No one has captured the inner desolate feeling of this symphony as Karajan did.
Sibelius wrote this symphony after a journey to the north of Finland.
Many commentators have heard in the symphony evidence of struggle or despair.
Harold Truscott writes, "This work ... is full of a foreboding which is
probably the unconscious result of ... the sensing of an atmosphere
which was to explode in 1914 into a world war."]
Sibelius also had recently endured terrors in his personal life: in 1908, in Berlin,
he had a cancerous tumour removed from his throat.
Timothy Day writes that
"the operation was successful, but he lived for many years in constant fear of
the tumour recurring, and from 1908 to 1913 the shadow of death lay over his life.
"Other critics have heard bleakness in the work:
one early Finnish critic, Elmer Diktonius,
dubbed the work the Barkbröd symphony, referring to the famine in
the previous century during which starving Scandinavians had had to eat bark bread to survive.
According to the biographer Erik W. Tawaststjerna,
the Symphony reflects the psychoanalytical and introspective era
when Sigmund Freud and Henri Bergson stressed the meaning of the unconscious,
and he calls the Fourth Symphony
"one of the most remarkable documents of the psychoanalytical era."
Even Sibelius himself called his composition
"a psychological symphony"His brother, the psychiatrist Christian Sibelius (1869--1922),
was one of the first scholars to discuss psychoanalysis in Finland.
In the year before beginning the symphony,
Sibelius had met many of his contemporaries in central Europe,
including Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and others;
his encounter with their music provoked a crisis in his own compositional life.
He said in a letter to his friend (and biographer) Rosa Newmarch about the symphony:
"It stands as a protest against present-day music.
It has absolutely nothing of the circus about it."
Later, when asked about the symphony, he quoted August Strindberg:
"Det är synd om människorna" (One feels pity for human beings).
The symphony briefly had a nickname, "Lucus a non lucendo".