Organ works

Sibelius's music for organ and harmonium

With his excellent pianistic skills, Sibelius could of course play the harmonium, another keyboard instrument and a favourite instrument of the time. He gave it small parts in his early works. The harmonium also features in The Tempest music: in no. 4 (Chorus of the Winds), no. 6 (Ariel's First Song), no. 9 (The Oak [Ariel] plays the flute), no. 16 (Canon) and no. 18 (Ariel as a Harpy).

When Sibelius joined a newly established Masonic lodge in 1922 he became involved with ritual music. He was even asked to be the regular organist of the lodge, but he declined because he did not have time. However, he sometimes substituted for the regular organist, as he did on 17 January 1923, when Eliel Saarinen was inducted into the Masonic Order. During the rituals it could happen that he improvised on the organ/harmonium so enthusiastically and for so long that he was discreetly asked to stop playing so that the ceremonies could continue.

Sibelius also composed an entire suite, Ritual music for the Freemasons, op. 113 (1926-48). This comprised 12 pieces in all, including two harmonium pieces of quite high quality, typical of Sibelius's late style, Opening hymn (no. 1; 1927) and Marche funèbre (no. 10; 1927). The songs in the opus have a harmonium accompaniment.

Intrada for organ op. 111a (1925). First performance on 22 August 1925 by John Sundberg in Helsinki.

Sibelius's first piece expressly for the organ was written for the visit of the King and Queen of Sweden in 1925. Originally it was intended as the fourth movement of a five-movement organ suite that was never completed. Sibelius's working titles for the movements were Preludium, Interludium, Foos (Phos) Hilaron Arioso, Intrada and Postludium.Two further movements, the Preludium and Postludium (both from 1925), were finally published in 2001; these give an impression of being somewhat diatonic, pared-down and lacking in final polish. Thus, only two of the movements of the suite are missing.

The Intrada (Largamente molto [poco adagio]) is one of the grandest of Finnish organ works. It has a monumental and orchestral touch and its tone and harmonies make it a little sister to the seventh symphony, a kind of Olympian wood-shaving from the larger block. Its harmonisation is both dissonant and bold in its manner of modifying traditional chains of suspension. Its contrary motion effects, in some ways classical, can generate thrilling chord combinations: for example at the end, major chords are gradually incorporated in a Lisztian manner to produce a powerful effect of transfiguration.

Surusoitto for organ op. 111b (1931) was written for the funeral of Sibelius's dear friend and fellow artist from the Symposium years, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. It was to be Sibelius's last instrumental work. Since Sibelius only had only a couple of days to write the music, he was on the verge of cancelling the commission. However, as the invitation cards had already been printed, he agreed to keep his promise. This was fortunate, since today it seems that we possess just this one piece which gives us a a clue as to what the musical expression of the eighth symphony might have been like.

Surusoitto (Funeral Music) is a captivating and exciting work, like something that has come directly from a lunar landscape. It is unlike anything else that Sibelius ever wrote. Unprepared, unresolved dissonances, strange chord combinations, open fifths and overlapping fourths paint an ascetic and pitiless inner landscape. The effect is slightly alleviated by a melody with a sparse accompaniment; this is introduced before the repeat of the opening section, and before the concluding chords, whose structure is based on fourths. It seems that Sibelius could, after all, renew himself and find an expressive mode that today seems more modern than ever.