A Lonely Voice Sounding From the Deep Forests : The Representation of Nature in Sibelius's Symphonies
Abstract: Although the notion that the music of Jean Sibelius portrays the nature and landscape of Finland has long dominated his reception, the more precise ways in which these aspects are musically expressed have remained relatively unexamined. In an attempt to further explore and deepen the knowledge of the natural world’s musical mediation in the composer’s art, the aim of this essay is to define therepresentation of nature and landscape in Sibelius’s seven symphonies. The two central questions of the investigation are: What kind of nature is evoked and how can it be characterized? Whichmusical features/compositional techniques are used in order to produce this nature? The basic methods applied are those of history and music analysis, the former striving to construct a picture of Sibelius’s own relationship with nature by emanating from specific sources (such as the composer’s diary) in combination with reception and literature, this part of the essay forming a necessary platform for the execution of the latter. Drawing on the depiction of nature in several of the composer’s tone poems, many of them with titles or programs referring to the realms of the natural world and thus adequate as a sort of reference point, I have in the musical analysis of the representation of nature in the symphonies proceeded from several nature-related themes or ’topics’ such as the forest, winds and storms, landscape constituting a broader, subdivided suchtopic. However, aspects associated with or somewhat connected to nature are also included, for example that of light, darkness and inwardness. The results of this study show that the nature evoked in Sibelius’s music is a highly multifaceted and conflicted one, portraying rich spectra of various environmental shapes and atmospheres. Moreover, his art also demonstrates nature’s continual change over time as well as presents ’humanized’ landscapes in which a narrative ’voice’ or viewer is actively integrated. As a whole, Sibelius’s nature comes forth as decisively elemental and unreflective, mirroring the composer’s own, all-encompassing view of his surroundings. Although applying greatly differing expressional tools and compositional techniques, the symphonies’ musical portrayal of the natural world is largely based on four main features; sound/ timbre (rendering a nature scene its particular mood or color), orchestral texture (providing a structural ’space’ of landscape), gestures (illustration of movement) and formal principles(Sibelius’s own compositional methods of rotational form and teleological genesis, constructing certain processes related to nature such as storm and meditative withdrawal). Frequently, however, it’s the specific combination of two or more of these components that produce the particular nature scene or event.
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