April 19, 2013

‘Lucus a non lucendo’

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Symphony No.4 in A minor, op.63
Sir Colin Davis
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Herkulessaal, München, 17 11/2006
The Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63, is one of seven completed symphonies composed by Jean Sibelius. Written between 1910 and 1911, it was premiered in Helsinki on 3 April 1911 by the Philharmonia Society, with Sibelius conducting.
The work comprises four movements:
I. Tempo molto moderato, quasi adagio
II. Allegro molto vivace
III. Il tempo largo
IV. Allegro
Many commentators have heard in the symphony evidence of struggle or despair. Harold Truscott writes, "This work ... is full of a foreboding which is probably the unconscious result of ... the sensing of an atmosphere which was to explode in 1914 into a world war." Sibelius also had recently endured terrors in his personal life: in 1908, in Berlin, he had a cancerous tumour removed from his throat. Timothy Day writes that "the operation was successful, but he lived for many years in constant fear of the tumour recurring, and from 1908 to 1913 the shadow of death lay over his life." Other critics have heard bleakness in the work: one early Finnish critic, Elmer Diktonius, dubbed the work the Barkbröd symphony, referring to the famine in the previous century during which starving Scandinavians had had to eat bark bread to survive.
According to the biographer Erik W. Tawaststjerna, the Symphony reflects the psychoanalytical and introspective era when Sigmund Freud and Henri Bergson stressed the meaning of the unconscious, and he calls the Fourth Symphony "one of the most remarkable documents of the psychoanalytical era." Even Sibelius himself called his composition "a psychological symphony" His brother, the psychiatrist Christian Sibelius (1869–1922), was one of the first scholars to discuss psychoanalysis in Finland.
In the year before beginning the symphony, Sibelius had met many of his contemporaries in central Europe, including Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and others; his encounter with their music provoked a crisis in his own compositional life. He said in a letter to his friend (and biographer) Rosa Newmarch about the symphony: "It stands as a protest against present-day music. It has absolutely nothing of the circus about it." Later, when asked about the symphony, he quoted August Strindberg: "Det är synd om människorna" (One feels pity for human beings).
The symphony briefly had a nickname, "Lucus a non lucendo".

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