Sibelius as a Problem in Musical Historiography      

“For critics incapable of making aesthetic judgments without first establishing a figure’s historical ‘import’, these composers [Sibelius and Busoni] fell into an aesthetic no man’s land by failing to conform to historiographical formulae” (Dahlhaus 1989: 367). Carl Dahlhaus’s statement describes a historiographical problem that is peculiar to the history of art. In what ways do historical judgments depend upon aesthetic ones, and vice versa? This is a complex question, particularly when it is asked about periods of transition, such as the years around 1900.

If the historian’s choice of what belongs to history is based on aesthetic judgments, we must – in order to be able to evaluate the historical construct – pay attention to the origin and substantiation of the aesthetic criteria referred to, both explicitly and implicitly. As to origin, are they criteria of the period to be described, or are they based upon values of the historian’s own time? And how do these two sets of values relate to each other? As for substantiation, what is the logic that supports the argument, and what other factors are involved, be they national, political, cultural, racial, environmental, linguistic, or otherwise?

The purpose of this paper is to examine Sibelius’s position, his Stellenwert, in twentieth-century musical historiography in the light of aesthetic and historical criticism of his music.

Dahlhaus’s sentence, cited above, engages both aesthetic and historical judgment. The relevance of this distinction has been widely discussed and mostly agreed upon (cf. Ingarden 1964; Kulka 1981; Hermerén 1983; Goodman 1985; Oramo 1988). Aesthetic judgment is considered to be, in pure eighteenth-century tradition, an “immediate discerning” which “precedes any reflexion” (Dahlhaus 1999: 7), whereas historical judgment necessarily contains intellectual elements not accessible to perception only, such as knowledge of and acquaintance with other works of art, without which comparison — a methodological necessity in the history of arts — would not be possible.

What makes Dahlhaus’s sentence so intriguing is that here he seems to disagree with himself. In his Foundations of Music History he argues that “it would be abstract and high-handed to make a radical distinction between aesthetic and historical criteria, between what a piece of music is in its own right and what it becomes as a part of a historical context”. Many aesthetic categories, such as novelty and originality, or epigonism and trivialisation, include historical elements, and they “owe their use in the theory of art to a transformation of historical judgments into aesthetic ones” (Dahlhaus 1983: 95). Thus, an “unabridged esthetic experience”, as Dahlhaus calls it in Esthetics of Music (1999: 73), implies historical knowledge.

Dahlhaus is obviously correct in saying that Sibelius’s position in the history of music has been affected by things other than aesthetic considerations. But this seems inevitable. If musical historiography is forced to accept its object of study from the aesthetics of music, as Dahlhaus claims (ibid.: 71), and if aesthetic judgment already includes intellectual elements, such as acts of comparison, then the object’s place, its Stellenwert, in the historical narrative necessarily depends on its relation to other objects and not on its “beauty” taken only as such.

The determination of the Stellenwert of a piece of music may have different intellectual premises. One of them results from the determination of the genre to which it belongs, and its comparison with other pieces belonging to the same genre. Since each genre enjoys a certain amount of prestige in a given period of history, the historical import of a piece of music is already roughly determined by its genre characteristics.

In his “Glosse über Sibelius,” Adorno mentions Valse triste (1903/04) as one of the few compositions by Sibelius that even the Germans might know and calls it “a harmless salon piece” (1998a: 247). What kind of judgment is this? One of its two components, “harmless”, obviously is an aesthetic one. An object that is harmless does not awaken deep emotions; it is neither pleasant nor offensive, and hence a matter of indifference. The other component, “salon piece”, places the object into a genre, and in this case into a genre of bad reputation. “Die Salons lügen, die Gräber sind wahr” (Salons lie, graves are true) was, in 1832, the verdict passed by Heinrich Heine upon the juste milieu of the Parisian upper-class. The latter “gets carried away by the champagne of their hopes” and does not notice that they are leading a phantom life of narrow outlook atop the graves of the Great Revolution (Heine n.d.: 502).[1] Salon music, accordingly, is a sad substitute for genuine music, and its purpose is shallow entertainment by means that spoil and corrupt the taste of its amateurs. A composer who stoops to writing such music does not deserve serious attention.

