Op. 59 In Memoriam, funeral march. First version 1909. Final version 1910; first performance in Oslo, 8th October 1910 (Musikforeningen, conducted by Jean Sibelius).
The direct stimulus for In Memoriam came in June 1904, when Eugen Schauman shot Governor-General Bobrikov and killed himself immediately after the deed. The death of the "eater-up of Finland" delighted many influential people in the Grand Duchy of Finland, but law-abiding people felt uneasy about a political murder. On the other hand, there were those who thought that Schauman had atoned for his sin by committing suicide.
According to a familiar anecdote Sibelius celebrated Bobrikov's murder in Helsinki with such abandon that, along with Armas Järnefelt and Jost von Qvanten, he was taken to the police station in Eerikinkatu for questioning. The reason for them being picked up by the police was said to be "unmotivated joy". In fact, no such document has been found in the records of Eerikinkatu police station, but the restaurant bills from the end of June were certainly huge. On 27th, 29th and 30th June considerable amounts of brandy, sherry, madeira and whisky were consumed at the Restaurant Kappeli - perhaps to celebrate the death of Bobrikov.
Sibelius conceived the idea of a work in memory of Schauman. He mentioned the matter on New Year's Day 1905 when he was at Eero Järnefelt's house (Suviranta). The journalist Tekla Hultin was present and wrote in her diary:
"In the morning we went to Eero Järnefelt's house. His brother Armas and Jean Sibelius and their wives also came to the house. Sibelius said that he intended to write a requiem in memory of Eugen Schauman and that he had already started to work on it. – I just hope it will be worthy of its subject matter! After all, it will be the only monument that we can raise for him!"
Sibelius travelled to Berlin where he – according to his recollections – conceived a "motif" for
In Memoriam. At least that is what he told Karl Ekman in 1935.
It seems as if Sibelius did not quite know what to do with his funeral march or requiem theme. At the beginning of 1906 he played a few themes to Oscar Parviainen, one of which he called a funeral march. This inspired Parviainen to paint The Spanish Cortège, which hangs in the drawing-room of Ainola. It is possible that the funeral march theme contained motifs which ended up in In Memoriam. It may also have been connected with the planned Requiem for Eugen Schauman – or with the the Burial of Jesus episode in the oratorio Marjatta.
It is interesting that Sibelius did not go deeply into the composition until 1909, after his throat operation. He was then pondering on death every day, and according to Erik Tawaststjerna he may well have composed In Memoriam for himself. Indeed, it was played at Sibelius's funeral in 1957, much later than he could foresee in 1909.
In Memoriam was completed on 14th December 1909. However, Sibelius was dissatisfied with the proofs of the score, and In Memoriam reached its final form only in March 1910. The first public performance was postponed till even later, i.e. till October 1910, when Sibelius included it in concerts he gave in Kristiania, now Oslo. The reviews were contradictory. Many critics liked the other pieces in the concerts, but Otto Winter-Hjelm of Aftonposten wrote that
In memoriam "loses a great deal because there is too much playing to the gallery"
In Memoriam starts with a funeral march in a strong rhythm. The orchestration is reminiscent of Gustav Mahler's fifth symphony, which Sibelius had heard in Berlin in 1905, when he received the "motif" for the work. It is this Mahlerian influence and the untypical style that have made musicologists uncertain of the value to be placed on the work.
"The marks of the blacksmith’s tongs are clearly visible, and not all the motifs show divine inspiration," was Erkki Salmenhaara's judgment. According to Ralph Wood the work makes use of both the slow movement of Beethoven's third symphony and the funeral march from Wagner's Götterdämmerung – but without the merits of either.
Yet although there are influences from Mahler and Wagner, the work could not have been composed by either of them. It is not the most typical Sibelius, but it does show features that broaden one's image of him as a composer. According to Erik Tawaststjerna the work is a "personal musical document".