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Cambridge University Press
The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius

The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius

by Daniel M. Grimley, Jonathan Cross
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This Companion provides an up-to-date introduction to the life and music of Finland's greatest composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Divided into four sections, it explores Sibelius's early career, his major musical achievements, historical reception and influence, and the performance and interpretation of his work. Sibelius emerges as one of the most striking figures in twentieth-century music. The book will be of interest to performers and the general public as well as serious scholars.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521815529
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 12/09/2010
Series: Cambridge Companions to Music Series
Pages: 294
Product dimensions: 6.85(w) x 9.72(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Daniel Grimley is a Lecturer in music at the University of Nottingham. He is coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Elgar (forthcoming), and has written articles on the music of Carl Nielsen in Music Analysis and The Musical Quarterly. Current projects include books on Grieg and on landscape in Nordic Music, 1890-1930.

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The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius
Cambridge University Press
0521815525 - The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius - by Daniel M. Grimley


In his poignantly titled short story, The Silence, Julian Barnes describes a composer in his old age, alone and isolated, reflecting with whimsical bitterness on his past musical triumphs in an age before the world was swept by the carnage of world war and the angular sounds of musical modernism.1 Largely fictional, though based heavily on the final volume of the English translation of Erik Tawaststjerna's biography,2 Barnes's story nevertheless reveals much about the way in which, outside Finland at least, our perception of Sibelius is still shadowed by the long twilight of his career. Many of the photographs taken of Sibelius at Ainola during his eighties, half-lit and austere, serve to reinforce Arnold Bax's famous description of the composer as 'an arresting, formidable-looking fellow, born of dark rock and northern forest',3 explicitly eliding national topography and the composer's individual physiognomy with a sense of intense creative alienation. From this perspective, Sibelius's apparently conservative, peripheralised position on the very edge of the Continental European musical tradition seems strikingly at odds with the continued popularity and vitality of his music in the concert hall.

Recent Sibelius scholarship, however, has begun to deconstruct this image. As James Hepokoski has written, the study of the various historical reactions to Sibelius's music has revealed 'some of the most ideologically charged moments in twentieth-century reception history'.4 Balilla Pratella, writing in a 'Manifesto of Futurist Musicians' in 1910, hailed Sibelius as a leading musical futurist, a dynamic youthful image far removed from the backward-looking figure of Barnes's narrative.5 Perceived in his full historical context, Sibelius emerges as a key player in a rich cultural milieu that embraced both the birth of Finnish nationalism and the emergence of a distinctively Nordic modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century. During his early years in Berlin, Sibelius's contemporaries included August Strindberg and Edvard Munch. Though Sibelius's uncomfortable relationship with Germany during the Second World War, surely dictated by Finland's precarious position on the edge of the Soviet Union, contributed significantly to the relative decline in his international reputation in the 1950s, Sibelius's work has once again re-emerged as a highly influential force in twentieth-century music. Sibelius's music thus challenges our received view of twentieth-century musical development as a straightforward linear progression from late Romanticism through modernism to serialism and the avant-garde. Furthermore, Sibelius's work forces us to re-engage with the way in which we understand the construction of national identity in music. The precise relationship between Sibelius's work and Finnish musical identity is a complex and constantly shifting one, as the meaning and significance of his music is interpreted and reassessed by each succeeding generation.

The contributions in this volume respond positively to this richer and more diverse perception of Sibelius's life and career. The chapters are grouped into discussions of biography, Sibelius's works, their reception and interpretation. Though a number of recurrent themes run throughout the book, especially notions of landscape and ideology, gender and eroticism, and musical influence, the critical approaches adopted are deliberately wide-ranging. Matti Huttunen's discussion places Sibelius within the context of Finnish musical life in the nineteenth century, and examines his emergence as a 'national composer' from a theoretical and historical perspective. Glenda Dawn Goss, whose work on Sibelius and the American music critic Olin Downes revealed one of the most compelling episodes in Sibelius reception, examines Sibelius's critical year in Vienna in 1890-1. Sibelius's youthful encounter with Viennese modernism, Goss suggests, catalysed his composition of Kullervo, his musical breakthrough and a work that was subsequently hailed as the birth of a truly Finnish musical style.

