Sunday 29 March

Janáček & Sibelius

Leoš Janáček
Sinfonietta (1926)

1 Fanfares
2 The Castle, Brno
3 The Queen’s Monastery, Brno
4 The Street Leading to the Castle
5 The Town Hall, Brno

The piece was composed in 1926, when the composer was 72. He died two years later in 1928. It was commissioned for a gymnastics festival and Janáček called it a ‘Military Sinfonietta’, intended to express ‘contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his courage, strength, and determination to fight to victory.' Janáček's love of musical tradition is evident in the dancing strings and celebratory brass.

The five movements refer to landmarks in Brno, where the composer grew up, and each is scored for different – often unusual – combination of instruments, including 12 trumpets in the first and fifth movements.

Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 (2010) features the Sinfonietta as a recurring motif. In an interview the writer recalled, ‘I heard that music in a concert hall … There were 15 trumpeters behind the orchestra. Strange. Very strange … And that fits very well in this book.'

Leoš Janáček

Leoš left the family home at Hukvaldy in 1865 to become a chorister in Brno, and in 1869 he received a state scholarship to support studies at the Czech Teachers’ Training Institute. He moved to Prague in 1874 and studied at the celebrated Organ School, returning to Brno the following year.

Composition studies in Leipzig and Vienna (1879–80) added to Janáček’s blossoming skills as a composer. In 1881 he married the 16-year-old Zdenka Schulzová but the marriage soon failed. During this period he helped to found the Brno Organ School, which later became the Brno Conservatory.

In 1887 he began work on his first opera, Šarka, but Moravian folk music and popular culture increasingly fascinated Janáček, influencing a gradual rejection of the high Romantic musical language of Šarka for a style that reflected his passion for Slavic languages and the musicality of his native tongue.

He worked from 1894 to 1903 on his opera Jenufa, which was successfully premiered in Brno in January 1904 and for the next 20 years he concentrated on works for the stage. A creative upsurge in his 60s coincided with his impassioned though platonic affair with Kamila Stösslová, wife of an antiques dealer and 37 years the composer’s junior.

Composer profile by Andrew Stewart

Jean Sibelius
Symphony No 5 (1914–19)

1 Tempo molto moderato – Allegro moderato (ma poco a poco stretto) – Presto – Più Presto
2 Andante mosso, quasi allegretto
3 Allegro molto

Few composers have responded so vividly to the sounds of nature as Jean Sibelius. Birdcalls, the buzzing of insects, the sounds of wind and water all fascinated him; at times he seems to have heard something mystical in them. The sight and sound of swans inspired the most famous theme in Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, as he recorded in his diaries, not long after he began sketching the symphony.

In fact the finale theme doesn’t appear on the trumpets until near the end of the symphony. It inaugurates the long final crescendo that clearly evokes ‘life’s Angst’ in grinding dissonances and abrasive orchestration. This isn’t the only passage in the Fifth Symphony where shadows fall across the music: the long plaintive bassoon solo, heard through weird whispering string figurations in the first movement is another unsettling inspiration. Certainly it isn’t all solar glory. But that only makes the final triumphant emergence of what Sibelius persisted in calling his ‘Swan Hymn’ all the more convincing: the symphony has had to struggle to achieve it.

In another diary entry from around this time Sibelius tries to understand the composing process as he experiences it: ‘Arrangement of the themes. This important task, which fascinates me in a mysterious way. It’s as if God the Father had thrown down the tiles of a mosaic from heaven’s floor and asked me to determine what kind of picture it was’.

To those who admire the organic continuity of Sibelius’ symphonies this may come as a surprise. A symphony like the Fifth seems to grow from its musical seed (a distinctive motif that appears to set the process in motion) to the final triumphant flowering; and yet here is Sibelius telling us that he only discovers that ideal organic logic by moving the parts around.

The Fifth Symphony begins with a splendid example of a Sibelian musical ‘seed’: a motif led by horns rises then falls expectantly. Two huge crescendos grow organically from this, each one culminating in a thrilling two-note trumpet call. Then shadows begin to fall, and we hear the plaintive bassoon solo and eerily rustling strings mentioned above. In the symphony’s first version (1915) the first movement came to a strangely premature ending not long after this, to be followed by a faster scherzo.

But then Sibelius was struck by a magnificent idea – why not make the scherzo emerge from the Tempo molto moderato, as though it were a continuation of the first movement rather than a separate entity? So another elemental crescendo begins; the original horn motif (the ‘seed’) returns brilliantly on trumpets, then – almost imperceptibly at first – the music starts to accelerate. By the time we reach the final Più Presto, the energy and pace are hair-raising. And yet the whole process is seamless – like a speeded-up film of a plant growing from seed to full flower. It’s hard to believe that this could have been achieved by the moving around of musical ‘tiles’.

On the surface, the Andante mosso, quasi allegretto is more relaxed. Broadly speaking it is a set of variations on the folk-like theme heard at the beginning (pizzicato strings and flutes). But there are tensions below that surface, momentarily emerging in troubled string tremolandos or in the menacing brass writing towards the end. There are also subtle hints of themes to come in the finale – again added in the later revised version of the symphony.

