Symphony No. 6 1923 | 28 mins
Jean Sibelius completed his set of seven symphonies with this pair of unusual works, which he developed in parallel over several years. Some material moved from one score to the other as the pieces evolved. Each has a distinct flavor that is unlike any of his previous symphonies. The Sixth qualifies as Sibelius’s “Pastoral Symphony,” a graceful composition that doesn't rattle the rafters. It is practically unique in the annals of symphonies for being written in neither a major nor a minor key, but rather in, a harmonic pattern that many will hear as folk-like. Asked about this symphony, Sibelius said, “I do not think of a symphony only as music in this or that number of bars, but rather as an expression of spiritual creed, a phase in one’s inner life.”
Symphony No. 7 1924 | 22 mins
Like the Sixth, Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony marches to a different drummer. Whereas all of Sibelius’s earlier symphonies comprise discrete movements of varying characters, this one unrolls as a single movement in which contrasting sections are all connected into an ever-developing span. The composer struggled over whether he should even call this work a symphony; after he conducted its 1924 premiere, he ended up changing its name to identify it as a full-fledged symphony after all. It would be his last. He still had two further orchestral works in him—the incidental music for The Tempest and the tone poem Tapiola—but he effectively retired in 1927, leaving the Symphony No. 7 as his valedictory symphony.
Piano Concerto No. 3 1909 | 43 mins
Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto offers an immense challenge to the soloist in stamina and endurance; the orchestral passages that frame the Intermezzo are the pianist’s only moments of respite. To a degree truly uncommon for a concerto in the big Romantic bravura tradition, Rachmaninoff sees the soloist not merely as someone who can sing soulfully and thunder imposingly, but as an alert, flexible, responsive musician who knows how to blend, accompany, and listen. LISTEN FOR: In all his works for piano and orchestra, Rachmaninoff invented arresting beginnings. In the first measures of the Third Piano Concerto we find a quality we do not usually associate with him—simplicity.
JAMES M. KELLER is Program Annotator and JEANETTE YU is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.