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Thread: Sibelius A Minor Fourth

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    Default Sibelius A Minor Fourth

    This is Sibelius' most enigmatic work. My favorite Sibelius is the seventh but this symphony holds a special place in the chronological podium of his works.
    There is always a sense of desolation that comes to mind when listening to the Fourth.
    The opening strains on the double basses and the statement by the cello shows us that we are alone and lonely. Sibelius grabs you by the throat. Even the pizzicatos form a dark tonal picture.
    I am thoroughly impressed by this reading of Osmo Vanska with the London players and am close to rating it as the definitive version. The other three readings that have made an impact on me are Karajan, Maazel and Colin Davis.
    This symphony makes me quiet and reflective.

    http://youtu.be/7rdHcPewftg
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    That is a great opening. Sibelius had a way of using the low voices of the orchestra to create uneasiness, even terror (I'm thinking of Tapiola).

    It's interesting that he uses the tritone extensively, but while composers during this time used that interval as a jumping-off point to atonality/bitonality, Sibelius stays tonal. But yet that's the very thing which makes this piece so unsettling.

    Do you have any opinion on Karajan's 1953 recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra?

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    The Sibelius 4th is certainly a compelling masterwork. In Scandinavia , it had a nickname - the "barkbread symphony". In Scandinavia in times of famine centuries ago, people used to make bread out of tree bark .It must have tasted awful . The symphony is just as grim .
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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    The opening bars of the 4th are some of the greatest in all of music. No built up tension or groping to find the mood and direction of the music, we just go right into a feeling of despair and loneliness.

    The 4th movement, though, still puzzles me to this day. It's quite unnerving how this music alternates between the morose and a certain giddy lightness, highlighted by the glockenspiel. Is Sibelius being sarcastic? Is this a sincere but failing struggle to pull the music from the darkness? Even after all these years, I still just do not know.

    My preferred recordings...

    I have always felt Karajan was the best all-around interpreter of the work. You can take your pick from his DG recording with the Berlin Phil from the 60s or his later foray with the same band on EMI from the 1970s.

    A slightly more controversial endorsement goes to Loren Maazel and the Wieners on London.

    And a more modern suggestion is Colin Davis and the London SO on that orchestra's own LSO Live label.
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    You folks have an interesting take on the opening of this symphony. For me it isn't 'dark' at all. The light, as it were, is from the sun at or just below the horizon. The scene is inhospitable, but... clean; no evidence of humans ever being there. For me, the entire symphony proceeds without physical human presence; in some hearings I get an acknowledgement of human existence - below the horizon and far away, in the peripheral awareness of some crittur that is there. Other times, the music and I may as well be on Mars.

    The above is an example of why I prefer strictly instrumental classical music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    You folks have an interesting take on the opening of this symphony. For me it isn't 'dark' at all. The light, as it were, is from the sun at or just below the horizon. The scene is inhospitable, but... clean; no evidence of humans ever being there. For me, the entire symphony proceeds without physical human presence; in some hearings I get an acknowledgement of human existence - below the horizon and far away, in the peripheral awareness of some crittur that is there. Other times, the music and I may as well be on Mars.

    The above is an example of why I prefer strictly instrumental classical music.

    What a FASCINATING interpretation! I may not think of this music the same way again.

    It seems what you are ultimately describing, though, is desolation, which is actually a common theme that is brought up in reference to this symphony. Your desert-like vistas with a smoldering sun on the horizon (perhaps this is Mars indeed) are in sharp contrast to the windswept, arctic tundras that most people will conjure in their heads, if in imagery only. But the over-all concept of desolation, be it desolation of the land or of one's own being, is quite striking and perhaps not very coincidental.
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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    But 'desolation' is not the right word. A place that is inhospitable to humans may be a fine place for some other critturs. The tundra isn't desolation, even after the migrating birds have left. In the autumn it's a place with air and living things and long views... that just doesn't look, smell or feel like a good place for a tea social. I'd be surprised if there is any TC member who has experienced inner desolation. We may well have suffered, but... has anyone here 'looked', and found no figurative blade of grass anywhere?
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    I always though Sibelius 4 was kind of uumm boring....I think his first two are great and his 3rd has moments. But after that it just goes downhill.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    But 'desolation' is not the right word. A place that is inhospitable to humans may be a fine place for some other critturs. The tundra isn't desolation, even after the migrating birds have left. In the autumn it's a place with air and living things and long views... that just doesn't look, smell or feel like a good place for a tea social. I'd be surprised if there is any TC member who has experienced inner desolation. We may well have suffered, but... has anyone here 'looked', and found no figurative blade of grass anywhere?
    To say that is to not understand acute severe depression, which I have had! It is inner desolation where there is darkness and despair. Having suffered in such a way has helped me appreciate pieces like this. It was also only after having depression that I came to really understand Miles Davis' music as well.

