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I posted the following tasty appetizer in someone's cartoon diary last year.  One commenter said that it was the saddest piece of music she had ever heard.  

Valse Triste by Jean Sibelius, a clip from the Bruno Bozetti's animated film, Allegro Non Troppo(1976)

Valse Triste (The Sad Waltz) comes from his music suite for the play Kuolema (Death).  Sibelius later published it separately with a long program describing a dying woman dancing with ghosts.  As the music ends, the ghosts disappear, and Death appears, standing on the threshold.    (Personally, I prefer Bozetti's interpretation.)

Valse Triste is probably the piece that Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is most well known for outside the hardcore classical music circles.  It's popular with Olympic ice skaters, who chop it up for their choreographies.  It's typical of the dark Poe-ish romanticism that infuses much of Sibelius's music, including the Violin Concerto we will hear today.

Yet another version of Valse Triste that I couldn't resist cutting and uploading to Youtube just now.  This is the waltz scene at the end of the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday, starring Fredric March (Death) and Evelyn Venable.  

There have been a host of crappy remakes of the film, but none of them have lived up to the 1934 version, even with better actors.  The version with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, for example, was a three hour stalled bus.

Valse Triste is a wonderful example of Sibelius at his most romantic.  Notice the amorphous and seamless switching back and forth between major and minor key.  The simplicity of the musical lines.  It's passionate music, more linear than vertical, melodic, and suffused with a sense of desolation.

This is a great model example of late romanticism.  There are many examples of music contemporaneous with this that were just as romantic, but lacked the depth and sincerity that Sibelius mustered.  You know when you hear this that it comes from some dark part of the composer's own soul.

I've wanted to cover something by Sibelius before, but I've put it off because he's so difficult to analyze and break down.  Sibelius doesn't adhere very well to traditional classical forms.  He does things his own way.  It's even more of a problem because he doesn't just blow off tradition and do things his own way; he sort of does it traditionally but then mucks around with things so much that describing it usually makes it impossible for me to whip out my "handy dandy blue graphic" boilerplate.  We're forced into the position of trying to describe his music this way:  "It's kind of like a Ford Prius, except it's a submarine..."  

For instance, the first movement of the Violin Concerto (and that's all I'll commit to analyzing, right now -- we'll see how time and space hold up) is sort of Sonata-Allegro form -- a complicated form that we've belabored to death in diary after diary to where we know it so well we hate hearing the words.

Wikipedia on this geeky aspect of Sibelius' style:

Sibelius progressively stripped away formal markers of sonata form in his work and, instead of contrasting multiple themes, he focused on the idea of continuously evolving cells and fragments culminating in a grand statement. His later works are remarkable for their sense of unbroken development, progressing by means of thematic permutations and derivations. The completeness and organic feel of this synthesis has prompted some to suggest that Sibelius began his works with a finished statement and worked backwards, although analyses showing these predominantly three- and four-note cells and melodic fragments as they are developed and expanded into the larger "themes" effectively prove the opposite.[11]
I describe Sibelius as a late Romantic, sometimes called Post-Romantic.  His style, especially in his early works, has often been compared to Tchaikovsky and Wagner, both of whom he acknowledged as influences.  Like some other notable late Romantics of the early twentieth century, he composed his music at a vulnerable point in the history of music when more avant-garde, less tonally solid styles of music were becoming the cutting edge.  As Sibelius's style developed through the decades and as the trend in classical music became more dissonant and analytical, he remained a Romantic.  His music became more daring and complex, but it was always "accessible," something that average people could listen to and identify as music with a coherent emotional message.

His violin concerto is like that.  It's passionate and dark and very intense, almost too intense to listen to, at times.  The second theme is one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed for violin, just heart-breaking.

Last week I included a short clip of Maxim Vengerov teaching a masterclass on the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.  Here's another clip, this time of him teaching the Sibelius to a young student, using the first theme.

