Sibelius - Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra, op. 47

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings.

Duration: 31 minutes in three movements.


THE COMPOSER – JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957) – Sibelius’ busy schedule and heavy drinking necessitated an escape from the pressures of Helsinki in 1903. He had vowed to cope with his alcohol issues “with all [his] strength” but was not having much success. A little distance from the capital and its social climate was needed and, though it took a year to complete, his new home in the village of Järvenpää provided some genuine, though ultimately insufficient, solace.

THE MUSIC – Coincident with the gradual departure from Helsinki was the creation of the Violin Concerto. As a composer, Sibelius was not cut from the showy sort of cloth that produced the virtuoso concerti of his day. His was a more solemn disposition, so solemn that one wonders why he agreed to take on such a project. It would seem, at least in part, that an avid admirer talked him into it. Willy Burmeister was a leading violin soloist of the day and was greatly impressed with Sibelius. He eventually helped convince the composer to craft a concerto for him. As a violinist himself, Sibelius must have liked the idea. He was a fine player but had been a late starter and probably didn’t need any help imagining the virtuoso performance career that might have been. Sibelius wrote the concerto during 1903 and settled on a premiere date for Burmeister in March of the following year. Unfortunately, circumstances pressed the composer towards an earlier date. These “circumstances” were almost certainly related to money woes. In any case, the change did work in Burmeister’s calendar and Viktor Novacek played instead. By all accounts Novacek was not up to it and though Burmeister was willing to forgive the initial insult, he did not get to premiere the revised version either. A pity, as he correctly believed Sibelius’ Concerto to be on par with Tchaikovsky’s and deserved a more close association with it.    

THE WORLD – The Russo-Japanese War began in 1904. Also that year, Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale, Charles Dillon Perrine discovered Jupiter’s largest irregular moon Himalia and Jack London published The Sea-Wolf.

THE CONNECTION – The Sibelius Violin Concerto is among the most popular concerti on Utah Symphony Masterworks programs. It last appeared in 2008 under Hannu Lintu with Henning Kraggerud as soloist.