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The redemption of Sibelius (Hall of Fame #81-80)

Ask any music student what they think of Sibelius and I'll guarantee most won't be thinking of the Finnish composer. Instead, they'll give you their comments on the music notation software that shares his name. (And the comments will mostly be negative. The Sibelius app can be infuriating to use, although it's not really the design that's at fault - it's the fact that music notation wasn't conceived of as something to be assembled on a computer). I'm in that crowd by the way. I've spent hours wrangling notes in Sibelius but I can't remember ever listening to Sibelius.

His Karelia Suite ranks #81 in the Classic FM Hall of Fame. I was bracing myself for something much more bleak and challenging to be honest. Must be a Scandinavian stereotype. In actual fact, I found Karelia totally uplifting - joyful even. The Suite is dedicated to the Karelia area of Finland, which was seen as the richest cultural region. I'd be surprised if Sibelius hadn't harvested some traditional folk melodies to include, or at least be inspired by. Surely the original audience's chests swelled with regional pride and loyalty on hearing these stirring refrains.

I also checked out #80 which was Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, Pathétique. If it turned out to be awful we could all have a cheap laugh by calling it his Pathetic Sonata, but of course it's not. It's excellent. And in the video below Daniel Barenboim squeezes out every last morsel of expression. Oh yeah, the real meaning of Pathétique is probably important. It means highly emotive, particularly in a tragic sense. Those feelings didn't quite register with me, perhaps because there's so much energy and vibrance in the piece, or perhaps because musical expressions of sadness have changed so much since Beethoven's day. It's not exactly mournful is it? Again, I actually found it uplifting.

Oh yeah, and while we're talking about Beethoven...

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