Magnus Enckell, Music, 1906, soft-ground etching, 33 x 42,5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Article: Finlandia – From National Tableau to ­Triumphal Anthem

Timo Huusko, PhD.Lic., Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

First published in Hanna-Leena Paloposki (ed.), Sibelius and the World of Art. Ateneum Publications Vol. 70. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2014, 253–60.

Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia was originally composed as the last part of a six-part series of historical tableaux presented in Helsinki in November 1899. It was commissioned for a celebration of the Finnish press held at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki, which stood as an example of the counter-censorship struggles of the time. Finlandia was performed after a tableau depicting the Great Northern War.[1]

The link between the composition and the awakening of Finnish national self-awareness was clear from the start. In the programme, the text describing the sixth part read: ‘The dark powers have not succeeded in carrying out their dire threat. Finland awakes. From among the spirits of the age that are writing the pages of history, one rises up to tell the story of Alexander II. Memories of this awakening are evoked. Runeberg bending his ear to his muse, Snellman declaiming words of awakening to students, Lönnrot writing down the poems of two singers, the four spokesmen of the first Diet, primary school, the first railway engine.’ The tableau also included a poem by the Finnish poet Eino Leino: ‘Kyntäkää, kylväkää, toukojen, toivojen aika on tää. / Toivehet milloin toteutuu, / milloin halla ne syö. / Nyt on Suomen toukokuu, / nyt on kynnön ja kylvön työ, / leikkuu, korjuu – kaikki muu / jääköön Herran huomaan.[2]

According to Erik Tawaststjerna, the patriotic force of the composition became clear at the latest in December that year, 1899, when it was performed at a concert in Helsinki, conducted by Robert Kajanus, as part of a symphonic series compiled from five compositions.[3] The piece was named Finlandia in March 1900. The idea for the title came from Axel Carpelan, an eccentric baron, music-lover and Sibelius’s future patron, who suggested it to Sibelius in his first letter to the composer.[4] At the 1900 Paris World Fair, it was performed at the Trocadéro under the title La Patrie.[5]

[1] Sirén 2012, 200.

[2] Tawaststjerna 1997, 139. ‘Now to ploughing! Now to seeding! / The time for planting and hopes is nigh. / Sometimes hopes are fulfilled, / Sometimes nipped by the frost. / Now is spring in Finland, / Now for the work of ploughing and sowing, / Cutting and tying – May everything else / Be with God.’ Translation from Goss, Glenda Dawn, 2009. Sibelius. A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

[3] Tawaststjerna 1997, 139.

[4] Dahlström 2010, 59. Carpelan himself was not particularly wealthy, but he procured patrons for Sibelius.

[5] Dahlström 2010, 35.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Music, 1906, soft-ground etching, 33 x 42,5cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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