"Different colors," he points out more than once.  The first part of the theme is thin and angelic.  As he gets to the middle part, where he says, "Different color," his whole face changes and the violin GROWLS.  The transformation is from the angelic to the demonic in the same theme.  At one point he cries out, "You can't escape from this!" as if there is something you would want to escape from.

The key motif of the concerto, which you can hear from the very first notes on the violin, looks (kind of) like this:

It shows up in many forms, in all three movements.  Both the first theme and second theme are built from it.

I only promise to go through the first movement, but the whole concerto is on the clip.  So enjoy!

The Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor (complete), performed by Itzhak Perlman, the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf

Introduction (0:00)

We hear A barely audible ostinato (repeating) rhythm in the violins atop a steady shimmering chord, setting an icy blue-gray tone.

Exposition First Theme (0:08)

The violin enters.  The mood is subdued, and angelic, but with a controlled tension coming from the shimmering backdrop of the strings.  The theme is first angelic, but then demonic.  

At 1:00, a new turbulence enters the music.  Tension rises.  The lower strings rumble and the bassoon enters on a dissonant note that throws things off.  The violin scrambles from one extreme to another (trying to "escape," perhaps, to use Vengerov's word?)

DA DUM!  (1:36) The timpani (drums) make an aggressive entrance.  The tension ratchets up as the violin ascends through a series of fast virtuoso figures, establishing the new key of B flat.

Exposition Second Theme (2:25)

The violin gives way, and there's a seam in the form of the music here as it gives way to the orchestra alone.  It's a bit vague and coarse, dark with trembling heavy strings, but they are playing the second theme which the violin will take up in due course and make beautiful...

As the orchestra fades, the violin reenters at 3:25.  And at 3:35, OHHH!  There it is.  Worth the wait, isn't it?  Again, we have the same wavering between major and minor we hear in Valse Triste, fucking with us by switching back and forth from B flat major to B flat minor in midstream.  

At 4:31, it settles on B flat major, a brief moment of peace.  A new, gentler, less aggressive theme arises, built from the same motif illustrated above.  It's only brief though, rising to a tense, unresolved climax that creates the next seam in the music.

Exposition (4:59)

I'm calling this the exposition section because it has the feeling that this is where the exposition section (the part where the first and second theme duel it out) would be.  But it's not that clear cut here.  We are just in a new section.  

The violin vanishes and the full orchestra with angry brass and drums again asserts control.  They play a new theme based on a part of the previous theme just heard, (which was based on the main motif, so this is too).  At 5:40, it reaches an orchestral climax, one which I'll describe, again, as... angry.  At 5:50, it relents, and the orchestra begins to subside as if from a storm, helping to set up another separating seam in the dramatic flow of the movement.

At 6:29, the orchestra having mostly faded, the violin returns.  NOW we have something more like a real development section as the violin begins to search through a series of different keys.  The most dramatic moment of the movement.  And a tough one for the violinist, we can guess, just listening to it wail.  

Recapitulation First Theme (8:52)

At 8:52, the orchestra finally rejoins the violin, setting up another seam in the music.  

We could call this the Recapitulation except it's in the wrong key for that, G minor, not D minor.  No slave of tradition, Sibelius, eh?  Actually, that might not mean much to you listening, nor would it have to me, before analyzing this with a guitar in my lap, because one key sounds like another for most people.  But the movement HAS to end in D minor or you can't call it a D minor concerto!  The return to the home key is often the most dramatic moment in a symphony or concerto, often with a big build-up.  So we're not really home yet.

We can identify the first theme though, first showing up subtly in the bassoons and lower strings, then picked up by the violin.  It is changed only from its first appearance because that initial shimmering angelic touch is gone.  It's sullen, being played on the lower strings of the violin, not the higher strings we heard the first time around.

At 10:20, as at 1:00, the musical tension ratchets up leading to a seam in the music at 10:38.  The violin again fades out and the full orchestra takes control.