Stephen Downes's analysis of Sibelius's early symphonic works offers a striking new perspective on some of Sibelius's most familiar music, hearing it as suffused with an intense musical eroticism but at the same time fractured by a 'modernist sublime'. The mythic (male) heroic voice of Sibelius's early music, despite its seemingly confident assertion of Finnish national identity, is ultimately a tragic one. Meanwhile, Arnold Whittall, in his discussion of the later symphonies, acknowledges the tension in Sibelius's music between the conflicting polarities of late Romantic modernism and neoclassicism, but suggests that the apparent contradiction between these musical impulses may have had a positive, creative impact. The fundamental formal drive in Sibelius's later symphonies, Whittall argues, is towards synthesis, but the continuing outward growth of Sibelius's formal and expressive syntax leads irrevocably towards the silence of the final years. Jukka Tiilikainen's detailed account of the genesis of Sibelius's Violin Concerto likewise offers a fascinating insight into Sibelius's compositional activity. The two different versions of the work trace Sibelius's changing attitude towards composing for the violin. Far from the sense of improvisational fluency that much of the music inspires, Sibelius's creative imagination emerges through his various rewritings, drafts and revisions of the concerto as an often dark and difficult one.

Since his monograph on the Fifth Symphony,6 James Hepokoski's work has redefined Sibelius's place within the symphonic canon. Here, in his discussion of Sibelius's most popular work, Finlandia, Hepokoski draws attention to the tone poem's innovative musical language and its complex cultural context. Heard as part of a series of musical tableaux vivants, as it was originally intended, the narrative unfolded in Finlandia seems even more vivid and compelling than before. Daniel M. Grimley's survey of the tone poems focuses on the role of landscape within Sibelius's music. Landscape is as much a subjective as pictorial presence in Sibelius's work, and landscape processes offer a powerful analogy for the temporal lines of perspective that run through Sibelius's music. The intention is to shift the idea of landscape from the domain of reception to that of musical perception and signification. Jeffrey Kallberg places Sibelius's songs in the context of a modernist eroticism. From the epic Karelianist scale of the early Runeberg settings to the more concentrated expression of the op. 50 collection, Sibelius's songs reveal an intense preoccupation with characteristically fin-de-siècle themes of longing, desire and the exotic.

In his extensive survey of Sibelius's work in smaller genres, Veijo Murtomäki argues urgently for a critical reassessment of Sibelius's achievement as a miniaturist. Too often, Murtomäki suggests, Sibelius's miniatures have been regarded as of lesser quality and importance than his symphonic works. As Murtomäki demonstrates, closer attention to Sibelius's smaller-scale works can reveal new sides to his complex musical personality. The conventional understanding of Sibelius's miniatures as 'potboilers' is an opinion born as much from particular musical prejudices (against certain kinds of popular musics, perhaps) as from a thorough engagement with the works themselves.

The discussions of reception begin with Ilkka Oramo's fascinating account of Sibelius's ambivalent relationship with the younger generation of Finnish composers. As the 'national composer', Sibelius cast a long shadow over twentieth-century Finnish music. Outside Finland, the work of such figures as Leevi Maadetoja, Uuno Klami and Aare Merikanto, some of the most individual voices in Finnish music, is barely known yet deserves greater recognition. Tomi Mäkelä's essay addresses the most problematic issue in Sibelius reception. From his persistent attempts to achieve critical success in Berlin in the early 1900s, to his distanced relationship with the Third Reich and the subsequent backlash against the Anglo-American Sibelius cult of the 1930s, Germany emerges as a central theme in Sibelius's life and career. The German construction of 'Nordic music' in the early twentieth century, and its implications for Nordic composers themselves, remains a significant area for future historical research. Peter Franklin's discussion offers a complementary account of the British reception of Sibelius's work. Though the ideological lines here may seem less sinister, given the fate of Sibelius's music in Germany, they are no less powerfully drawn. The significance of Sibelius's work in Britain during the early twentieth century was the product of a complex web of aesthetic and political factors, not least of which was the sheer sonorous impact of Sibelius's music. It is the sonic surface of Sibelius's work, as well as his innovative approach to large-scale structure, that Julian Anderson identifies as being among the crucial components of Sibelius's influence on contemporary music. In the last twenty years, Sibelius has re-emerged as one of the most important sources of inspiration for composers working across the broadest range of contemporary musical styles.