Adorno’s random observation does not actually hit the mark. He fails (or does not bother) to notice that Valse triste is incidental music, the character of which is determined by its function in a play (Arvid Järnefelt’s Kuolema). Thus, he only sees it in a context created by its use as a salon piece­ – a salon piece of astonishing and irritating popularity, moreover – and therefore a textbook example of what he calls elsewhere the “fetish character of music” (Adorno 1998b: 14–50). In this case an error in judgment of fact, in determining what the piece is all about, led to an error in judgment of value; and judgments of value must be based on correct judgments of fact; otherwise, they are worthless (Dahlhaus 1970: 14).

How differently a judgment of value can fall, when the Sachurteil is correct, is indicated by a statement made by the German conductor and music historian Karl Heinrich Wörner about the same piece. The incidental music to the play Kuolema by Arvid Järnefelt, says Wörner, “includes ‘Valse triste’, a piece of extraordinary and penetrating atmospheric poetry, which made Sibelius’s name familiar in wide circles.”[2] Here Valse triste is considered from within the genre to which it belongs, and acknowledgment of the piece’s function in context makes it possible to evaluate its aesthetic qualities correctly.

The value structure of incidental music is based upon its function. A piece is good if it supports the drama. Detaching a piece of music from its original context and transferring it to another context, one with a different aesthetic and social code, may completely change its valuation. The aesthetic qualities of Valse triste are the same, regardless of the context in which it is considered, but they are evaluated differently in each context. For Adorno, salon music was morally inferior to music as art, as it was for Heine, and therefore whatever aesthetic qualities it might have had were immaterial.

In Sibelius’s time — in recent German historiography he belongs to the “Spätzeit der musikalischen Moderne” (the final period of modern music) — the system of musical genres established during the second half of the nineteenth century was in a state of dissolution. According to Hermann Danuser, the decline of the symphonic poem occurred abruptly, even if Respighi, Koechlin, Sibelius, and others remained faithful to it. The symphonic poem’s prestige did not remain unaffected by the fact that its main protagonist, Richard Strauss, abandoned it after the Symphonia domestica (1902–03) and turned to writing opera (Danuser 1996: 14). Danuser’s assessment is fully in line with that of Dahlhaus, who writes: “Around 1900, however, there was an abrupt turnabout in the impact of musical genres on the history of composition. The symphonic poem succumbed to a resistless process of trivialization following, if not in the hands of, Strauss and Sibelius. Schönberg, who bore the torch of musical progress after Strauss’s conversion to traditionalism, was primarily a composer of chamber music…” (Dahlhaus 1989: 254–255).

Here we can see at work the unyielding forces of history, Hegel’s “Weltgeist” and Adorno’s “Tendenz des Materials”. The key words in Dahlhaus’s view are “on the history of composition” (kompositionsgeschichtlich). Under scrutiny is the technique of composition and the material it uses. A significant composition, aspiring towards the goal of the historical process (identified as such by the historian, ex post facto), uses progressive harmony with emancipated dissonance, whereas a composition relying upon a pre-established harmonic language is doomed to triviality. Strauss and Sibelius, as composers of symphonic poems, are just on the borderline between the “historically significant” and the “trivial”. This is because of Schönberg, who took the torch from Strauss’s hands and chose a path leading to atonal chamber music.

Is this assessment based on an “unabridged aesthetic experience” that implies historical knowledge? Or is it just a testimony of the critic’s incapacity “of making aesthetic judgments without first establishing a figure’s [or, in this case, a phenomenon’s] historical ‘import’”?

What if the assessment of the path chosen by history was wrong? What if the Second Viennese School, with its atonal chamber music, proves to be a side-road of music history and the path it opened in Darmstadt after the Second World War a dead end? What if this became clear early in this, the twenty-first century? What if it turned out that composers not belonging to the Vienna–Darmstadt line of musical development — Sibelius, Nielsen, Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, etc. — are the real “beacons” of twentieth-century music of which Stravinsky speaks in his Poetics of Music? (Stravinsky 1970: 91–93.) The historical import of a composer, phenomenon or school is under constant revaluation, and, as T. S. Eliot puts it, “readjustment”, not by historians alone but by later composers and other actors in musical life. “For the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past” (Eliot 1962: 50).

It is possible, consequently, that the claim that “the symphonic poem succumbed to a resistless process of trivialization following, if not in the hands of, Strauss and Sibelius” will at some point, if not already, prove to be wrong, even preposterous, as far as Sibelius is concerned, since it completely disregards a series of major works, such as Pohjola’s Daugther, Op. 49 (1906), Night Ride and Sunrise, Op. 55 (1908), The Bard, Op. 64 (1913/14), Luonnotar, Op. 70 (1913), The Oceanides, Op. 74 (1914) and Tapiola, Op. 112 (1926), all composed after Strauss had abandoned the genre.[3] One might even question Danuser’s claim that it was Strauss who was the main protagonist of the symphonic poem around 1900. Readjusting history at this point could result, for example, in the following sentence: “Sibelius saved the symphonic poem from an ever-increasing trivialisation as initiated and pursued by Strauss in works like Aus Italien, Op. 16 (1884), Don Juan, Op. 20 (1889), Till Eulenspiegel, Op. 28 (1895), Don Quixote, Op. 35 (1897), Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (1898), and Symphonia domestica, Op. 53 (1903).” This, of course, is a sentence a German historian could never write without losing face on his home ground, although it is possible to give full reason for it in aesthetic and analytic terms acceptable to German historians as well. For what Dahlhaus really means by the “resistless process of trivialization” that he observed in the symphonic poem, is nothing other than the tendency to let form be understood as “background” and content as “figure”, to speak in terms of Gestalt-psychology used by Dahlhaus himself (1998: 197), and this tendency is much more obvious in Strauss than in Sibelius. One could claim that, in Sibelius’s twentieth-century symphonic poems, the roles of form and content have been reversed: form is “figure” and content is “background”. That Sibelius’s late tone poems are closer to absolute than to programmatic music has been noticed by at least one German historian, Karl Heinrich Wörner, who in 1949 wrote the following about Tapiola: “The work is, in all its exciting magnificence, epic and not dramatic. It does not depict and paint, it is expression. The music of Sibelius is from the beginning much more absolute instrumental music than picturesque-programmatic” (1949: 45).[4]

“Music history deals”, says Dahlhaus, “with a canon of musical works which historians concede as ‘belonging to history’, not in the weak sense of merely having once existed and exercised an influence, but in the strong sense of towering above the debris otherwise left behind by the past” (1983: 92). This debris includes, according to Danuser, Sibelius’s orchestral songs, of which he, in an article from 1977, mentions Koskenlaskijan morsiamet (The Ferryman’s Brides), Op. 33 (A. Oksanen, 1897) and Luonnotar (The Spirit of Nature), Op. 70 (Kalevala, 1913), not because the genre was in decline, as the symphonic poem was said to be, but because these songs are non-entities as works of art. They deserve attention only as documents of a certain kind of orchestral song, more dramatic than epic in character and only slightly different from a dramatic scene.[5] Consequently, when writing on orchestral song in Die Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts Danuser does not mention Sibelius at all. For him the major representatives of this genre during the “Spätzeit der musikalischen Moderne” were the late romantic composers Hans Pfitzner and Othmar Schoeck. Mentioned are Pfitzner’s Lethe (Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, 1926) and Schoeck’s Elegie (Lenau, Eichendorff, 1922–23), Gaselen (Gottfried Keller, 1923) and Lebendig begraben (Keller, 1926). “Retrospective late works of the genre” include Schoeck’s Nachhall (Lenau, Claudius, 1954–55) and Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder (Hesse, Eichendorff, 1948) (Danuser 1996: 22).

It is difficult to say whether the preference for Pfitzner and Schoeck over Sibelius and, say, Elgar and Delius as composers of “Orchesterlieder” is based on aesthetic criteria or rather on the assessment that their works in this genre had no historical import, or that these works did belong to the “Spätzeit der musikalischen Moderne”, but only chronologically, not spiritually.[6] The promotion of Pfitzner and Schoeck, furthermore, reveals, one might think, a continental, if not nationalistic or Germanocentric, approach to musical historiography — an approach the tradition of which goes back to the nineteenth century (cf. Karbusicky 1995); and when it comes to Sibelius, it is fully in line with Adorno’s legacy, as Danuser solidly proves (cf. Oramo 2000: 119–128).

If Dahlhaus was skeptical of the symphonic poems of Strauss and Sibelius, in which he noticed signs of decline,[7] he emphatically declared Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony, Op. 63 (1911) a work that is in no “need of special geographical pleading to justify it aesthetically in the midst of musical modernism” (Dahlhaus 1989: 368). It was a remarkable change in attitude towards the music of Sibelius in the post-Adornian tradition of critical writing, that Dahlhaus accepted “aesthetically” a work in which Adorno had seen only an “originality of helplessness” (Adorno 1998a: 248). The aesthetic value Dahlhaus attributes to this work is not “pure beauty”, however, but a value based upon a “compositional feature that places the work squarely within the pale of musical modernism in the strong sense of the term”. Sibelius faced “the problem of how to consolidate a style tending toward the rhapsodic by means of structures lying beneath the level of motivic-thematic processes” (Dahlhaus 1989: 367). By such structures he means relations created by the abstracting different of aspects (interval and melodic contour, pitch and rhythm) from a single musical idea so as to develop them separately (ibid.: 368).

Dahlhaus, in fact, identified in Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony a compositional procedure that he had previously discovered in Mahler’s Ninth and which he describes as follows: “The substance of a musical connection — a connection one feels compelling even without clearly seeing what lies behind it — is not based on motives as clearly cut melodic-rhythmic figures but rather on components of the texture which almost evade an analytic approach: imperceptible remainders of motives, rhythms separated from pitch, or intervals which appear simultaneously and successively by turns.”[8] That it was possible to relate the compositional techniques of Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony to that of Mahler’s Ninth was obviously the reason why Dahlhaus chose to submit this symphony to scrutiny in his Nineteenth-Century Music. He could now base his view on the composer’s historical import, his Stellenwert, on analytical findings the advanced character of which nobody could question without questioning it in Mahler’s music as well; and he could oppose Adorno’s view on Sibelius as a composer who was not only behind the technical standard of his time but did not keep abreast of his own outdated standard either (Adorno 1998a: 248–49).

Thus it seems that Dahlhaus proceeded in exactly the same way as the critics he refers to as being incapable of making aesthetic judgments without first establishing a figure’s historical import. But unlike them he was not imprisoned by Adornian preconceptions; he had an open mind, and he was able to acknowledge artistic quality where he met it. He was not free, however, from the aesthetic and historical thinking of his time and environment. One of his main interests was Schönberg, on whose ideas and music he wrote a large number of studies,[9] and he obviously considered the path leading to and from Schönberg to be the main line of development in twentieth-century music. Progress in music, if it existed, consisted not so much in solving problems as in discovering them, and therefore composers who enlarged musical thinking were the avant-garde, even if nobody could decide who is “in the lead” (Dahlhaus 1988: 46–47).

Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony fitted into the picture of the development of compositional techniques in the “Spätzeit der musikalischen Moderne”, and was, therefore, an obvious choice. The Fifth (1915/19) and the Seventh Symphony (1924), as well as Tapiola (1926), were out of the question for the simple reason that, for Dahlhaus, the nineteenth century in the history of music covered the period between 1814 and 1914. He does mention the Seventh Symphony, but only to say that Sibelius never, not even in this work, surpassed the “state of musical material” he had reached in the Fourth. This comment amounts to saying that the Seventh Symphony does not equal the Fourth in historical import and does not belong to the main line of musical problem-solving, which focused on how to control large forms in an atonal environment.[10]

Dahlhaus apparently compared Sibelius’s development after the Fourth Symphony with Strauss’s rejection of modernism after Elektra (1909), a historical moment that split turn-of-the-century modernism into “modern music” (Neue Musik) and “classicism” (Dahlhaus 1989: 335–36). Danuser, to whose domain in the Neues Handbuch der Musikwissenschaft the follow-up of the story belongs, does not draw this parallel. For him Strauss’s conversion was “an unexpected retreat in the state of musical material” (1996: 15), whereas Sibelius’s late orchestral works (Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, Tapiola) were nothing more than the continuation of the national tradition he had created in orchestral and choral music at the beginning of the century (ibid.: 219). This means, of course, that Danuser, unlike Dahlhaus, did not reckon even the Fourth Symphony as a part of turn-of-the-century modernism. Nor did he value the symphonies of Nielsen, which he only mentions en passant. Instead, he paid more attention to the symphonies of Vaughan Williams, which he discusses at some length, while pointing out that the British symphonist closely followed Sibelius when it came to problems of form and symphonic character (ibid.: 220). This seems somewhat controversial with regard to the methodological principle that a composer who creates a concept is historically more important than another who just applies it. Obviously, the symphonies of Vaughan Williams appealed to him aesthetically more than did the symphonies of Sibelius, over which Adorno’s verdict was hanging like the sword of Damocles.

Danuser ultimately nails down Sibelius’s place in history as a nationalist composer by assuming that the extraordinary respect his music once enjoyed in the U.S.A. was, in the first place, based on the impression that he had — with his large-scale, yet “easily understandable works of some artistic ambition” (my italics) — implemented in Finnish national music something that America was looking for (ibid.: 221). Nothing much had changed from the days of Walter Niemann, for whom Sibelius’s music was pure Heimatkunst (Niemann 1906: 237; 1913: 273–297).