Bridge Passage to the Second Theme (10:38)

The bridge passage, this time, is almost a second development section, as it claws its way upward from G major to B minor.  No, B minor is not the home key, either, but let's not sweat geeky details just yet.  Let's oooh and aaahh over the way those strings come SWEEPING in at 11:09, and the note of soaring hope in what has been a very tense and dark concerto.  It climaxes out around 11:35.  

Recapitulation Second Theme (11:50)

Ah, we're back to the beautiful second theme, first lightly in the orchestra, in B major.

And then the violin belts it out.  And FINALLY, WE ARE BACK IN D MAJOR.  And, really, even without a sherpa guide, you can probably feel the extra OOMPH the change brings.  Really, you can.  Play it back and see.

And things lighten up.

Coda (13:30)

The main problems of the first movement are solved, and all that's left is the dramatic race to the finish line.  

                     -- End of the First Movement --

And that's all I'm going to try to do today.  I've been reviewing my other diaries, and I think I try to pack in too much stuff, creating a MEGO situation.  I think this is enough.  The rest of the concerto is in the clip, and it's easier music, so enjoy it.  For kicks, See if you can identify the main motif from the first movement (my illustration) in the rhythmic figure that dominates the finale (23:25).


We have a guest-host next week!  On 4/12, Ramara is going to host a diary about the Beethoven Violin Concerto, a work that I love but didn't want to write myself because my Beethoven arm is all cramped.  As a violinist himself, he will probably have some interesting insights to bring to it.  I'll be back Thursday 4/19 with another violin concerto.

Originally posted to Dumbo on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:21 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, An Ear for Music, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I bought a copy of this played by A.-S. Mutter (9+ / 0-)

    really an amazing piece, something not often heard.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:27:06 PM PDT

  •  Haven't you heard of Sibelius? (8+ / 0-)

    (Well, he oftentimes uses an alias).
    He'll hide in the woods
    To check out our goods,
    And then, he'll jump out and shillaleigh us.

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

    by gzodik on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:32:02 PM PDT

  •  Love Sibelius (11+ / 0-)

    Unabashed romantic.  

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:46:05 PM PDT

  •  I've listened to 22 seconds and it's SO Sibelius. (11+ / 0-)

    You hear it in En Saga, The Swan of Tuonela, Karelia, Pohjola's daughter, and the symphonies.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:46:39 PM PDT

  •  Thank you! (8+ / 0-)


    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:48:37 PM PDT

  •  One of the things I like about Sibelius is (10+ / 0-)

    his music also has an "iciness" about it.  And by that I mean actual ice.  The beauty and remoteness of raw ice in nature, yet full of the romantic flavor.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:49:50 PM PDT

  •  With regards to that "wavering" between (8+ / 0-)

    major and minor, let me also point out that Sibelius wrote very modal music.  And if you look at his writing in terms of the modes, it makes a lot more sense that way.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 07:53:28 PM PDT

  •  Gawd! "Death Takes A Holiday" (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, SherwoodB, martyc35, ER Doc

    When I first saw that thing I laughed my * off at the stilted acting and convoluted dialog.

    Since the Internet didn't exist at the time, and I was at a library the next day, I looked up the backstory -- an obvious reaction to the traumas of WWI plus an international hit as a "High Art" stage play in the 1920's.

    The "dead" seriousness of it isn't as funny as it first seemed, but I'll never understand its appeal, or why Joe Black was even attempted.

    Red Cross by Romaine Brooks 1916

    Oh yes -- I've always loved the hard-to-define richness of Sibelius. Thanks for the insights on why his music is that way.

    The economy didn't just crash under a Republican president, it crashed under Republican policies. It crashed with low taxes.

    by MT Spaces on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 08:32:01 PM PDT

  •  Aaaaaah! (7+ / 0-)

    You picked the one I voted for last week.

    My favorite piece of music.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 08:59:35 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this... (9+ / 0-)

    I love Sibelius.

    My comment in another diary is worth repeating: the first Sibelius I ever heard was Symphony #2. After hearing just the opening few bars I felt I had made (or at least recognized) a new friend.

    Very few composers have ever spoken so directly to me.

