We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Bowers & Wilkins website. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookie settings at any time.


Before writing his first symphony, Sibelius had already explored orchestral possibilities in his symphonic poem Kullervo, composed in 1892. Kullervo is an ambitious, large-scale, choral work lasting well over an hour and has been identified with a resurgence in Finnish cultural identity. A recording, with Sir Colin conducting, is available on LSO Live.

For his First Symphony (1899), Sibelius scaled back on Kullervo to concentrate on a more tightly structured proposition. If ‘symphony’ implies a blue print, Sibelius adheres to it through the conventional four-movement form consisting of an Andante-Allegro opening, followed by a slow movement, a scherzo, and a fast finale. The work begins with an extraordinary solo for clarinet (played peerlessly here by Andrew Marriner). The score is scintillating, full of shifts of mood and evocative woodwind motifs. The music is not overtly programmatic and yet has a programmatic feel. Finland’s brilliant landscape seems palpable – in this at least, the world of Kullervo is very much present.

By the time he got to his Fourth Symphony in 1911, Sibelius had done a bit more living. The premiere was in Helsinki, with the composer conducting. A much more introverted work than the First Symphony, it was waggishly nicknamed ‘Barkbrōd’ (bark bread), a reference to the famines of the nineteenth century when Finns were forced to eat the bark from trees to survive. It is full of dark beauty, and much is made of the context in which it was written, i.e. that Sibelius had paid for earlier excesses by developing a life-threatening illness. Fortunately, an operation saved him, but the symphony is often seen as a reflection on the composer’s own dark times (as well as presaging the collective ones to come in 1914).

Like the First Symphony, the Fourth opens with a significant instrumental solo, this time for cello. Thereafter, it is a wholly different, more reflective, experience than that of the First. Sir Colin Davis and the LSO capture brilliantly the light and bombast of one, and the sombre qualities of the other.


Trial Society of Sound for free

Enter your email to start your free trial

If you have a voucher code enter it below


Subscribe to Society of Sound to download high-quality albums from Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and the London Symphony Orchestra. All available in ALAC 16-bit, FLAC 24-bit and studio-quality AIFF 24-bit. If you already have a Society of Sound membership please sign in 

Society of Sound Subscription - £33.95

Get full access to our catalogue of lossless audio downloads, and two new albums a month for a year.

Buy now


Community Discussion

Find out what Bowers & Wilkins customers and audio enthusiasts are talking about on our blogs, and read in-depth articles in the Sound Lab.

Copyright © 2017 Bowers & Wilkins. All rights reserved.