Since I said in my first post that one of the things that inspired me to resurrect this blog and take it in a new direction was the Classic 100 Stories project by the ABC, I thought maybe that was a good place to start. Here’s the post I wrote for the project a few weeks ago, but since I don’t know how long the submissions will stay on their site, I’ll include it below as well.
For me, music and travel go hand in hand. A bit over three years ago I was in Helsinki for a few days, and nearing the end of an amazing ten month round-the-world trip. I was a bit sad, a bit happy and very reflective now it was about to come to an end and I would head home to Melbourne.
After dumping my bag at what felt like the thousandth hostel on my trip, I walked to the nearby Sibelius Park and Monument. The monument was built in the 60s and is probably unlike any other monument dedicated to a composer – it’s made out of some 600 hollow steel pipes which have been welded together in a wave formation, like some kind of surrealist pipe organ. On impulse I took my iPod from my bag, which held only a shamefully small four gigabytes of carefully chosen music for my trip, but I had managed to include the powerful Finlandia.
Even though it looked like it was about to rain, I sat down on the bare rock beneath the monument and listened to the ominous opening brass and thundering percussion, which gives way to the more delicate woodwind, followed by the sonority of the strings. The feeling that came over me on that early summer evening was unforgettable, especially listening to the beautiful hymn-like section in the middle as I watched the dark clouds roll in across the bay and islands to the west. When the music finished and it started to rain, I meandered slowly back to the hostel with no desire to be anywhere else in the world except right there. It seems like such a small thing, but those eight and a half minutes were the most special part of my visit.
So that’s my Finlandia story, forever fixed in my mind as the moment when the music suddenly became real to me. I should mention that it was only AFTER I had voted for it in the Classic 100 and written the story above that I realised the first incarnation of the piece was actually written in 1899 and so technically doesn’t make it into the 20th century. However, its influence on Finnish culture since then has been profound, especially during the Second World War when Russia was threatening to invade the already-independent Finland. Perhaps this could still allow it to be called one of the most important works of the twentieth century. Anyway, someone else had already voted for it before I got to the ABC website, so I obviously wasn’t the only one to make that error!
If you haven’t listened to the piece before, here’s what I think is the best recording on YouTube, by the London Symphony Orchestra. But the Lahti Symphony Orchestra performance here is also pretty special. Could you get a more dramatic and foreboding opening to a piece of music?
And it’s possible that if you’re not familiar with the whole orchestral piece, you might know the section from the middle that has become a well-known hymn and Finland’s national anthem, but it has various different words set to it. ‘Be Still, My Soul’ is probably the best known English text, but here is the ensemble Cantus singing another version.
I hope you have enjoyed your first ‘taste’ of Music Tasting – I encourage you to leave comments letting me know your thoughts, or sharing your own stories. As the site evolves I look forward to connecting more people with music through storytelling. Till next time, happy listening.