    I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

    by SherwoodB on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 09:25:03 PM PDT

    •  I love #2 also. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mithra, sailmaker, ER Doc, SherwoodB, martyc35

      Atrios over at Eschaton posted the whole Sibelius #2 in one of his nightly open threads a few months ago and it resolved me to do the #2 sometime soon.  

      I was just thinking about it again, just now.  If I'm masochistic enough, I might even try #7, which I STARTED to do once, last year, and gave up as too difficult.  For the aforementioned "Ford Prius/Submarine" problem.

      This concerto and Symphony #2 are actually fairly simple and straight forward compared to his later symphonies.

      •  Oh 7! (7+ / 0-)

        I was a young boy and heard #7 which made me a Sibelius fan for life. 21 minutes of the most amazing things.
        I read once, probably an album cover, that Sibelius was noted for 'simultaneous tempi'. What that means is that he transitions from slow to fast and vice versa with slow and fast at the same time. You can hear some of this in Sym. #2 although he really gets out there by Sym. #4. #4 is my favorite I think, because I don't understand it at all. #6 is very strange also.

        I love this concerto!!! My favorite is of course Oistrakh, with Kremer a close 2nd. I have played this in orchestra with some famous soloists a few times. Sibelius is called an organic composer, I think you are right that he deconstructs the themes in a way.

        Thank you so much for these musical diaries. I skipped last week because I really can't take the Mendelsohn anymore. I worked on it as a kid and grew to despise it. I had just started on the Beethoven when I switched to viola.

        Anyway, I really should get my ass in gear and reserve the Khachaturian for a diary here. I just love that concerto so much. Real folk music in orchestral form. I really should reserve Mahler #7 too, I am becoming overly obsessed with it these days, listening to it over and over.

        I need to add, that I have played the Sibelius #2 many times and this symphony really approaches Mahler on the level of reaching the end you feel like you have lived a lifetime. The ending is so orgasmic, I just love it. Not many non-Mahler symphonies do that for me.
        Anyway, thanks for such a great place to discuss great music!

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. - Elbert Hubbard -9.62/-8.15

        by GustavMahler on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:37:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, I love #7, (5+ / 0-)

          mainly for that fantastic horn call.  "Honey, I can smell the fjords!"

          Wikipedia describing the form of the #7:

          The form of the Seventh symphony is startlingly original. Since the time of Joseph Haydn, a movement in a symphony would typically be unified by an approximately constant beat and would attain variety by use of contrasting themes in different keys. Sibelius turned this scheme on its head. The Seventh symphony is unified by the key of C (every significant passage in the work is in C major or C minor), and variety is achieved by an almost constantly-changing tempo,[6] as well as by contrasts of mode, articulation and texture.[7] Sibelius had done something similar in the Fifth symphony's first movement, which combines elements of a standard symphonic first movement with a faster scherzo. However, the Seventh symphony contains much wider variety within one movement.
          That quote actually makes it sound simple.  Really, it's a beast.  It's only about 30 minutes long.  It's VERY accessible music, very loveable.  But it's insanely hard to do the music geek thing with it.
  •  Oh, my goodness. I am going to have to relisten, (6+ / 0-)

    I think. I am very familiar with his symphonies, but not this violin concerto. I really like Perlman, but I see that there is a YT video of Vengerov doing it, so perhaps I should go back and hear it in his context, too. Your explanations are very helpful. What a great thing to be able to check on the very minute and second that a change takes place.

    When I was very young, I listened to a lot of Sibelius, but I think I was too young to appreciate him. I took everyone else's lead and found him dark and foreboding, so Finnish, so brooding. While this has some of those overtones, it also has lovely melodic sections. And whoever heard the gypsy in him must have been referring to passages like some in the third movement that remind me of some Hungarian dances I've been listening to Morini do on the violin (came with my new CD). But he doesn't dwell on that stuff; I also hear the influence of Tchaikovsky, but certainly no dependence on him. Didn't Tchaikovsky actually try to reflect Russian folk music in his own work? I think I read that somewhere.

