SIBELIUS Voces Intimae



Jean Sibelius (Dec 1865 - Sep 1957)

Composed In



32 minutes


2 Violins, 1 Viola and 1 cello


After a period of silence from 1891 where he neglected any writing for small ensembles, it was the year 1909 in which Sibelius restored his interest in chamber music. He composed this piece in the midst of a personal health crisis. It is the only major work for string quartet of his mature period.


About the Composition

Movement I – Andante – Allegro molto moderato: Sibelius’ regular use of running scale passages in all four voices simultaneously creates a silvery effect in this movement. Rather than the typical texture of foreground melody with a supporting background harmony, his ideas are mostly presented in contrapuntal lines which often move together in the same note values. Block chords in this movement are reserved for special moments of emphasis that separate phrases or formal sections.

Movement II – Vivace: Linked to the first with motivic connections, the second movement follows without a break. Its tone is that of a Mendelssohnian scherzo that transforms the principal motives from the preceding movement into fleeting, pulsating string tremolo.

Movement III – Adagio di molto: The three detached, quiet chords in E minor, remote from any previous harmonic implications, lend mystery and uncertainty to the third movement as the music sneaks into a new key area. It was over these chords that Sibelius wrote the words “voces intimae” in a friend’s score, suggesting a personal reference. He allows the first violin to pour its heart out in a series of tender melodic lines pleading for resolution, their yearning reinforced by sigh motives and sobbing syncopations. 

Movement IV – Allegretto ma pesante: The heavy-footed plodding of its simple folk-like theme is occasionally relieved by mysterious strands of minuet-like melody that stand out against the murmuring whispers of running lines in the inner voices.

Movement V – Allegro: The finale movement begins with punchy phrases, rocking back and forth with off-beat accents. A new theme of small range is announced by the viola over a bouncing-bow accompaniment and put up for discussion between all instruments. The movement grows increasingly faster and energetic, driving relentlessly to its conclusion with an energy with incredible momentum.

Jean Sibelius

Fun Facts about the Composer

  • He wrote his first work, Water Droplets for violin and cello at the age of 10.
  • Sibelius’ work, Finlandia was originally titled Suomi herää became Finland’s unofficial national anthem. 
  • He even auditioned with the Vienna Philharmonic, but didn’t make the grade.
  • The composer was born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius instead of “Jean Sibelius” which the composer himself adopted.
  • Sebelius He is reported to have arrived ridiculously drunk during his sixth symphony in Sweden during his 1923 performance and he was unable to conduct properly.

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