How to Play Sibelius’ ‘Malinconia,’ Op. 20, for Cello & Piano

This dark masterpiece, a little-known chamber-music miniature, captures a private pain

The Jean Sibelius most string players know is Sibelius the symphonist. Composer of the famous violin concerto, seven symphonies, and the perennially popular Finlandia, his name brings to mind large-scale orchestral music that symbolizes Finnish national pride. But in a little-known chamber miniature from the earliest days of the 20th century, you can find another, anguished side of this composer—that of Sibelius the grief-stricken father.

Malinconia (Melancholy) dates from the terrible weeks after the death from typhoid of Sibelius’ infant daughter, Kirsti. Dashed off in a frenzied three-hour composing session in March 1900, this one-movement work reveals an intense and private pain, and foreshadows the dark, modal colors of Sibelius’ symphonies.

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*This article appeared in Strings August 2011
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