The Hotel Danube in Paris was a filthy firetrap and the proprietor looked like a murderer, but Sibelius had no option other than to stay there, because, famous though he was in Finland, he was out of money and his previous Parisian lodgings at the not-much-better Hotel Malte were now beyond his means.
Photo: Jean Sibelius, 1890
In previous years he would have simply drowned his sorrows, but in this late-autumn of 1911 that wasn’t an option because the events of 1908 had sent the dipsomaniac composer into seven years of enforced sobriety and a life without his beloved cigars too.
So as winter descended on the French capital, Sibelius, with his Fourth Symphony now having been premiered to mystified audiences, threw himself into his work, this time returning to music he’d composed earlier and reworking it: Rakastava for male voice choir was about to become Rakastava for string orchestra.
Paris, Boulevard des Italiens
Sibelius completed the Suite on 2 December 1911 and sent the manuscript to his publisher, Breitkopf, but almost immediately realised that he wasn’t happy with it and requested its return. On New Year’s Eve 1911, he received it back and over the course of the next nine days, he worked on it day and night, turning it into the work we know today as his anachronistically-numbered opus 14.
On 9 January 1912, he sent it back to Breitkopf in Germany, where it was rejected for being a revision of an older work. Other publishers, too, enthusiastically rejected the work.
The atmospheric third movement (“Good Night – Farewell”) is perhaps the only part of the work where aspects of the original are discernible, the violin and cello revealing traces of solo vocal parts in the most extended movement of the piece, folk-like at first but brooding and intense by the end. It may have been reworked in Paris but for Sibelius, it was music of his homeland. “It’s a work with a vein of black earth running through it,” Sibelius wrote home. “Earth, and a piece of Finland.”
By Martin Buzacott
Beethoven & The 21st Century
Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney
NICO MUHLY (arr. strings) Part I from Drones & Violin
ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR Action–Passion–Illusion
TIPPETT A Lament from Variations on an Elizabethan Theme
BRYCE DESSNER (arr. strings) Tenebre
BEETHOVEN (arr. strings) String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 ‘Serioso’