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Sibelius wrote his patriotic tone poem in 1899 as a protest against increasing censorship in his home country of Finland.
In the summer of 1900, just as the world was beginning to wake up to Finlandia, Sibelius had been on a tour of Europe, ending up at the exposition Universelle in Paris, where he competed for attention with his new piece in the second ever Olympic Games of the modern era. He wrote, "I can win a place, I believe, with my music. No, I don’t believe; I know I can."
He revised it a year later, its effervescent pride still shouting 'Russia out of Finland' for all those in the know to hear. Sibelius later reworked the central part of the piece into a Finlandia Hymn, with words by Finnish poet Koskenniemi; 'Oh, Finland, behold your day is dawning.' That was in 1941 – apt words, indeed, for a work that Sibelius originally called 'Suomi herää' ('Finland awakens').
Listen out for the turbulent music representing the struggle of the Finnish people. Towards the end, the music becomes calmer where Sibelius included a Finlandia Hymn – which was his own work and not a traditional folk melody as many people now believe.