    Well, a great diary, D, and I appreciate all your hard work. I'm going to do some followup and see what else I learn.

    I have absolutely no reason for asking this, but have you ever seen a film called Kitchen Stories ? For some reason all this talk of remote, isolated northern spots reminded me of this very funny film.

    W. H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

    by martyc35 on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:19:11 PM PDT

  •  You know how stray animals in shelters (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle, Dumbo, martyc35, Portlaw

    get named by the shelter employees? Back in 2002 I named one of our shelter cats "Sibelius". He was sweet and gentle and completely white, which made me think of snow and thus the Nordic countries. So, being a classical music geek, I named him Sibelius. Of course, everyone thought that was totally weird (nobody knew who Sibelius was, or had even ever heard that name), but at least they went along and didn't veto it.

    For a long time I was sort of take-it-or-leave it on the Sibelius violin concerto. But after getting the Vengerovversion on CD, that put me in the "enthusiastic" camp  and I've been there ever since. His rendition of the final movement is what really sucked me in.

  •  may be my favorite classical piece (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, martyc35, Portlaw, murasaki

    I loooooooove the Sebelius violin concerto.  

    I don't recall who was the soloist the first time I heard it live (Heinz Hall, with the Pittsburgh Symphony), but the performance was wonderful.  

    Some years ago, I was extremely disappointed by Midori as the soloist.  She's exactly the wrong sort to try this piece -- she's light and airy, with a rather thin, precise, quiet tone, whereas the music is dark, heavy, and powerful.  Why she chose to play it mystifies me.  Sure, it's one of the great pieces, but not everyone plays this way.

    My most recent time, last fall, featured a brilliant 16 year old with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.  It was marvelous!

    Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

    by N in Seattle on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 02:00:54 AM PDT

  •  Thanks! (5+ / 0-)

    I love these thoughtful and interesting music diaries. The Sibelius Violin Concerto is among my very favorite pieces of music. Thanks for the time and effort that goes into producing these.

    No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. H. L. Mencken

    by jim0121 on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 02:24:09 AM PDT

  •  I've Always Had Trouble With Sibelius (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, martyc35

    And Nielsen for that matter. Everything about their compositional style screams that I should like them but for some reason which I can't explain it just doesn't work for me. Outside of a few pieces, I find that Sibeius's melodies don't stay with me at all. I listen and listen and come away from it remembering nothing.

    This head movie makes my eyes rain.

    by The Lone Apple on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 03:02:40 AM PDT

    •  When that happens, sometimes it's the (4+ / 0-)

      music's fault.  I'm playing around in my other window, listening to all kinds of violin concertos I never heard before, sometimes by composers I never took seriously, just to see if I can find something interesting to cover that might make me feel like I'm stretching myself.  And it's depressing, because I'm really bored by most of it, and some of it I absolutely hate, and I feel ashamed of myself, because I think, really, have I given this a chance, or am I just being a stubborn asshole used to the things I'm used to?  

      And I think that most of it is substandard when you're used to the best.  I'm noticing all the flaws.  Some of them are endearing for reasons that stand out and redeem it.  For instance, I was listening to the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto earlier.  Now, who doesn't admire the Barber Adagio for Strings?  (The theme music for Platoon).  That's a guy with real chops when he performs.  And his violin concerto is stirring, more stirring than most of the stuff I've listened to tonight.  But it's threadbare, as if he didn't really get how to compose for a full orchestra yet when he did it.  And so I'm admiring of it, and critical of it at the same time.  When I feel like that, how can I hawk it in a diary?  

      But Sibelius really is good stuff.  I vouch for it.  If you have trouble getting into it, then it might be an organizational thing.  Sometimes, "getting into" really good music is just organizing the music mentally.  That's one reason I go through all the crap I do breaking it down into sections: to break it down into digestible portions and show a progression from beginning to end.  Many pieces that I didn't like at first, even for many years, were pieces that I hadn't been able to organize in my own mind that way.  It was just a big long blur of sound, sometimes nice sounds, sometimes not.  

      For instance, I love Richard Strauss.  But Strauss's music is SO DENSE with the orchestration and the chords and all the dovetailing of the parts that it is hard to get a hold of it.  Add to that that his pieces are so long, even though the music is sweet and clearly loveable in parts, it's hard to digest it and put it in order in your head the first several times you hear it.  

      Strauss isn't probably the best comparison to Sibelius, I suppose.  Sibelius isn't sweet and endearing the way Strauss is.  Strauss can oscillate between both overpowering and awe-inspiring quite effectively.  Sibelius's music is MOODY.  And the music changes mood frequently.  

      For instance, watch that clip at the top with Vengerov explaining just the first theme of the concerto to that young woman.  He talks about the "colors" of just that small segment, how they change so drastically.  It's that whip-sawing of emotion that can make the Sibelius Violin Concerto hard to grapple with at first.

      His symphonies are a different matter.  They pose a whole different order of organizational problem for the listener because of his unusual approach to form.  That takes some working up to.  The violin concerto is fairly simple in comparison to that.

      And you have to love that second theme.

  •  Let's look at it again. (6+ / 0-)

    I'm a violinist, play the piece in concert and love it like no other concerto, all of which is to say, merely and only, that i've given it a lot of thought, not necessarily that my conclusions are better than anyone else's.

    That said, I have a different view to offer.  First, the main theme seems to me to be a 3-note, not a 4-note cell; that is, the last 3 notes (D-E-A) you quote, although appearing first as G-A-D.  Most of the time that the theme appears in both the solo and the orchestra it is in this manner, and the difference is important.  First, as you quote it, the principal movement is E-A, that is, a dominant relationship similar to classical period practice.  But, it seems that the sub-dominant, D-A is what gives this work its dark, sad, grief-stricken character, and the consistent use of these non-dominant relationships results in the strange modal practice to which zenbassoon refers.

    In terms of formal layout, I believe what we have here is a totally symmetrical sonata form with a 3-stage exposition.  The first theme and recapitulation are as you have them. The fast virtuoso figures at 1:36 to which you allude function as part of the the transition to the 2nd theme, paralleling in function (not thematically) the recapitulation bridge at 10:38.

    Where I really part ways with your analysis is what you have labeled "Exposition".  This is long and extensive writing, so much different in tone and style that I call it the Closing Theme.  And, lo and behold it is paralleled in the coda, which by this analysis is not a "coda" in the sense of "extra", but a climactic use of the closing theme.  Again, this is (as are the 1st and 2nd themes) totally parallel in the exposition and recapitulation.

    So, the only music left out of my description is the section from 6:29-8:52, the solo violin writing.  I think that you've properly labelled it as "development", working over and out the principal theme,.  But it is also the cadenza of the movement; Sibelius here uses the device of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and has the cadenza lead into the recapitulation.  But, more radically (and here is the real innovative structural feature of the movement), the development section consists ONLY of the cadenza, which is why it must be sol long.  This is the only concerto known to me where the solo instrument carries alone the entire development section. This is why the writing is so extensive, and extreme in range and style---it must be for the solo to carry the entire section.

    Throughout the movement the violin is treated as a "lonely voice", apart from and opposing the orchestra (in contrast to the decorative writing in the Brahms and Beethoven concerti, or the dialogue of the Mendelssohn), to strip the development down to the solo instrument is a brilliant stroke which follows naturally from the premises of the lonely voice.  And the result is that the cadenza becomes the capstone of the movement, its weight resting on the twin and symmetrical pillars of the outer sections.

    Thanks for your good work, and for listening!

    •  I dare say your analysis is much (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      martyc35, N in Seattle, Portlaw

      better than mine.  I'm not even going to argue that we have different ways of looking at it, because I'm not confident about my way.  It's just the way I organized it in my head to understand it before writing the diary.  