The two final chapters offer contrasting views on the interpretation of Sibelius's work. Bethany Lowe's discussion of recorded interpretations of Sibelius's music draws on recent developments in performance scholarship, as well as a more multivalent definition of interpretative authenticity, to discuss the ways in which a distinctively Sibelian performing tradition has changed and evolved. In the closing chapter, two leading international conductors, Sir Colin Davis and Osmo Vänskä, offer their thoughts on the interpretation of Sibelius's music. The fact that their views often seem to collide, or, at least, lead in widely different interpretative directions, attests to the continuing vitality and richness of Sibelius's work in the concert hall.

Though no single consensus emerges from these individual contributions as to the meaning or 'truth' of Sibelius's work, they are nevertheless guided by a fundamental acknowledgement of Sibelius's centrality in twentieth-century music. Though the image presented by Julian Barnes's short story is a striking and evocative one, it is only a small part of the infinitely more complex cultural context in which Sibelius's music was created, performed, and understood. As we continue to reassess our conventional understanding of musical modernism from an increasingly distant historical perspective, the continuing relevance and significance of Sibelius's work will surely emerge ever more strongly than before.


Forging a voice: perspectives on Sibelius's biography

1 The national composer and the idea of Finnishness: Sibelius and the formation of Finnish musical style


Sibelius as a nineteenth-century and post-nineteenth-century composer

Sibelius's historical position is tricky to define. He continued the tradition of harmonic tonality well into the 1920s, but in a way that was far removed from the neo-tonalities of Stravinsky, Hindemith or Les Six. When reading historical accounts of Sibelius's music, it is easy to recognise a sense of embarrassment with regard to Sibelius's work. He is sometimes compared with Beethoven, and sometimes included in the same category as modernist composers such as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, and Max Reger.1 The comparison with Strauss is not an implausible one. Both composers approached atonality around 1910: Strauss in Salome (1903/1905) and Elektra (1909) and Sibelius in his Fourth Symphony (1911) and Luonnotar (1912). Neither composer, however, followed Schoenberg's line of development, but turned instead to a more tonal musical style. For Strauss the turning point was Der Rosenkavalier (1911), and for Sibelius The Oceanides (1914) and the Fifth Symphony (1914-19).2 Thus, the idea of placing Sibelius in the same historical category as Mahler and Strauss can be defended from the point of view of technical musical details such as tonality, but if ideological and cultural factors are considered, a more elastic categorisation is needed.

Unlike Strauss or Mahler, Sibelius was regarded as a 'national' composer. Sibelius's early masterpieces of the 1890s were strongly national in character, and, even if he later attempted to distance himself from the national romantic idiom, he remained strongly associated with the idea of the national composer. This does not mean that his music should necessarily be understood solely in terms of nineteenth-century musical aesthetics. But in general, and at least from the Finnish point of view, his music can (and historically should) be understood with reference to the reception of his early works. The reception of Sibelius's music in Finland was essentially national in character up to the Second World War. New ideas appeared already in the 1930s, and from the 1940s Sibelius scholarship concentrated largely on the structural features of his symphonies. In this chapter, I shall try to elucidate the origins and the most important characteristics of the national Sibelius cult before the Second World War, and his significance in the formation of a Finnish musical identity. Many of the ideas that originated in the 1880s and 1890s are still present in writings on Sibelius to the present day.

The concept of Finnish nationalism

Oskar Merikanto (pseudonym 'O'), music critic of the newspaper Päivälehti, summarised the essence of the national reception of Sibelius's work with the single sentence, 'we recognise these [tones] as ours, even if we have never heard them as such'. The quotation is taken from an article that appeared on the same day, 28 April 1892, that Sibelius's Kullervo was premiered in Helsinki. Merikanto was himself a composer of popular songs and operas as well as a competent organist and conductor. He did not, however, regard himself as the young genius's competitor, but rather tried to encourage Finnish music's rising star. Merikanto's statement contains two important ideas: first, the sense of ownership and possession ('we recognise these tones as ours'), and second the unconscious means of perception ('even if we have never heard them as such'). According to Merikanto, the understanding of national music is - and should be - immediate and intuitive. For Merikanto, an ideal listener should recognise the national character of the music in Kullervo spontaneously, without what Merikanto regarded as unnecessary analytical or (in the pejorative sense) intellectual effort. The idea of ownership is also crucial. Possession is permanent in the sense that no one who owns something can be forced to give away what he or she owns against his or her own will. Merikanto's seemingly innocent utterance has a clear reference to the idea of national independence, to something that was merely a dream in 1892 but which was eventually attained in 1917.

