Apart from Nielsen and Sibelius, what else is there up north?

Apart from Nielsen and Sibelius, what else is there up north?


norman lebrecht

May 08, 2015

The Helsingin Sanomat has been worrying about turning into a one-symphonist state. According to assessments by Kalevi Aho, a living composer, Sibelius accounts for 40% of all Finnish classical music performed in concert halls, home and abroad.

So, what else is there?

The Sanomat offers seven [Finnish] symphonies from the shadow of Sibelius, here (with links):

1. Aarre Merikanto: Symphony No. 2 “War Symphony” (1918)

2. Erkki Melartin: Symphony No. 6 (1924)

3. Leevi Madetoja: Symphony No. 3 (1926)

4. Einar Englund: Symphony No. 2 “The Blackbird” (1947)

5. Einojuhani Rautavaara: Symphony No. 3 (1961)

6. Paavo Heininen: Symphony No. 2 “Petite symphonie joyeuse” (1962)

7. Joonas Kokkonen: Symphony No. 4 (1971)

Oddly, none of Aho’s 16 symphonies made the cut. Or Leif Segerstam’s 285.

leif segerstam

Anyone else they missed?


  • Guilherme says:

    Fartein Valen, from Norway. Glenn Gould recorded his second piano sonata

  • Max Grimm says:

    While they aren’t Finnish composers, I’ve enjoyed works by Edvard Grieg (and less frequently performed) Wilhelm Stenhammar, Hugo Alfvén, Johan Halvorsen, Rued Langgaard, Per Nørgård and Magnus Lindberg.

  • AZ Cowboy says:

    Ever since getting to know the Melartin symphonies from the Ondine recordings almost 20 years ago, I have wondered why these tuneful, powerful, buoyant, well-orchestrated and enjoyable symphonies are not better known. They would be such a relief from the overdone, worn out readings of Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, even (dare I write it?) Beethoven, Mahler, and Sibelius. Put the people who pay the bills likely have never heard of Melartin and by golly they demand another run through of the Pathetique no matter what! (Of course, I also would love to hear more Schmidt, Balakirev, Kalinnikov, Bax, Vaughan Williams, and Raff in concerts.)

    • Grenville G says:

      If you want to hear more Melartin, Schmidt and Raff in concert then there’s a simple solution.

      * Hire a professional orchestra (such as the LSO) for several days
      * Hire a professional conductor for the rehearsals, concerts and the time taken for them to learn the works
      * Hire a major concert hall (such as the Barbican) for the day
      * Hire a rehearsal venue for a couple of days
      * Hire a professional agency to do all the necessary advertising and promotion on radio and in magazines, newspapers etc
      * Wait for the surge of interest!!

      The result?
      If you manage to drum up an audience of 100 I think you’ll be doing well.
      You’ll have spent tens of £1000s of pounds of your own money in the process.
      And – unless you’re a millionaire – the chance of any further performances is nil.

      But – looking on the bright side – you might be more understanding of promoters who feel that they have to “play safe”.

      • Alexander says:

        But surely it’s all a matter of how it’s programmed. What size of audience do you reckon this would get?

        Sibelius, Karelia Suite
        Sibelius, Violin Concerto
        Erkki Melartin, Symphony no. 4

        Osmo Vänskä conductor
        Gil Shaham violin
        London Philharmonic Orchestra

        I reckon you could sell 90 percent of seats in the Royal Festival Hall with that programme.

      • MacroV says:

        Orchestras are in the business of presenting not just the music people know, but music they would like their public to hear. And unlike the theoretical promoter mentioned above, they don’t have to start from scratch. They have a hall, musicians with available services, a sales/marketing/subscription infrastructure, a conductor who may champion the composer, and an audience that might actually trust their programming approach and be receptive to something unfamiliar, perhaps mixed in smartly with something more familiar.

        As for the list above, I don’t know all his works, but I love Aho’s Symphony #7, which Osmo Vanska did a few years ago in Minnesota.

