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Briefly Noted: More of Sibelius's Theater Music

available at Amazon
Sibelius, Incidental Music, Vol. 4, Turku Philharmonic, L. Segerstam

(released on September 11, 2015)
Naxos 8.573340 | 72'50"

[Vol. 5 | Vol. 6]
Last Tuesday a massed choir of Finns marked the 150th birthday of Jean Sibelius by singing his choral version of the Finlandia hymn in Helsinki's Senate Square (video embedded below). My delectation of Leif Segerstam's ongoing cycle of Sibelius's music for the theater, with the Turku Philharmonic, continues with the fourth volume, released in September.

In the midst of World War I, the Finnish National Theater commissioned incidental music from Sibelius to accompany Jedermann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal's adaptation of The Somonyng of Everyman, the 15th-century morality play. Sibelius held this score, premiered in 1916, in high esteem, but because he never made a suite arrangement of it (other than three sections arranged for piano), it is less often heard in performance. Sibelius maintained, in subsequent performances of the score with the play, that the music had to be matched exactly with the lines spoken by the actors, phrase for phrase. (Von Hoffmannsthal's play is still performed every summer at the Salzburg Festival, on the steps of the city's cathedral, but not with Sibelius's score, as far as I know.)

After an expansive opening, Sibelius creates some rather forgettable song and dance music that symbolizes the empty-headed pursuits of Everyman's life. When Death takes the scene, the score becomes much more interesting (tracks 12 to 17), with intertwined chromatic string lines seeming to separate Everyman from the dippy music that came before. The music underscores the lessons Everyman is forced to learn when he dies: nothing and no one he held dear in his life can help him now. Only Good Works and Faith agree to go with him on this final journey.

While not technically created for a theatrical production, two shorter instrumental scores are in keeping with the religious tone of the Jokamies (Everyman) score: Two Serious Melodies for violin and orchestra, op. 77, and In memoriam for orchestra, created after the composer underwent an operation on his throat and played again at Sibelius's funeral -- an apt tie-in to the story of Jedermann.

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