Tension is released as action in the final movement, which begins as a fleet-footed airborne dance for high strings and continues into the ‘Swan Hymn’ (swaying horn figures and a chant-like theme for high woodwind). After a short development and a hushed return of both themes, the tempo broadens and the mood darkens. But then the Swan Hymn returns, in a slower tempo, on trumpets, initiating a long, slow crescendo. For a moment, ‘life’s angst’ seems to prevail; but it’s only for a moment. Finally we hear a series of sledgehammer chords punctuated by long silences – the music seems to hold its breath, then a brusque two-note cadence brings the symphony to an abrupt close.

Note by Stephen Johnson

Jean Sibelius

As a young boy, Sibelius made rapid progress as a violinist and composer. In 1886 he abandoned law studies at Helsinki University, enrolling at the Helsinki Conservatory and later taking lessons in Berlin and Vienna. The young composer drew inspiration from the Finnish ancient epic, the Kalevala, a rich source of Finnish cultural identity. These sagas of the remote Karelia region greatly appealed to Sibelius, especially those concerned with the dashing youth Lemminkäinen and the bleak landscape of Tuonela, the kingdom of death – providing the literary background for his early tone-poems, beginning with the mighty choral symphony Kullervo in 1892.

The Finns swiftly adopted Sibelius and his works as symbols of national pride, particularly following the premiere of the overtly patriotic Finlandia in 1900, composed a few months after Finland’s legislative rights had been taken away by Russia.

‘Well, we shall see now what the new century brings with it for Finland and us Finns,’ Sibelius wrote on New Year’s Day 1900. The public in Finland recognised the idealistic young composer as a champion of national freedom, while his tuneful Finlandia was taken into the repertoire of orchestras around the world. In 1914 Sibelius visited America, composing a bold new work, The Oceanides, for the celebrated Norfolk Music Festival in Connecticut.

Although Sibelius lived to the age of 91, he effectively abandoned composition almost 30 years earlier. Heavy drinking, illness, relentless self-criticism and financial problems were among the conditions that influenced his early retirement. He was, however, honoured as a great Finnish hero long after he ceased composing, while his principal works became established as an essential part of the orchestral repertoire.

Composer profile by Andrew Stewart

Sir Simon Rattle
LSO Music Director

Sir Simon Rattle was born in Liverpool and studied at the
Royal Academy of Music.

From 1980 to 1998, Sir Simon was Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and was appointed Music Director in 1990. In 2002, he took up the position of Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic where he remained until the end of the 2017/18 season. Sir Simon took up the position of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra in September 2017.

He has made over 70 recordings for the record label EMI (now Warner Classics) and has received numerous prestigious international awards for his recordings on various labels. Releases on EMI include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms (which received a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance), Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Mahler’s Symphony No 2, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Rachmaninov’s The Bells and Symphonic Dances, all recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic. Sir Simon’s most recent recordings include Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, Helen Grime’s Woven Space, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Remembering, which were all released by LSO Live.

Between 2013 and 2018, Sir Simon and the Berlin Philharmonic took up residency at Baden-Baden Osterfestspiele, performing a variety of operatic and symphonic repertoire. As well as fulfilling a taxing concert schedule in London, Sir Simon regularly tours within Europe, North America and Asia, and has strong longstanding relationships with the world’s leading orchestras. Initially working closely with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestras, Simon has also recently worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. He regularly conducts the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Staatskapelle Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic, with which he has recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos with Alfred Brendel. Sir Simon is also a Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Founding Patron of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

The 2019/20 season sees Sir Simon embark upon tours to Hong Kong, China and Vietnam, and the US and Europe with the LSO. He returns to the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks with a programme of Strauss, Schumann and Rameau, the Berlin Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Christ on the Mount of Olives and will tour Europe and the US in a chamber music project with
mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.

Sir Simon Rattle was knighted in 1994. In the New Year’s Honours of 2014 he received the Order of Merit from Her Majesty the Queen.

Image: Oliver Helbig

The LSO was established in 1904 and has a unique ethos. As a musical collective, it is built on artistic ownership and partnership. With an inimitable signature sound, the LSO’s mission is to bring the greatest music to the greatest number of people.

The LSO has been the only Resident Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in the City of London since it opened in 1982, giving 70 symphonic concerts there every year. The Orchestra works with a family of artists that includes some of the world’s greatest conductors – Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director, Principal Guest Conductors Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth, and Michael Tilson Thomas as Conductor Laureate.

Through LSO Discovery, it is a pioneer of music education, offering musical experiences to 60,000 people every year at its music education centre LSO St Luke’s on Old Street, across East London and further afield.

The LSO strives to embrace new digital technologies in order to broaden its reach, and with the formation of its own record label LSO Live in 1999 it pioneered a revolution in recording live orchestral music. With a discography spanning many genres and including some of the most iconic recordings ever made the LSO is now the most recorded and listened to orchestra in the world, regularly reaching over 3,500,000 people worldwide each month on Spotify and beyond. The Orchestra continues to innovate through partnerships with market-leading tech companies, as well as initiatives such as LSO Play. The LSO is a highly successful creative enterprise, with 80% of all funding self-generated.

Image: Ranald Mackechnie

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In the mean time: 

Thursday 2 April 2020 7.30pm BST
Brahms Symphony No 1

Szymanowski Symphony No 1
Szymanowski Violin Concerto
Brahms Symphony No 1

Valery Gergiev conductor
Janine Jansen violin