for those of you who aren’t (yet) listening to *stumptown’s 89.9, let me just say it’s gotta be the most kick-ass classical radio station in the country. seriously. there are a million reasons why this is true, but without question, a key ingredient is the brilliant on-air talent spinning all those oldies but goodies. case in point: andrea murray. i decided to pick ms. murray’s brain about symphony #7 by jean sibelius ~ which the oregon symphony will be playing this saturday, sunday, and monday.
In 1918, Sibelius wrote his seventh symphony would be “about joy of life and vitality.” But it seems to me that the composer’s use of the word “joy” sets up a false expectation of insouciance within the 7th. This one-movement symphony, written by a man who suffered with lifelong depression, isn’t purely jubilant. There are gorgeous melodies here, make no mistake, but there’s no point in clinging to them. Sibelius knows too well that joy can’t exist in isolation. Just as we relax into a melodic sunrise, a storm begins to gather. Just as suddenly, we find ourselves knee-deep in flowers. It’s not a Mahlerian struggle of oppositional forces, but a clear-eyed cataloguing of experience.
The references to nature above are intentional. While this music isn’t programmatic, it is the work of a composer who loved nature unconditionally and unsentimentally, in all its simultaneous bloom and decay. As Sibelius himself said: “If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances.” I think the 7th succeeds at this. By compelling us to stay in the sonic moment, whatever it might bring, we eventually find ourselves deposited beyond chaos, with renewed gratitude for the world around and within us.