Jean Sibelius

Daniel M. Grimley

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Jean Sibelius

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Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) was a Finnish composer, noted especially for his orchestral works, songs, and theater music, and for his innovative approach to musical texture and form. Initially associated with the struggle for Finnish political and cultural independence (Finland was a grand duchy of the Russian empire until 1917), he later sought to distance himself from such explicit nationalism and develop a more universal musical style, culminating in the elliptical single-movement works of the mid-1920s (notably the Seventh Symphony and tone poem Tapiola). For the last thirty years of his life, Sibelius effectively remained silent: the manuscript of an Eighth Symphony was apparently completed but burned in the late 1930s. Sibelius’s critical reception has followed a cyclic trajectory. Celebrated in Finland as a national hero, his symphonies were later acclaimed, especially in Great Britain and the United States. Sibelius’s perceived association with extreme right-wing politics accounted for the relative decline in his standing after World War II, principally at the hands of writers such as Theodor W. Adorno and René Leibowitz. Recent years, however, have seen renewed interest in Sibelius, both in Finland and beyond. Sibelius is now widely acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in early-20th-century music and enjoys a leading place in the contemporary concert repertoire. Language is a central question in Sibelius studies. Finland is officially a bilingual country, with a significant Swedish-speaking minority. Though he learned Finnish at school and as a young man, Sibelius’s first language was Swedish. Writing on Sibelius has followed a similarly multilingual pattern: the most important Sibelius literature has been published in Swedish, Finnish, German, English, and French. The earliest biographies date from 1916, with a substantial flowering of writing on Sibelius in the 1930s. For modern scholarship, however, the most significant landmark was the completion of Erik Tawaststjerna’s rich narrative biography, written in Swedish but published first in Finnish. Tawaststjerna’s study remains a primary resource for all serious Sibelius scholars. The publication of a comprehensive list of Sibelius manuscripts in the National Library of Finland and work toward a systematic thematic catalog formed the foundations for a critical edition of Sibelius’s music, an ongoing project based at the National Library. Important collections of correspondence, Sibelius’s diaries, and other major critical materials have significantly enhanced scholarship in recent years, and Sibelius studies remain in a dynamic state.

Article.  7435 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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