Jean Sibelius and His World

Jean Sibelius and His World

Jean Sibelius and His World

Jean Sibelius and His World


Perhaps no twentieth-century composer has provoked a more varied reaction among the music-loving public than Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Originally hailed as a new Beethoven by much of the Anglo-Saxon world, he was also widely disparaged by critics more receptive to newer trends in music. At the height of his popular appeal, he was revered as the embodiment of Finnish nationalism and the apostle of a new musical naturalism. Yet he seemingly chose that moment to stop composing altogether, despite living for three more decades. Providing wide cultural contexts, contesting received ideas about modernism, and interrogating notions of landscape and nature, Jean Sibelius and His World sheds new light on the critical position occupied by Sibelius in the Western musical tradition.

The essays in the book explore such varied themes as the impact of Russian musical traditions on Sibelius, his compositional process, Sibelius and the theater, his understanding of music as a fluid and improvised creation, his critical reception in Great Britain and America, his "late style" in the incidental music for The Tempest, and the parallel contemporary careers of Sibelius and Richard Strauss.

Documents include the draft of Sibelius's 1896 lecture on folk music, selections from a roman clef about his student circle in Berlin at the turn of the century, Theodor Adorno's brief but controversial tirade against the composer, and the newspaper debates about the Sibelius monument unveiled in Helsinki a decade after the composer's death.

The contributors are Byron Adams, Leon Botstein, Philip Ross Bullock, Glenda Dawn Goss, Daniel Grimley, Jeffrey Kallberg, Tomi Mäkelä, Sarah Menin, Max Paddison, and Timo Virtanen.


Philip Ross Bullock

To discuss the music of Jean Sibelius in the context of Russian culture and history is to broach complex questions of national identity and musical influence. Although Finland’s status between 1809 and 1917 as a Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire has been the subject of considerable recent work by revisionist historians, the policies of extreme Russification that were in place between 1899 and Finland’s eventual independence eighteen years later have tended to cast the debate in terms of how a small nation bravely won self-determination despite the predations of a vast and arrogant imperial power. This historiographical discourse has implications for our understanding of Sibelius’s music and personality too, since, as Glenda Dawn Goss suggests, the composer has long served as an icon of Finnish national consciousness: “The real Sibelius has been obscured … by the tendency to see him solely through a nationalistic lens. This view received powerful impetus in connection with Finland’s valiant and prolonged resistance to Russian domination, a resistance that Sibelius’s music came to symbolize in the world.” the consequences of this tendency can be seen in a Finnish review of one of the major Soviet-era publications on Sibelius. Although little about the 1963 biography by Alexander Stupel seems immoderate or controversial today, and indeed, many of its suggestions about Sibelius’s connections to Russian music have since been independently corroborated and further developed, Dmitry Hintze’s negative assessment of Sibelius’s influence on Russian composers from Rimsky-Korsakov to Rachmaninoff is symptomatic of an era when political factors affected attitudes in the writing of national history.

Notwithstanding such political considerations, many of the clichés that have come to be associated with Russian music as Europe’s perpetual “Other”—Oriental exoticism, emotional intensity, technical insufficiency, even, as in the case of the reputation of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, sexual deviance and effeminacy —have meant that commentators have tended to downplay comparisons between Sibelius and Russian composers, preferring . . .

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