“The many musicians involved deserve to be lauded ... for the vigor and effectiveness of their performance.”
Zoe Kemmerling
Boston Musical Inteligencer

6 March 2012
(Britten War Requiem)


Jean Sibelius

Be Still, My Soul  
(From Finlandia, revised 1900)
(arranged for chorus by Mack Wilberg)

“Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic. ... [God] takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces.”

“Millions of years ago, in my previous incarnations, I must have been related to swans ... because I can still feel that affinity.”

— Jean Sibelius

Few composers have had as close an association with their native countries and national identities as Sibelius had with Finland. He was a prolific composer (seven symphonies and many other works), his compositions were championed and programmed internationally (Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia, Thomas Beecham and John Barbirolli in London), and as an educator he had a strong influence on the next generation of Finnish and European composers, significantly Leevi Madetoja. Until it adopted the Euro, Finland used a portrait of Sibelius on its 100-mark bill.

Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), ca. 1913

Sibelius composed his orchestral tone poem Finlandia as part of a tableau about Finnish history, created by musicians and artists. From its dramatic opening chords, Finlandia caught the spirit of Finnish independence and nationalism at the dawn of the 20th century — so much so that printed concert programs and posters adopted harmless made-up names for the work to avoid the notice of Russian censors. Finland officially gained its independence from the Russian empire in December of 1917.

The hymn-like melody for “Be Still, My Soul” begins near the end of Finlandia. It is is entirely Sibelius’s own creation, not a traditional folk tune as is sometimes assumed. Sibelius appears to have recognized the hymn’s unique power. Within a year, he had composed a version for piano solo and later prepared the stand-alone work, “The Finnish Hymn.” A text written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi secured the work’s position as Finland’s most important national song.

The melody, with the “Be still, my soul” text, remains a common part of hymnals around the world, much as the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth appears as “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee.” The most common text was written by Katharina von Schlegel, an early 18th-century German hymn writer. The version performed in these concerts sets three of von Schlegel’s six verses. The arrangement was prepared by Mack Wilberg, music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Be Still, My Soul
Text by Katharina von Schlegel (1697–1768), translation by Jane Borthwick, arranged for chorus and organ by Mack Wilberg

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through stormy ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.