Like many composers before him (including Beethoven and Mozart), Sibelius had to be pragmatic about composing to order to generate much needed income. He wrote plenty of salon miniatures (not least because he never gave up the hope of chancing upon a second 'Valse triste'), and could also be commissioned to compose music for special occasions. The Karelia
music was written for a fund-raising event consisting of a series of tableaux portraying major events in Karelian history. The Press Pension Celebrations music was another case in point and, like the Karelia
music, it yielded one of Sibelius’s most popular scores: Finlandia
. The Andante festivo
was originally written, rather improbably, for a factory in 1922. He was working on the final two symphonies when he received the commission. It was scored for string quartet but is normally played today in the 1930 version for string orchestra with optional timpani (omitted in this recording). Although it inhabits the same sound world as the luminous string writing in the last two symphonies, this slight but effective work is most famous for the distinction of being the only score to survive in a recording conducted by Sibelius himself. The recording was in the archives of Finnish Radio from 1939 when the composer, at the age of 74 and already in retirement, conducted an orchestra for the last time for a short-wave radio broadcast to the New York Fair. Given that the technology for recording had been around from early in the century and Sibelius had been active on the podium until the late 1920s, it is tantalising to imagine what else could have existed today if he had been lured in to the recording studio or if the radio broadcast of his 1924 concert in Copenhagen, devoted entirely to his own music, had survived.
from notes by Rob McEwan © 2003