Composers Datebook®

Sibelius' Sixth

Composers Datebook - Feb. 19, 2024


On today’s date in 1923, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius conducted the premiere performance of his Symphony No. 6 in Helsinki. He had begun work on it about 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.”

That might have been the original idea, but the final product turned out quite different and 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’ seven symphonies rank at the top, with the Sixth probably the least-often heard in concert. But the always-perceptive 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

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 6

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.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®