Merikanto's expression 'even if we have never heard them as such' also refers to the historical importance of Sibelius's work, as well as to the originality of Sibelius's compositional process. In Kullervo, and in the works that followed it, Sibelius created something new. Nowadays, national art can easily be perceived as old-fashioned and aesthetically weary, but in the 1890s national art was new and modern. As we shall see later, the idea that Sibelius created Finnish national music even had a Hegelian significance in the minds of early-twentieth-century Finnish writers. But Sibelius's creation was also original in a purely aesthetic sense. As has been often observed, the idea of originality contains two suppositions: firstly, that an original work of art was created through inspiration, and secondly that originality referred to innovation.3 An original work of art created something that had never been heard or seen before, or, in Merikanto's words, never previously 'heard as such'. Sibelius's work - from the early pieces of his student years to the Seventh Symphony (1924) and Tapiola (1926) - was created within the national aesthetic atmosphere described by Merikanto. But this does not necessarily mean that all aspects of Sibelius's output should be understood as expressions of aesthetic originality.

Preceding events

After Finland became an autonomous Russian grand duchy in 1809, the first stirrings of nationalism emerged in a cultural-political movement called 'Turku Romanticism', based in the old Finnish capital in south-western Finland. Musically, Turku Romanticism was characterised by the formation of student choral societies. The idea of student choirs had spread to Finland from Sweden in the early nineteenth century.4 Later, in the 1890s, student choirs premiered an important number of Sibelius's early choral works. The leading figures in the Turku Romantic movement imagined a choral music that would be sung in the Finnish language. Most of the choir members were Swedish-speaking, however, and consequently unable to sing in Finnish. Turku Romanticism strove to promote the common destiny of Finland and Sweden as a pan-nationalist ideal, and direct artistic attacks against Russia came only later. In 1828 the Turku Academy was moved to Helsinki, where it became the city's university and occupied impressive new buildings designed by the German architect Carl Engel on Senate Square. As a result, the centre of Finnish musical culture shifted to the new capital.

From 1835, the outstanding figure in Helsinki's musical life was Fredrik (originally Friedrich) Pacius. Pacius was a German-born composer, who had received a solid musical education in Kassel under Ludwig Spohr and Moritz Hauptmann. After playing violin for a few years at the Stockholm Court Orchestra, he was appointed to the post of music teacher at the University of Helsinki in 1835. He swiftly took the capital's whole musical life under his directorship. Pacius's most important works were the opera Kung Karls Jakt ('King Karl's Hunt', 1851), which vividly upheld the ideal of Finnish-Swedish unification, and the hymn Vårt land ('Fatherland', 1848), which later became the Finnish national anthem. To be sure, the tone of Pacius's operas and songs - Vårt land, for instance - refers obviously to German Romanticism. Weber, Mendelssohn and Spohr are the composers who are most easily associated with Pacius's works. This does not, however, diminish the immanent national value of Pacius's music, and its importance in the subsequent formation of a Finnish musical style.

Arguably the most important symbolic event in the development of Finnish national identity in the nineteenth century was the publication in 1835 of the national epic, the Kalevala, a collection of folk tales transcribed and edited by Elias Lönnrot. The Kalevala had a strong national significance especially for Finnish-speaking Finns, because it was believed to present evidence of the long cultural history of the Finnish people. Nowadays, the Kalevala is more often seen as an essentially literary work of Lönnrot's own creation, rather than an ethnographically genuine collection of folk poetry. This does not detract, however, from the volume's tremendous formative influence on Finnish artists, writers and musicians. The earliest orchestral work to use subject matter drawn from the Kalevala was Filip von Schantz's Kullervo overture of 1860. Schantz's overture was premiered at the opening celebration of the New [Swedish] Theatre in Helsinki on 28 November 1860, when the theatre orchestra was conducted by Schantz himself. Though Schantz's work depicts its subject with characteristically bold and sombre gestures, the general style of the overture is again close to that of German models, rather than announcing a distinctively Finnish musical voice. Later on, Kalevala motives were used by Robert Kajanus, the founder of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. The most well-known of Kajanus's orchestral works is the symphonic poem Aino of 1885. Aino was clearly steeped in Wagnerian late Romanticism, but, significantly for the genesis of Sibelius's Kullervo, the work ends with a section in which a chorus is added to the orchestra.5

