Composers Datebook®

The Sibelius Sixth

Symphony No. 6, Op. 104 Jean Sibelius

Composers Datebook for February 19, 2021


February 19, 2021


On today’s date in 1923, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius conducted the premiere performance of his Symphony No. 6 in Helsinki. He had begun work on it some five years earlier, and at that time described his vision for the symphony as follows:

“The Sixth Symphony is wild and passionate in character. Gloomy with pastoral contrasts. Probably in four movements with a finale, which will build to a gloomy, wild romp of the orchestra in which the main theme disappears.”

Well, that may have been the original idea, but the final product turned out quite different, and the late musicologist Michael Steinberg offered a more spot-on description: “The Sibelius Sixth is transparent, pastoral, lyrical, and notably even-tempered—a sanctuary fashioned out of music.”

In the pecking order of popularity, the Second and Fifth of Sibelius’s seven symphonies rank at the top, with the Sixth probably the least-often heard in concert. But the always perceptive Mr. Steinberg, wrote: “To this day the Sixth remains the least known (or understood) of the seven symphonies, and yet for those who make its full acquaintance, the Sixth may become the most cherished of them all.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Symphony No. 6, Op. 104 Jean Sibelius

On This Day


  • 1743 - Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini, in Lucca;

  • 1880 - American composer Arthur Shepherd, in Paris, Idaho;

  • 1906 - Welsh composer Grace Williams, in Barry, Glamorganshire;

  • 1912 - American band leader and arranger Stan Kenton, in Wichita, Kan.;

  • 1926 - Rumanian-born Hungarian composer György Kurtág, in Lugoj;


  • 1605 - Italian composer Orazio Vecchi, age 54, in Modena;

  • 1941 - Irish composer and arranger Sir Hamilton Harty, age 61, in Brighton;

  • 1975 - Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola, age 71, in Florence;


  • 1736 - Handel: cantata “Alexander’s Feast,” at Covent Garden Theatre (Gregorian date: Mar. 1) ; Also on the program were Handel’s Concerto grosso in C (HWV 318), Harp Concerto, Op. 4, no. 6 (HWV 294) and Organ Concerto, Op. 4, no. 1;

  • 1914 - Zandonai: opera "Francesca da Rimini," in Turin;

  • 1923 - Sibelius: Symphony No. 6, in Helsinki, with composer conducting;

  • 1929 - Bartók: String Quartet No. 3, in London, by the Waldbauer Quartet;

  • 1932 - Copland: "Symphonic Ode," commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony and conducted by Serge Koussevitzky; For the 75th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony, Copland revised this score and dedicated it to the memory of Koussevitzky; The revised version was premiered by the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch on February 3, 1956;

  • 1941 - Morton Gould: "Spirituals for Orchestra," in New York City, conducted by the composer;

  • 1949 - Irving Fine: Partita for winds, in New York City, by the New Art Wind Quintet;

  • 1949 - Douglas Moore: opera "The Emperor's New Clothes," in New York;

  • 1961 - Stravinsky: Anthem ("The dove descending breaks the air)", in Los Angeles, Robert Craft conducting;

  • 1985 - Peter Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 3,at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, by the BBC Philharmonic, Edward Downes conducting;

  • 1990 - Daniel Asia: Symphony No. 1, by the Seattle Symphony, Christopher Kendall conducting;

  • 1999 - John Adams: "Naïve and Sentimental Music," at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducting.