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Sibelius and the Swans

A breathtaking natural moment transformed into music
© Richard Towell View Large

In April 1915, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote in his diary about seeing 16 Whooper Swans overhead. He was entranced by both the sight and the sound of the swans. He watched them depart — “like a gleaming silver ribbon,” — and declared the image one of the great experiences of his life. And then Sibelius transformed the breathtaking natural moment into music.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Sibelius and the Swans

Written by Bob Sundstrom
 
This is BirdNote.
[swan inspired theme from Third Movement of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtRPJ6C7Jj8, 1.14-1.20]

Sixteen swans, in flight. Immaculate white, on glistening wings. Magnificent birds of such size that their wing strokes seem to flow in slow motion.

[Whooper Swans calling softly, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/63144941#_ga=2.73487186.1131769454.156.... 0.16-.21]

[flock of Whooper Swans calling loudly, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/63144941#_ga=2.73487186.1131769454.156.... 1.41-.146]

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (pron. zhahn see-BAY-lee-us) wrote about this scene in his diary in April 1915. These were Whooper Swans, migrating north to Finland.

The composer was entranced by both the sight and the sound of the swans. He watched the swans depart — “like a gleaming silver ribbon,” he wrote — and declared the image “one of the great experiences of my life.”

 [Whooper Swans calling softly, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/63144941#_ga=2.73487186.1131769454.156.... 0.16-.21]

Sibelius transformed the breathtaking natural moment into music.

[swan inspired theme from Third Movement of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtRPJ6C7Jj8, 1.14-1.20] 

The swans’ undulating wings and tremulous voices carry the central theme of his acclaimed Fifth Symphony, a theme written just after the swans flew over.

Swans have charged composers’ imaginations again and again. There’s Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” And twenty years earlier, Sibelius himself had written “The Swan of Tuonela,” (pron. TWAH-neh-luh) a tone poem that captures the quiet grace of a resting swan.

[a few seconds of “The Swan of Tuonela,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fs2d0cW5FxM, ]

It was nature’s simple elegance that inspired Sibelius: a flight of swans.
                                                             ###
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Bird sounds provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. ML 63144941, Whooper Swans, recorded by A. Spencer.
Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat, Op.82:III Allegro Molto
Artist: Philharmonia Orchestra and Herbert von Karajan
The Swan of Tuonela - Oberlin Chamber Orchestra,
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2020 BirdNote   May 2020     Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#  WHOS-01-2020-05-28     WHOS-01

* https://ebird.org/species/truswa
 
quote from composer’s diary: https://www.naturemusicpoetry.com/proms-2014/proms-feature-3-sibelius-an...
 
re swan theme:https://www.npr.org/2011/07/18/111667517/sibelius-5th-symphony-a-song-fo...
“In the symphony's breathless moto perpetuo finale, Sibelius introduces one of his most memorable ideas: a bell-like tolling of chords among the four horns that is said to have come to him after he watched a flock of swans pass overhead. This "swan theme," which emerges from the giddy rush of the tremolo strings, is the soul of the movement, and it's accompanied by a poignant, singing subject given out in octaves by the woodwinds and cellos.”
 
six of the best: pieces of music inspired by swans:
http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-music-inspired-swans

https://www.npr.org/2011/07/18/111667517/sibelius-5th-symphony-a-song-fo...

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