Length: c. 30 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 19, 1935, Otto Klemperer conducting
The first movement, Tempo molto moderato; Allegro moderato (ma poco a poco stretto), was born out of a fusion of two originally independent movements. The result is an original transformation of the sonata principle that has no precedent in the tradition. The three areas of sonata form - exposition, development, and recapitulation - are still there, but their dimensions and mutual relationship depart radically from the customary. The exposition and development consist of three relatively short "rotations" and lead to a very large "recapitulatory space" with a scherzo character. The high point of the movement is the gradual and almost imperceptible transition from the hollow space of slow and somber music to the lithe and vivid scherzo that finally adopts a hectic character in an ever-faster stretto.
After the intriguing first movement, the second, Andante mosso, quasi allegretto, may appear simplistic. In a way it is, but its purpose in the Symphony is to mediate between the two outer movements by gradually generating, in seven "rotations," the main elements of the finale, its woodwind first theme and the "swan hymn," here in pizzicato strings. The movement is a kind of Sampo, the mythical machine of the Finnish national epic Kalevala that creates wealth and prosperity to anybody holding it.
The triumphant final movement, Allegro molto, contains a particularly beautiful example of what Sibelius meant by writing in his diary on April 10, 1915: "In the evening with the symphony. The disposition of the themes. This important preoccupation with its mystery and fascination. As if God the Father had thrown down pieces of mosaic out of the heaven's floor and asked me to solve how the picture once looked." The two basic themes of the movement, one in stepwise motion in the woodwinds doubled by the cellos and the other moving in widening intervals in the horns (the "swan hymn"), sound on top of each other, while the latter is accompanied by itself at a third of the speed in the bass.
- Dr. Ilkka Oramo is Professor of Music Theory at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.