      As for the Sonata-Allegro breakdown...  This is what I meant by my saying, "It's like a Ford Prius, except it's a submarine."  Sibelius creates his own forms, and not just by starting from scratch, which would be easier on US, that have to describe it by referring back to familiar forms, but by tweaking the familiar at times, as he did here.  I often start these dairies by posting my handy-dandy blue graphic boilerplate of Sonata-Allegro form:

      But I skipped it this time.  Sometimes, separating the parts is kind of arbitrary.  Sonata-Allegro wasn't even anything they taught in music schools until the mid-19th century.  Musicians just ABSORBED it from each other, the way we've all absorbed the template for the typical sitcom, just through osmosis.  Sibelius's peers would generally be quite familiar with all this without anybody needing to break anything down and call things first themes, second themes, etc.  

      As people familiar with it, we probably you and I both know when the second theme comes in this concerto just from the change in tone and the way the orchestra and the violin trade hands.  After the second theme, we have that codetta (the "fast virtuoso figures") based on another fragment of the first theme which leads us to the handoff to the orchestra, which tells us, you and me, who are used to this format, that we're entering what USUALLY is the development.  So Sibelius is to a certain degree exploiting the expectations of a well-educated listener, something that is difficult to share with people listening to this for the first time that aren't very interested in the geeky side of things very well.

      I strongly, strongly agree with one of the things you said in particular:  

      Throughout the movement the violin is treated as a "lonely voice", apart from and opposing the orchestra (in contrast to the decorative writing in the Brahms and Beethoven concerti, or the dialogue of the Mendelssohn)...
      That's VERY insightful, and I wish I had said it.  It goes to the heart of the concerto in a very direct way that I wish I had noticed in a way to verbalize.

      As for my choice of germinal motif...  I fly by the seat of my pants.  I couldn't find any decent analysis at this level of the Sibelius, so I picked out what I heard and tried to keep it simple.  One reason it's not in the key of the concerto is because I hardly know how to read or write music.  I could cut and paste from the PDF score (I've done that before), but I find that the original scores aren't written simple enough to just boil it down to essentials.  So I use a cheap PD program called Musette to sketch out the little things and point them out.  C major and A minor are easy for me, for obvious reasons, so I do it that way!  I'm really trying to get the graphical up-down image of what to look for.  

      Now, as to how the motif is used, and whether it's three notes, or four...  I think we can both be right on that one.  I didn't try to get all music theory PhD about it.  But the motif goes through many changes, obviously.  For instance, in the second theme, the way the violin presents it, we hear it two ways.  The first time, the fourth note is ascending.  The second time, it's descending.  I might just as easily have made my germinal motif a four note ASCENDING motif and been in the right ballpark.  

      Why?  Because Sibelius isn't anal retentive about this the way Beethoven was.  In fact, for all the crowing about how innovative he was about his forms, I get the feeling Sibelius did a lot of his innovating because he felt stifled and just wanted to do things his way.  Kind of a creative rebel thing, not an architect carving in stone.  

      Very unlike Beethoven, whom I can picture smirking to himself as he deliberately designs second development sections into the 8th symphony.  "Wait till they hear this, guffaw, guffaw."  Or "I've got it!  A choral finale!  They'll shit their pants!  It's brilliant!"  Or, "A seven movement quartet!  Far fucking out!  It's better than four, better than five, better than six!"

      I just don't sense Sibelius operating that way.  

  •  One of the many pieces of music... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, martyc35

    ...that I know reasonably well by my standards, but always draw a blank on who composed it.  I get all of my little-country late-romantics confused.

    But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

    by Rich in PA on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:55:10 AM PDT

  •  Unrevised version (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martyc35, N in Seattle, Portlaw, Dumbo

    Thanks for the post!