    Kevin
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    The Fourth I have and which I love is by Herbert Blomstedt conducting the San Francisco Symphony.
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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    But 'desolation' is not the right word. A place that is inhospitable to humans may be a fine place for some other critturs. The tundra isn't desolation, even after the migrating birds have left. In the autumn it's a place with air and living things and long views... that just doesn't look, smell or feel like a good place for a tea social. I'd be surprised if there is any TC member who has experienced inner desolation. We may well have suffered, but... has anyone here 'looked', and found no figurative blade of grass anywhere?
    Desolate is not the same as sterile. A desert can be desolate, as can the tundra, but certainly other things are living, perhaps even thriving there. Even on Mars there may be microbial/bacterial life. But if we consider, say, the Gobi Desert desolate, which I think is fair word to describe it, there is still life, surely.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Pearson View Post
    To say that is to not understand acute severe depression, which I have had! It is inner desolation where there is darkness and despair. Having suffered in such a way has helped me appreciate pieces like this. It was also only after having depression that I came to really understand Miles Davis' music as well.

    Kevin
    There is much "inner" in Sibelius, compared to Mahler, whom I consider to be more "outer."

    The "inner desolation" of the 4th has always been very tangible to me. I cannot say I have experienced deep depression, but I wonder, for someone who has, does this music strike an accurate chord?

    (And I hope you are doing better these days!)
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tapkaara View Post
    There is much "inner" in Sibelius, compared to Mahler, whom I consider to be more "outer."

    The "inner desolation" of the 4th has always been very tangible to me. I cannot say I have experienced deep depression, but I wonder, for someone who has, does this music strike an accurate chord?

    (And I hope you are doing better these days!)
    I think it does strike an accurate chord Tapkaara. I think anyone who has had severe acute depression would listen and understand the despair more deeply. Other's may be able to sympathize and somewhat feel something of the pain but one who has had depression not only sympathizes but empathizes because we are right there with it and understand it's depths. I have suffered from depression on and off most of my life but I went through a period of about 4 1/2 months a few years ago of deep dark depression where it seemed there was no escape and no hope. I was non-functional. My wife had to do most things for me. They tried several anti-depressant drugs all to no avail. Finally I found relief through frequency specific micro-current. It took a while but after only 5 treatments I was at least able to drive myself to appointments. Now I own a portable device that allows me to treat myself whenever I feel the symptoms returning and usually one or two treatments and I'm good to go again for awhile. So, yes I am doing much better. Thanks for asking!

    Kevin
    Last edited by Kevin Pearson; Dec-11-2011 at 02:05.

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    /\ Excellent. Glad a way was found for you. I will put a chalkmark on the board signifying that one of our members knows desolation.
    I haven't come close, I think, to that experience. I am always depressed this time of year, but it isn't deep, and it isn't clinical.

    I will belabor what seems obvious only to point out that any piece of instrumental music possessing any depth will mean slightly-to-greatly different things to different people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Manxfeeder View Post
    That is a great opening. Sibelius had a way of using the low voices of the orchestra to create uneasiness, even terror (I'm thinking of Tapiola).

    It's interesting that he uses the tritone extensively, but while composers during this time used that interval as a jumping-off point to atonality/bitonality, Sibelius stays tonal. But yet that's the very thing which makes this piece so unsettling.

    Do you have any opinion on Karajan's 1953 recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra?
    Yes Sir. He is trying quite hard to bring spirit into the music but the Philharmonia players let him down badly. Hear the Berliners play with him and the whole performance is electrically charged. But this Vanska performance has gone a step ahead of Karajan. Breadth and space is excellent.
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