

The idea of my broaching this was to open a discussion, and not to close a book.

Mike

I guess what I’m not understanding is why the incessant need to find out whether it’s a symphony or not? You’ve heard the work many times I would imagine. Can’t you draw your own conclusions about it by now? As amw outlined, the one-movement symphony is nothing new.
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Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2724 on: January 13, 2021, 02:21:55 PM »
Yes, I see you don’t understand it.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2725 on: January 13, 2021, 02:35:01 PM »
Yes, I see you don’t understand it.

And you still can’t draw your own conclusions about it?
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Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2726 on: January 13, 2021, 02:36:54 PM »
And you still can’t draw your own conclusions about it?

Don’t you worry, I have drawn my conclusions OK.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2727 on: January 13, 2021, 02:41:19 PM »
Don’t you worry, I have drawn my conclusions OK.

Which would be what? Do you feel the 7th is a symphony, a tone poem or just a long varied overture, prelude, or rhapsody?
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Offline relm1

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2728 on: January 13, 2021, 05:25:39 PM »
Thanks for that, which was posted while I was writing my own post. That sounds convincing. But, La Mer has no real programme, it feels like a three movement symphony but is not referred to as such. Do you see a reason it would not be a symphony? Are you suggesting that symphonies work more in the abstract? Beethoven’s 6th would be the kind of problem to that idea. But perhaps I am reading something into your words that you did not say. Your explanation is attractive, but I need to think on it.

Mike

I consider La Mer as a masterful symphonic poem of symphony stature.  This is a grey line.  Sibelius' Kullervo is not a symphony.  It is perhaps the grandest symphonic poem.  Meanwhile there are symphonies that are of fare less impact.  Think of it as a continuum sort of like a sonata for orchestra vs a symphony.  They are basically the same thing but one could consider sonatas to generally be focused on a solo instrument and the symphony is focused on the orchestral instrument.  There is an overlap.  Some sonatas are symphonic in scope and some symphonies are sonata in scale.  But generally, you get a sense for where one ends and the other begins.

Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2729 on: January 14, 2021, 12:13:28 AM »
I consider La Mer as a masterful symphonic poem of symphony stature.  This is a grey line.  Sibelius' Kullervo is not a symphony.  It is perhaps the grandest symphonic poem.  Meanwhile there are symphonies that are of fare less impact.  Think of it as a continuum sort of like a sonata for orchestra vs a symphony.  They are basically the same thing but one could consider sonatas to generally be focused on a solo instrument and the symphony is focused on the orchestral instrument.  There is an overlap.  Some sonatas are symphonic in scope and some symphonies are sonata in scale.  But generally, you get a sense for where one ends and the other begins.

Thanks for the follow up. Once upon a time no doubt at university or music college students would have been told what HAD to happen within the sonata form or the symphony. And in examinations there would have involved much ticking of boxes by the institution. Think how proscriptive they were in Paris while judging the Prix de Rome. As creative people do, they break the boundaries. Of course, it is the music that matters, but good to learn something of the context and about the composer’s thinking in the processes.

Mike
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Offline Jo498

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2730 on: January 14, 2021, 01:00:26 AM »
For me the distinction symphony vs. tone poem would usually be related to some extra-musical reference and especially to happenings or formal oddities in the music that would be best be explained by such a reference. As has been pointed out, a symphony in one movement was already done before and there are some 19th century works that have no extramusical program but are either in one movement with sections more or less clearly corresponding to the typical movements (Liszt b minor sonata) or very uncommon sequence of movements (Beethoven op.131, also usually played without movement breaks, I think the first sonata-like piece with all movements (of conventional types) attacca and a "leitmotiv" was Schubert's Wandererfantasie (1822?)).
Then there are pieces that do have extra-musical references despite confirming mostly to standard forms/movements (Berlioz Harold, Tchaikovsky Manfred, Rimsky Antar, also lots of Raff).
Then there are hybrids with vocal movements that are somewhat between tone poems and oratorios? (Berlioz' Romeo & Juliet, Sibelius' Kullervo, maybe Mahler 8).

Sibelius' 7th seems a clear case of the first type ("Liszt sonata") of which Schoenberg's chamber #1 might be the first explicit case in orchestral music.
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Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2731 on: January 14, 2021, 02:08:10 AM »
Sorry, but how does this relate to what I said? The fact that there are themes that appear and disappear is not germane to what I said about themes. How do the themes relate to each other? How are they developed?

Very sorry, I missed this reply. Yes, you are right, I went off in a different direction there. I thought your idea of the composer having almost a musical dialogue with himself, emerging with a term acceptable to him was good. It is exactly what Sibelius did in his 7th.

Mike
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Offline relm1

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2732 on: January 14, 2021, 07:32:15 AM »
Thanks for that, which was posted while I was writing my own post. That sounds convincing. But, La Mer has no real programme, it feels like a three movement symphony but is not referred to as such. Do you see a reason it would not be a symphony? Are you suggesting that symphonies work more in the abstract? Beethoven’s 6th would be the kind of problem to that idea. But perhaps I am reading something into your words that you did not say. Your explanation is attractive, but I need to think on it.

Mike

Technically, La Mer isn't a tone poem.  The title says "Three symphonic sketches for orchestra" it is more of impressions or paintings not a story.  Also remember the word "Symphony" has a lot of germanic baggage linking it to Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, etc., and that wasn't in vogue in France at the time.  There are definitely grey areas like Beethoven's 6 where he was introducing major changes to structure and movement order.  Similar to Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique. I consider these formal symphonies with narrative inspiration.  Similar to Mahler's No. 1 and 2, probably No. 3 too.  Gliere's No. 3 "Ilya Muromitz" or Shostakovich's programmatic symphonies like No. 7 or 11.  The Berlioz example really is on the border but is of a very grand scale.  I don't think there is going to be one definition that covers all works, these are generalities.  I consider Robin Holloway's Concertos for Orchestra to be symphonies.  Doesn't Colin Matthews call his symphonies Sonatas for Orchestra?  What about Schoenberg's Chamber Symphonies?  Rachmaninoff called his "Bells" a Choral Symphony but I consider it a cantata, not a symphony.  These are general conventions and not strict rules.

