Sunday, October 18, 2009

Square 71: Sibelius's Second Symphony

Square 071

As promised, this time I chose yarn first, then started knitting and waited for the colours and textures to suggest a story. I began juxtaposing intense purple Noro Silk Garden with some dark, rich browns. The combination was unusual, but the story came to mind more easily expected. For months I've wanted to create a square for my favourite musical composition, but didn't know how to describe it in colours. Now this was it.

Friday on Tempo, CBC Radio 2's midday Classical music program, host Julie Nesrallah launched a feature called Music that rocks your world. She described how her grade seven teacher took the class to see the movie, Fame; when Julie heard the final movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, it changed her life forever. She asked listeners to write and tell her about similar experiences of their own.

Later the same day, same station, different program, Rich Terfry described how some music actually affects us physically. It can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

I've had that happen. I wonder what causes it: dynamic tension, I suppose. My favourite symphony used to do it practically every time I listened. Over the years the effect has worn off, but still I am profoundly moved.

Unlike Julie, I grew up drenched in 19th Century music, especially Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, Chopin piano pieces, a little Brahms, and the music of Fantasia. Every day my parents listened to WQRS, the Classical music station from across the river in Detroit. I began finding my own favourite composers, like Schubert, Dvorak and Sibelius, and exploring their repertoire.

I don't remember how or when I first heard Sibelius's Symphony Number Two in D Major, but it became my favourite composition by my mid teens and has remained so ever since. In the evenings when my parents watched TV, I would close the door to family room, go down the hall to the empty living room, put on my vinyl recording of this symphony, turn up the volume, turn off the lights, and go on a long journey. It was only 45 minutes, but also a lifetime.

In those days I experienced music intensely visually. The symphony seems to begin on a sunny hillside, traverse wide open country, move through stormy winter darkness, shift to a windswept mountain cliff, and plunge into deep, mysterious shadows. At the end of the darkness, the traveler glimpses a shining city and slowly approaches. The finale is resplendent and transcendent.

This square is not a literal description of the landscape I saw with my inner eye, but an impression of the music's deep, enigmatic qualities.

I have always related deeply to Sibelius's music without understanding why, but recently came to realize it is because he was deeply inspired by nature. I was an isolated and lonely teenager, and I suppose this music also gave me hope. To my mind, Symphony Number Two suggests all fears and trials are worth enduring, and life is an adventure of inestimable richness.


  1. With you on Sibelius' 2nd, and coincidentally have been revisiting it lately. There is a beautiful mix of the pathetic and triumphant in its lines, colours and textures.

    Lovely knitting!

  2. It was a pleasant surprise to hear your letter read on CBC. I was working from home when the music piece began to play, and it prompted me to stop, reach over for my knitting bag and dig into the scarf I'm working on. ( Thanks for sharing the music that rocks your world. Sibelius is now on my list for sounds to knit by!