Text: Lotta Emanuelsson
The term humoresque derives from German fiction of the 19th century. Pardon the notion, but the Germans are not best known for their sense of humor, and the humoresque genre refers more to the imaginative fairy tales and fantasies than to the comic art as we know it. The first one to use humoresque as a title of a composition was Robert Schumann. His multi-movement piano humoresque (1838) is no barrel of laughs, either, and the same goes with the Sibelius humoresques dominated by minor keys. Or maybe our sense of humor, dulled by modern irony and sitcoms, will not comphrehend their subtle lightness. However, the modern listener senses, that Sibelius enjoyed writing these upbeat virtuoso pieces for his own instrument. And there are no traces of delivery pains left in the violin concerto either.
The most humorous of the humoresques is numer 5 in E Flat Major, in which the solo violin joyfully whistles on top of a trotting sleigh ride beat. Another piece in a major key, number 2, is an agile Paganini-like perpeetum mobile. In the first humoresque, written in D Minor, the key of the violin concerto, appears in all its danse-like spirit somewhat demonic. The melancholic fourth humoresque is not trying to be amusing at all, and the final number six might smile only inward.
The Humoresques were premiered in the fall of 1919 at the same concert with the final version of the Fifth Symphony. The soloist of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sibelius was the 28-year-old Paul Cherkassky from Odessa. Due to the revolution, he had settled in Finland and became a Finnish citizen. Cherkassky worked for a while as concert master of the Philharmonic Orchestra and enriched our musical life also by training a whole new generation of violinists, which was an invaluable achievement in those days. Later Cherkassky received a more tempting offer from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and left Finland for good, but he did pay frequent visits to his former homeland as a distinguished soloist of the Sibelius Violin Concerto.
This is the 37th chapter of a series of 150 articles on Sibelius.
You can watch the Sibelius Violin Competition webcast live at yle.fi/klassinen.