EDIT: I forgot I already responded but anyway here is more content.  :)

Offline knight66

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2733 on: January 14, 2021, 12:45:27 PM »
Reim, Thanks for the extra fillip on pieces to think about.

Mike
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2734 on: January 15, 2021, 09:37:49 AM »
Essentially this was a time period when the distinctions between symphonies and tone poems were beginning to erode, and composers were developing radically different conceptions of symphonic form; including applying the title to works for small chamber ensemble (as small as seven players in Gavriil Popov's Chamber Symphony of 1927) ...

As small as a single instrument - Alkan, Symphony for Piano, 1857.  Except that it isn't, it's just four of his Etudes.

I used to take much interest in the general question "what is a symphony?" but have long since decided it's ann area of much pseudo-intellectual obfuscation laced with musical snobbery.

Offline Brian

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2735 on: January 15, 2021, 02:28:57 PM »
I have seen some recordings which attempt to divide the Sibelius 7 into four tracks based on perceived "movements" (usually introduction, slow movement after the first full trombone announcement of the theme, scherzo, finale).

We could of course go further down the rabbit hole and debate whether Sibelius 7 is in fact Sibelius 9, since Lemminkainen Legends and Kullervo have been claimed by various commentators to be symphonies. (I'm not sure I buy it on LL, which is more like Scheherazade in my mind, but even Wikipedia lists Kullervo as a symphony.)
« Last Edit: January 15, 2021, 02:30:41 PM by Brian »

Offline amw

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2736 on: January 15, 2021, 03:45:44 PM »
As small as a single instrument - Alkan, Symphony for Piano, 1857.  Except that it isn't, it's just four of his Etudes.
I didn't include the Alkan because it comes from an earlier era not particularly marked by experimentation with symphonic form—Alkan and the few others who did so (Berlioz, Raff) were outliers.  Despite their aesthetic differences, Schoenberg, Mahler, Sibelius, Nielsen and Scriabin were all more or less within the mainstream of European music in the 1900s-1920s. Sibelius tended to reject the music of most of his contemporaries, but no one lives in a vacuum, and he was certainly aware of what they were doing. (sometimes hearing about it from the composers themselves e.g. in the famous meeting with Mahler where they both expounded upon their differing philosophies of what the symphony should be.)

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2737 on: January 15, 2021, 10:16:49 PM »
I have seen some recordings which attempt to divide the Sibelius 7 into four tracks based on perceived "movements" (usually introduction, slow movement after the first full trombone announcement of the theme, scherzo, finale).

We could of course go further down the rabbit hole and debate whether Sibelius 7 is in fact Sibelius 9, since Lemminkainen Legends and Kullervo have been claimed by various commentators to be symphonies. (I'm not sure I buy it on LL, which is more like Scheherazade in my mind, but even Wikipedia lists Kullervo as a symphony.)

It seems that Kullervo very well could be a symphony as Sibelius himself considered it one or, at least, he did according to this site:

http://www.sibelius.fi/english/musiikki/ork_kullervo.htm
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Offline Jo498

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2738 on: January 16, 2021, 12:59:53 AM »
I have seen some recordings which attempt to divide the Sibelius 7 into four tracks based on perceived "movements" (usually introduction, slow movement after the first full trombone announcement of the theme, scherzo, finale).
I checked my handful of recordings and 3/5 have one track for the 7th (Ashkenazy, Bernstein, Ormandy). Two Karajan recordings (EMI 1955 and DG) have 4 tracks each but not exactly the same splits! I have no score and could not be bothered to listen but both the timings and the italian tempo words given slightly different!

Quote
We could of course go further down the rabbit hole and debate whether Sibelius 7 is in fact Sibelius 9, since Lemminkainen Legends and Kullervo have been claimed by various commentators to be symphonies. (I'm not sure I buy it on LL, which is more like Scheherazade in my mind, but even Wikipedia lists Kullervo as a symphony.)
Berlioz called R & J a symphony and Mendelssohn's Lobgesang and Mahler's 8th are vocal symphonies (that would probably be better described as huge cantatas), so Kullervo would not be a huge outlier either. (Neither is it unprecedented to have an uncounted (programmatic) symphony in addition to the counted ones, e.g. Manfred or even Wellington's Victory.)

I think the conceptual problem here is that unlike in most sciences (there exceptions) that strive for generality and knowledge about ever more encompassing genera, art deals with unique specific exemplars where usually the special properties are more interesting than the subsumption under a broad genus. One does not expand one's knowledge considerably by debating whether Kullervo or Sheherazade (compare with "Antar" which is called a symphony, there are hardly huge structural differences between them) should "really" count as symphonies or rather suites or tone poems or whatever. (There is probably no doubt that all of the works mentioned are "symphonic" in scale and general style, unlike maybe the Nutcracker suite that is far "lighter" than a symphony would have been at that time.)
It is of course  different when the research interest is not the specific piece but long term historical developments, but even then it quickly gets pedantic and boring if one is too obsessed with such classifications.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: The Snowshoed Sibelius
« Reply #2739 on: January 16, 2021, 02:05:29 AM »
Mendelssohn didn't call Lobgesang a symphony, and it is no longer catalogued as such.
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