Essentials: Mike Oldfield on Sibelius

August 25, 1995
Laurel Ives
The Guardian

"When I was 16 I used to go on the road a lot with Kevin Ayers and The Whole World. Our gigs were very anarchic affairs - mostly drunk and out of tune. Our keyboard player played his keyboards with a brick. After a tour like that, I used to go home and play classical music. There was one particular piece of music I liked, by Sibelius - his 5th Symphony especially the last movement. It had to be the recording with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Halle Orchestra - I've tried others but theyre hopeless. Whether a piece happens or not is all about the musicians and the conductor - human beings - hands on strings."

"The first time I heard it was at school. I was bottom of the class in music. The only good thing about the classes was that the teacher used to play us classical recordings - thats when I first heard Sibelius' 5th Symphony. The last movement starts off as a very fast stream, bubbly and tumbling. Its like a child running to get its birthday present - it has that sense of excitement. Then it rises to this small crescendo, not a crash-bang-wallop crescendo, just a glowing, blossoming crescendo."

"Then theres this fantastic tune which reminds me of an amazing landscape - like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. This tumbles along - it's the most beautiful thing i've ever heard. It's not pompous, it's humble and powerful, at the same time full of warmth and humanity."

"This peters out, like you've gone past the Grand Canyon level, then there's a period of boredom or anti-climax. The next two minutes are fumbling around as if he's thinking what to do next. Then it rediscovers itself towards the end and ends up with an even bigger climax. It grows and grows until its virtually bursting - then there are these 10 big notes from the whole orchestra and a final thunderclap."

"The whole movement has an incredible momentum. It's so purposeful and powerful, immovable."

"It has influenced my own music. For example it has one tune as the main melody, while the bass line is the same tune at a quarter of the speed. Over this you have violins playing the same tune again. but at 10 time the speed. This is something I used a lot in 'Tubular Bells' - melodies at different speeds. When you're making a long piece of instrumental music, you need to hang it on something, give it a skeleton - for example having the same tune happening simultaneously in different keys, as Sibelius did."

"Sibelius didn't pay much attention to music being symmetrical - it didn't have to have four beats in a bar. If you felt like having 15 beats in a bar you just did it because it felt right. That's something that's totally lost in pop music now."

Mike Oldfield's new single 'Let There Be Light' is released on August 21 on WEA.

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield