Sibelius in the Old and New World: Aspects of His Music, Its Interpretation, and Reception

By Rahkonen, Carl | Notes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Sibelius in the Old and New World: Aspects of His Music, Its Interpretation, and Reception


Rahkonen, Carl, Notes


Sibelius in the Old and New World: Aspects of His Music, Its Interpretation, and Reception. Edited by Timothy L. Jackson, Veijo Murtomäki, Colin Davis, and Timo Virtanen. (Inter disziplinäre Studien zur Musik, Band 6.) Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010. [433 p. ISBN 9783631560259. $101.95.] Illustra - tions, music examples, charts, graphs, footnotes, references, index.

Similar to the editors' earlier Sibelius Studies (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Sibelius in the Old and New World is a collection of scholarly articles. Most are based on presentations from the Fourth Inter - national Jean Sibelius Conference, held in January 2005 at the University of North Texas. Four of the twenty-one presentations are missing from this volume, but it does include five articles from other sources. The authors are musicologists, music theoreticians, and performers. The twenty-two articles here range from three to fifty-four pages in length and are organized into four groups.

The first group, "Historical and Cultural Studies," comprises ten articles. Gustav Djupsjöbacka, Rector at the Sibelius Aca - demy, writes about the poets of Sibelius's vocal works. The vast majority of these works are settings of texts from Swedishspeaking Finns, as was Sibelius himself. He had studied Finnish in school, especially the epic-poem Kalevala, which, Djupsjö - backa says, "helped Sibelius form his personal musical idiom" (p. 18). For various reasons he avoided setting the texts of contemporary Finnish poets such as Aleksis Kivi, Eino Leino and V. A. Koskenniemi.

Although concert pianist Folke Gräs - beck's article is entitled "The Five Com - plete Piano Trios," he describes every single movement or fragment composed by Sibelius for piano trio in their historical contexts, which amounts to some seventeen works. Gräsbeck writes from his own experience in playing and studying these works and makes a compelling case for their quality within the piano trio repertory.

The kantele, a zither, is the national instrument of Finland. Conventional wisdom has held that Sibelius did not write music for the kantele, so Suvi Gräsbeck's article on his kantele music is particularly welcome. Sibelius composed a violin obbligato to a traditional five-string kantele waltz ( JS 222), which was published in 1935. Two additional works for large kantele came to light only in 1989, which were probably composed between 1896-98 for his wife's cousin, Aili Järnefelt, who played the instrument and was left an invalid after a train accident.

Michael Holmes's contribution on works for torviseitsikko (brass septet) is a summary of a longer article he submitted to the Historical Brass Society Journal. The international brass ensemble craze of the late nineteenth century appeared in Finland in the form of indigenous brass septets. Holmes has identified at least eight compositions for brass septet by Sibelius, which were written in three separate periods spanning the majority of his career.

Barbara Hong (co-editor with Ruth- Esther Hillila of Historical Dictionary of the Music and Musicians of Finland [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997]), offers an historical essay on "The Friends of Lesko, the Dog." Ferruccio Busoni, one of Sibelius's teachers at the Helsinki Music Institute, arrived in Finland with his Newfoundland dog, Lesko. Busoni's inner circle of students and friends, called the "Leskovites," included Sibelius, writer Adolf Paul, and brothers conductor Armas and artist Eero Järnefelt, who were to become Sibelius's brothers-in-law. They had an enormous influence on his education and early compositions. Hong's article provides an excellent complement to the description of the Leskovites in Glenda Goss's recent biography (Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009]).

Timothy Jackson's article "Sibelius the Political" is the longest (54 pages) and most controversial one in the book, so much so that it prompted a prepublication review in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Peter Monaghan, "A Composer's Ties to Nazi Germany Come Under New Scrutiny," 4 December 2009).

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