Whether or not Sibelius was a simple nationalist or inhabited an aesthetic no man’s land in German historical criticism, his lot in France has not been much better. There he was classified as a nationalist, not only at the beginning of the century but ever since, at least until the biography of Marc Vignal (1965).[11] Yet even if some contemporary French composers have discovered in his symphonies structures “carrying a future in themselves instead of just being charged by the past”, as Hugues Dufourt put it (in Toivanen 2000), there still is a long way to go to a readjustment of his position in French critical writing.

In England and the U.S.A. Sibelius has never been a problem or an enigma, in the same sense as he was in Germany and France. In the former two countries, his music has had both champions and adversaries among critics, but his treatment in history books has been less biased and emotional than in Germany, where he became entangled, after World War II, in the country’s reckoning with its political past. But this reason only does not explain why Sibelius is seen in another light in British and American historiography. More important is the fact that, in those countries, the approach to the period in music history in which Sibelius was compositionally active, is fundamentally different from the approaches that Germany and France take to the same period.

Dahlhaus discusses Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony in Chapter 6 (1889–1914) of his Nineteenth-Century Music under “Program Music and the Art Work of Ideas”, together with Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung and Mahler’s symphonies, his point of departure being Schopenhauer’s and Wagner’s ideas on programme music. In Danuser’s Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts Sibelius is mentioned in the context of the “Spätzeit der musikalischen Moderne”, which was dominated by Strauss, Mahler, Pfitzner, Schoeck and Reger and included early works of Schönberg and Berg. Sibelius, along with Elgar and Nielsen, is mentioned again in Chapter 3 (1932–1950) under “Symphonik und Konzert” as a kind of precursor to Walton, Vaughan Williams, and some American composers.

Gerald Abraham discusses Sibelius in The Concise Oxford History of Music under “Individual Eclectics” in a chapter entitled “The Decline and Fall of Romanticism” (1893–1918). He sees Busoni as standing alone, “individual despite his eclecticism”; Sibelius was “another such”, and Delius a third (Abraham 1991: 805). The essence of Sibelius’s development consisted in the “elision of structural inessentials, a process carried to the extreme in [Symphony] No. 4 (1911) … a compression paralleled but not excelled in his Seventh and last Symphony (1924)” (ibid.). Abraham then sums up: “Nothing could be more completely antithetic in every respect to the contemporary Germanic symphony” (ibid.). In the corresponding chapter, “The Apogee and Decline of Romanticism: 1890–1914” of The Modern Age 1890–1960 (vol. 10 of The New Oxford History of Music), published some years earlier, Abraham first discusses the symphonies of Sibelius and Nielsen one after the other under “Scandinavia”. Influenced by Bruckner’s ostinati and by the melodic twists in Borodin and Tchaikovsky, Sibelius “was the antipode of Mahler, reacting in his symphonies — even in the First (1899) — against all those procedures in the nineteenth-century symphony which Mahler developed further” (1974: 37–38). Later on, under “Problems of Structure”, he observes the same tendency of “tightening thematic procedures” in composers as different as Schoenberg and Sibelius. Both “were either consciously or unconsciously gradually sacrificing emotional meaning and consequence to musical constructivism. At the same time, by packing more and more intense significance into confined musical space, they brought instrumental coherence to the edge of a precipice from which Sibelius turned back in his Fifth Symphony but from which Schoenberg boldly leaped in the Klavierstücke, Op. 11, no. 3 (1909)” (ibid.: 74–75). In this view Sibelius is different, individual, even progressive up to a certain point, but, when viewed in a full picture, he still is a late Romantic composer, not one who sows the seeds of the future.

A completely new approach to Sibelius in a history book is taken by Arnold Whittall in his Music Since the First World War. He formulates an idea that could not be more completely antithetic to German musical criticism: the idea that “a relatively conservative tonalist like Sibelius may actually be more radical in his treatment of a traditional structural concept, such as sonata form, than contemporary serialists” (Whittall 1977: 10). Whittall does not share Abraham’s view of Sibelius as turning back from the precipice in the Fifth Symphony. His last three symphonies, on the contrary, “stem from the determination to pursue the implications of the masterly Fourth, rather than to retreat from its austere perfection into a safer world of the better known and the well tried”. With reference to Robert Simpson’s description of the first movement of the Fifth Symphony, Whittall concludes: “It is scarcely surprising (though profoundly depressing) that such a radical yet organic transformation of the traditional sonata design should have passed uncomprehended” (ibid.: 18). The Sixth Symphony, which Whittall describes as “the symphony par excellence about tonality” (ibid.: 19), and the Seventh, “the sheer originality” of which “outdoes that of many younger composers of the time, whose styles were much more adventurous than their musical structures” (ibid.: 20–21), have elicited even less analytic attention.

