Jean Sibelius is Finland's preeminent classical composer, and a recent contest to rank Finland's finest works of choral music has confirmed his untouchable status. "Finlandia, Op. 26", his beloved choral tone poem from 1900, depicting his country's struggle to win independence, won the online poll by garnering 947 votes out of a total of 2,211.
The vote coincided with a celebration of Finland's 100 best choral works, arranged in honour of the country's 100-year anniversary of independence this year. The massive event in the central Finland city of Jyväskylä gathered 20 choirs for a six-hour-long marathon of the top choral works, whittled down from an original list of 300 pieces.
The event's organiser Hannu Ikonen was not surprised by Finlandia's landslide win.
"It is a beautiful tune – finely written, with lyrics that really resonate with people. Many historical and cultural phenomena are also linked to Finlandia, and this surely contributed to people's choice. I imagine that many other factors influenced how the poll's participants voted, which is a great thing," he says.
But why has Finlandia remained a perennial choir favourite over the years?
"Sibelius wrote Finlandia in a way that was very conducive to choral singing. It is easy and fun for a choir to perform. This is naturally very important for the choir members – that they feel they can use their instrument comfortably," says Ikonen.
A six-hour choral marathon
The October 7 performance saw the 100 best songs performed back-to-back by 20 different choirs. The choral works chosen represented several genres: from works dating back to the 1800s to contemporary pieces, with some pieces from the Swedish-speaking population of Finland and others with indigenous Sámi influences.
Composers whose work was heard during the six-hour marathon included such names as Jean Sibelius, Toivo Kuula, Juha Holma, Gösta Sundqvist, Kerkko Koskinen, Leevi Madetoja, Pekka Kostiainen, Jukka Kuoppamäki, Juice Leskinen and Toni Edelmann.