Trisha Shetty

Andante Festivo

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Composed  1922 (1922) / 1938
Andante Festivo
Performed  1 January 1939 (1939-01-01)
Scoring  string quartet string orchestra timpani

Andante Festivo is a single-movement composition by Jean Sibelius, originally scored for string quartet in 1922. In 1938, the composer rescored the piece for string orchestra and timpani. On 1 January 1939 Sibelius conducted his composition in a live worldwide broadcast, making it the only sound document of him interpreting his own music.


Walter Parviainen requested a cantata from Sibelius to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Säynätsalo sawmills before Christmas of 1922. Sibelius wrote instead a composition for a string quartet, to become Andante Festivo. It was possibly based on older projects, such as a planned oratorio Marjatta from the 1900s. When Riitta Sibelius, a niece of the composer, got married in 1929, Andante Festivo was performed by two string quartets, possibly with modifications.

Sibelius listened to the radio frequently in the 1930s. He thought about composing for the radio in a different way, to accommodate the distortions created by the loudspeakers of the time. When Olin Downes, a critic of the New York Times, requested him to "conduct a piece of music as Finland's greeting to the world in a radio broadcast to celebrate the New York World Exhibition", he tried the concept by adapting the former string quartet. Full-throated and hymnic, this piece of work is constructed as a smooth, continuous stream of similar melodic phrases that flow into and out of each other. Sibelius was a violinist himself and knew how to compose for strings. A "seamless repeated melody" is played by the strings and answered in the last four bars by the timpani, in an almost religious statement in a world before a Second World War.

The version for strings and timpani was first performed in a direct broadcast on 1 January 1939 by the Radio Orchestra conducted by the composer, as the only recorded example of the composer interpreting one of his own works. His maintained a slow tempo professionally, with "unforced rubato", creating a solemn, singing string sound. He sometimes took liberty with the tempo markings in the score.

A 2015 collection of recordings of music for orchestra by Sibelius, played by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam, and recorded between 1995 and 2007, includes the recording of Andante Festivo from the archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company and contrasts it to works including the Violin Concerto and the Second Symphony.

The recording conducted by Sibelius is also part of a collection of historic performances from 1928 to 1948, notably recordings of the Columbia Gramophone Company (later EMI) from the 1930s, when Robert Kajanus conducted the symphonies and tone poems, many of which he had premiered.

The recording of Andante Festivo was Sibelius's last performance as a conductor. The work was played at his funeral.


Andante Festivo Wikipedia

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