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The Italian word malinconia was very commonly used in the nineteenth century as a title for melancholy pieces. Yet the idea of malinconia covered a myriad of romantic notions, so that simply translating it as "melancholy" does not do it justice. It subsumes many other emotional states as well - all kinds of dejection, gloom, unknown sadness, desperation, depression and even frustration. Each language has evolved its own terms, and interpretations of the word itself also differ from region to region. Malinconia in sunny Italy or Spain is quite different from melancholy in Norway and in Finland, where the winters are harsh and long. The Nordic variant is expressed here in various musical examples; words alone are anyway inadequate.
A string quartet was among the very first works that Edvard Grieg presented after completing his studies in 1861, but the Quartet in G minor, Op. 27, was the only such work to be published in his lifetime. In 1878, while composing it, Grieg wrote that ‘it aims at breadth, to soar, and, above all, at vigorous sound’, and the amplitude of the sound is indeed striking: the generous use of double-stops creates an almost orchestral effect, unusual for the genre. This caused some reviewers to criticize the quartet as being unidiomatic, while others, including Liszt, greeted it with enthusiasm. Some thirty years later, when Jean Sibelius composed his D minor quartet Op. 56, he too had previous experience of writing for the medium, but Op. 56 is the only quartet among his mature works. The often used 'nickname' Voces intimae is often taken to refer to the intimate interchange between the four voices in a quartet, but is probably a more specific allusion to a brief passage in the third movement: Sibelius wrote the remark into a score some time after the work had been published.
Vol. 2 in BIS' complete Sibelius Edition is given over the Finnish master's chamber music for strings and for strings and piano. Fifty years earlier, this release would've included only the "Voces intimae" string quartet. But BIS' 2007 release includes all four quartets and all four piano trios, plus 35 other works or substantial fragments lasting between 13 seconds to 32 minutes. One thing is instantly clear: Sibelius scholarship has made enormous strides since the mid-twentieth century.