    • T-ARAFANBOY says:

      ” another run through of the Pathetique no matter what” but still they never know where to clap! 😉

  • Steve Jones says:

    Tauno Marttinen’s ten symphonies, mostly unrecorded.

  • George Duncan says:

    Swedish genius Franz Berwald. Symphonie Singulaire is the equal of anything by contemporaries Mendelssohn and Schumann.

  • Arto says:

    Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg?

    • Paavo says:

      Saariaho and Lindberg haven’t composed symphonies, unless you consider Lindberg’s Aura a symphony. But if it hasn’t to be a symphony, I strongly recommend Jukka Tiensuu, by far the most innovative and imaginative Finnish composer.

    • Paavo says:

      Saariaho and Lindberg haven’t composed symphonies, closest to a symphony is Lindberg’s Aura in four uninterrupted sections. But if it isn’t necessary to be a symphony, I strongly recommend Jukka Tiensuu, by far the most innovative among Finnish contemporary composers.

  • PGynt says:

    Given Sibelius’s international stature I would venture that 40% sounds very promising – it suggests that quite a lot of non-Sib Finnish music is being played around the world.

    • Alexander says:

      Yes, if asked to guess I would have said that something like 90 percent of Finnish music performed *outside* Finland would be by Sibelius. Even factoring in the likelihood that more Finnish music is performed in Finland than abroad I’m astonished that most Finnish music performed around the world today is not by Sibelius.

  • Gordon Freeman says:

    Olli Mustonen’s 1st symphony is really great.

  • Robert Roy says:

    It’s laudable to put unknown music on the programme but I remember Neemi Jarvi playing a Tubin symphony with the (R)SNO back in the 80’s. The first half was Shostakovich’s first ‘cello concerto with no less than Rostropovich as soloist! The Usher hall was packed for the first half but at least a third of the audience left before the Tubin in the second half.

    Now one can argue that the people that left were the real losers but the message was clear – no more of that unfamiliar stuff please! There were no more Tubin symphonies from Jarvi in future seasons.

    • MacroV says:

      The audience wasn’t the loser, but those who left were. And audiences do the same thing in a lot of other places. It highlights the problem in all genres of music: People don’t know what they like, they like what they know.

      I’ve been turned on to a lot of interesting music not in the concert hall but listening on my car radio; I turn it on, hear some interesting-sounding piece I’ve never heard before, and stay to the end to find out what it was.

      I don’t know about these days, but in the past Jarvi played Tubin and other relatively unfamiliar composers (Franz Schmidt was another) all over the world – one aspect of his appeal.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      On the other hand, Jurowski recently conducted Enescu’s 3rd symphony to a packed Royal Festival Hall. And packed not just with Romanian emigrees; there were some, but just a small minority of the public.

      (Who was in In the audience: a guy by the name of Antonio Pappano who expressed interest in conducting the work himself.)

  • Robert Holmén says:

    >>Paavo Heininen: Symphony No. 2 “Petite symphonie joyeuse” (1962) <<

    I'm trying to imagine the motivation of a Finnish composer who has no significant connections to France for titling his symphony in French.

    • Philippe Vandenbroeck says:

      Maybe the same reason why Sibelius chose a French nom d’artiste? I happen to be reading Glenda Goss’ Sibelius biography: “Is it any wonder that Janne Sibelius, fired with virtuoso ambitions and nurtured on the Franco-Belgian repertoire (…) decided to adopt the French form of his name?

    • Paavo says:

      It is kind of joke. Having been criticized of too complicated music, Heininen, labelled “enfant terrible” by critics, wanted compose something more “accessible” and named it “Petite symphonie joyeuse”.

  • Ken Berv says:

    Check out the magnificent choral works of Swedish Sven-David Sandstrom, most recently his St. Matthew Passion, his orchestral oeuvre is also very fine. An intensely spiritual but down-to-earth human being,my son studied with him at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

  • Guilherme says:

    Fartein Valen, from Norway, is a quite interesting composer

  • George Porter says:

    Aulis Sallinen – Symphony #4 just for starters.

  • Gordon Davies says:

    Aulis Sallinen Symphony no. 8 is magnificent IMHO.