    If you haven't listened to the BIS recording of Kavakos playing the unrevised version (the version that premiered disastrously), it's well worth it for a few reasons. First, it is significantly more bizarre than the revised version. The peaceful end of the second movement has a completely inexplicable horror-show interlude that is startling. (Speaking of startling, listen to the chords of the transition to the second theme and exposition in the youtube video below.) It's fun just to be shocked by the differences if you know the piece well. Second, you get to hear a compositional revision process by comparing the two versions. The first version never gives the violin a rest and is several minutes longer--with an extra cadenza. The third movement has a (Brahmsian, it seems to me) theme inserted in the middle of it that was completely (and wisely) eliminated in the revised version. Finally, Kavakos is ridiculously good.

    Here's a youtube video of the opening.

    The whole thing is on Spotify.

    Thanks again.

    Fox News: Always right, often wrong.

    by jneufnyc on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 06:17:14 AM PDT

    •  Your searching skills are better than mine. (0+ / 0-)

      I searched diligently (I thought) for that Kavakos performance.  I only found his traditional performances.

      Listening to it now.  

    •  I can only find the first and third movement. (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, they are very different.  Especially the third movement.  

      Yup, bridge to the second movement is different.  Very sweet.  It seems almost out of place, after being so familiar with the sturm und drang final revision.  I kind of like it, actually.  My one beef with the final revision is it doesn't have enough air pockets to provide a little chill time.

  •  Please don't short-change Sibelius (7+ / 0-)

    My grandfather published him (fellow freemason) and my father studied composing under him briefly, so I have at least some knowledge.

    1. No, he's not all Poe-ish. For heaven's sakes, listen to Swan of Tuonela. He could be divided into 3 people:  the serious but popular, which is what we still play (for a rousing serious piece, try the short Lemmenkainen's Ride); the experimental (his seven symphonies get progressively less tonal and more experimental); and some "written for the plays" pure schmaltzy romantic stuff (don't have a good example).

    2.  Sibelius, according to my Dad, was particularly interested in drawing out crescendos as long as possible.  If you started by thinking of the first movement as aimed at achieving that effect, you probably wouldn't be far off. You might think of a Sibelius movement as waves in a steadily incoming tide.

    3. Sibelius apparently was a violinist, like Mozart but unlike Beethoven, Brahms, or Mendelssohn. Like Mozart, he has an innate understanding of the capabilities of the instrument.  His use of a "white note" at the end of the first violin "block", for example, deliberately forces a diminuendo instead of a climax -- Mendelssohn at a similar point forces the violinist to simulate a climax.

    •  I wasn't trying to short-change him. (0+ / 0-)

      I'm trying to popularize and explain a work, assuming that the audience here is as educated as my previous diaries have made them, but probably not all familiar with the work, nor even with Sibelius, possibly.

      I could have talked about the fjords and all that, but I think that would be equally short-changing, and cliche.  I've read that in too many programs and liner notes to not hear it without squirming uncomfortably.

      Um...  Sibelius is kind of dark.  He has lighter moments.  But as composers go, he's not exactly the most chipper.  (That's not a minus, though.)  In contrast, I could say that Mendelssohn's music tends to be effervescent and rational, but that doesn't mean his music is never tragic or never loses control.

  •  Dumbo, yes, it is one of the saddest, not the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle, Portlaw, Dumbo

    saddest piece of music I've every heard.  Good Choice

  •  Great diary, Thanks! eom (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    murasaki, Dumbo
  •  Oh, yeah. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks a lot for posting that damn cat video. I watched it many years ago, and have never been able to get it out of my head.

    I watched it again. Stupid?!

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

    by gzodik on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 08:23:43 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, chingchongchinaman

    I especially enjoyed the clip of Maxim Vengerov teaching the Sibelius to a young student. His comments and interpretation are very interesting.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 09:34:45 AM PDT

  •  extremely late reply; don't know if you know.... (0+ / 0-)

    .....Donald Francis Tovey's snarky comment on this concerto's finale, as a "polonaise for polar bears".  It's funny, but the finale is really more of a dance of death, pace Rachmaninoff, a quite different composer.

    BTW, I know I sort of half-promised an anniversary diary or two for you this year, and that I haven't delivered.  Not sure how that will work out this year.

    "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

    by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 08:51:48 PM PDT

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