In studying the formation of a Finnish musical style, it is important to remember that musical compositions were not simply objects of aesthetic contemplation, but live performance events that became vital points of focus for national expression. Pacius's King Karl's Hunt, for example, inspired Helsinki's musical circles mostly on account of its sense of occasion. Similarly, his hymn Fatherland would not have achieved its status outside Helsinki's academic circles had it not been taken up and popularised by the singer Bror Broms. On his concert tours, which extended throughout the whole of Finland, Broms sang Fatherland theatrically, dressed in the costume of a Finnish farmer in a hay field. It was against this background, of music as an increasingly intense form of cultural-political practice, that Sibelius's work first emerged in the early 1890s.

The two music cultures of Helsinki

In 1885, Sibelius became a student of the Helsinki Music Institute (nowadays known as the Sibelius Academy). At this time, Helsinki's musical culture was characterised by a schism between the city's two leading musical personalities, Martin Wegelius and Robert Kajanus. When Wegelius founded his Music Institute in 1882, he hoped to promote himself as the leading figure in the capital's musical life. His ambition, however, was seriously challenged when Robert Kajanus, who was ten years younger, founded the Helsinki Orchestral Society (from 1914 known as the Helsinki City Orchestra, and nowadays the Helsinki Philharmonic) in the same year. During the following years, Kajanus succeeded in establishing his orchestra as the first permanent professional orchestra in Finland, but at first Wegelius's students were not permitted to visit the orchestra's concerts. Superficially, the conflict between Wegelius and Kajanus was simply a personal struggle for power. On a deeper level, however, the conflict concerned the fundamental aims and objectives of Finnish musical culture in Helsinki. As musical personalities, Wegelius and Kajanus were deeply opposed. Before Wegelius devoted himself to music, he had taken a Masters degree in aesthetics at the University of Helsinki. Kajanus, in contrast, had not even graduated from the high school. Both men were ambitious, but their aspirations were totally different. As a result, the Music Institute and the Orchestral Society were very different kinds of organisations. Before the Music Institute was founded, the Finnish Senate had proposed the establishment of a multidisciplinary Academy of Arts. The plan did not materialise, and Wegelius founded his specialist School of Music instead. Kajanus's orchestra did not have a correspondingly 'official' origin, but was driven rather by Kajanus's own personality. Nevertheless, a greater sense of national feeling was identified with the orchestra than with the Music Institute, not least because it was the orchestra that performed the first great national works in Finnish music.

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

Introduction Daniel M. Grimley; Part I. Forging a Voice: Perspectives on Sibelius Biography: 1. The national nomposer and the idea of Finnishness Matti Huttunen; 2. Vienna and the genesis of Jean Sibelius's Kullervo: 'Durchführung zum Teufel!' Glenda Dawn Goss; Part II. Musical Works: 3. The early symphonies: pastoral idylls, erotic anxieties and heroic subjectivities Stephen Downes; 4. The genesis of the violin concerto Jukka Tiilikainen; 5. The later symphonies Arnold Whittall; 6. 'Finlandia Awakens!': Sibelius and Finlandia James Hepokoski; 7. The tone poems: genre, landscape and structural perspective Daniel M. Grimley; 8. Finnish Modern: love, sex, and style in Sibelius's songs Jeffrey Kallberg; 9. Sibelius the miniaturist Veijo Murtomäki; Part III. Influence and Reception: 10. The Finnish legacy: sub umbra Sibelii Ilkka Oramo; 11. Sibelius in Germany: Wahrhaftigkeit beyond Allnatur Tomi Mäkelä; 12. Sibelius in Britain Peter Franklin; 13. Sibelius and contemporary music Julian Anderson; Part IV. Interpreting Sibelius: 14. Different kinds of fidelity: interpreting Sibelius on record Bethany Lowe; 15. Interpreting Sibelius Sir Colin Davis and Osmo Vänskä in conversation with Daniel M. Grimley Sir Colin Davis, Osmo Vänskä and Daniel M. Grimley.

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