Whittall discusses Sibelius’s late works in the first part of his book, “The Survival of Tonality”, and couples him with Nielsen, Vaughan Williams and some other symphonists of the era (Holst, Roussel). There follow two chapters dedicated to Bartók and Stravinsky, respectively, another chapter on symphonic music (Hindemith, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and others), and finally a chapter on opera. This disposition, based on genre considerations (except for Bartók and Stravinsky, who tower above the other composers) is very practical as compared to that of Danuser, who operates more with stylistic criteria. Sibelius is in the right company here, and his Stellenwert is much more pronounced than it is in German musical historiography.[12]

In 1999 Whittall published a new book, Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century, “in which the core chapters of Music Since the First World War are retained, revised, and in some cases radically rewritten…” (1999: 6). There is a new chapter, “Taking Steps: 1900–1918”, which discusses the wide variety of musical trends during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Here Sibelius is discussed between Mahler and Strauss, with the focus on Symphonies 4 and 5 (ibid.: 30–32). The discussion continues in the next chapter, “Symphonic Music After 1918: I”, the bulk of which is dedicated to Nielsen, Sibelius and Vaughan Williams, three composers who wrote symphonies after 1918 while being “independent of the German late romantic symphonic mainstream” that culminated in Mahler (ibid.: 52). Here the focus is primarily on Symphonies 6 and 7, as it is in the previous book, and the text has been only slightly rewritten. The new feature is that Whittall refers to recent Sibelius research by Tim Howell, James Hepokoski, and Veijo Murtomäki which — a kind of research that is very much in line with his own previous ideas. One may hope that the new perspectives on Sibelius opened up in the 1990s will someday find their way into continental music–history writing as well.
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— (1954). Neue Musik in der Entscheidung. Mainz: B. Schott’s Söhne.

Sibelius Forum II. Proceedings from the Third International Jean Sibelius Conference
Helsinki December 7–10, 2000, edited by Matti Huttunen, Kari Kilpeläinen and Veijo Murtomäki. (Helsinki: Sibelius Academy. Department of Composition and Music Theory, 2003, 69–80).

[1] “Die Salons lügen, die Gräber sind wahr. Aber ach! Die Toten, die kalten Sprecher der Geschichte, reden vergebens zur tobenden Menge, die nur die Sprache der Leidenschaft versteht.”
[2] “In der musikalischen Umrahmung des Schauspiels ‘Kuolema’ (‘Der Tod’) von Arvid Zärnefelt [sic!] findet sich die ‘Valse triste’, ein Stück seltsamer und eindringlicher Stimmungspoesie, das den Namen Sibelius weiten Kreisen vertraut machte” (Wörner 1954: 171).
[3] Did he actually abandon it after Symphonia domestica, Op. 53 (1902-3) as Danuser claims? Is not Eine Alpensymphonie, Op. 64 (1911-15) a symphonic poem as was the previous work?
[4] “Das Werk ist, bei aller spannenden Grossartigkeit, episch und nicht dramatisch. Es schildert und malt nicht, sondern ist Ausdruck. Die Musik von Sibelius ist von Anfang an weit mehr absolute Instrumentalmusik als tonmalerisch-programmatisch.”
[5] Danuser (1977: 434). Danuser’s opinion of Luonnotar is all the more interesting since this work has been praised by other scholars as “one of the most remarkable scores of modern times” (Gray 1934: 86), and recently as one of Sibelius’s “most impressive and extreme utterances” (Hepokoski (1996: 122). But in this case, the false identification of the genre to which Luonnotar belongs hardly affected Danuser’s judgment, which could have been even more negative if he had considered the piece as a “tone poem”.
[6] Elgar’s Sea Pictures (1899) are not mentioned by either Dahlhaus or Danuser; nor are Delius’s Sakuntala (1889), Maud (1891), Cynara (1907/29) or Songs of Sunset (1911), which Danuser discusses at some length in his article (1977: 434-435). Dahlhaus’s notion of “Ungleichzeitigkeit des Gleichzeitigen” (the non-contemporaneity of the contemporary) seems to be at work here.
[7] Whether this was a “valuation” or a “value-relation” or both is not quite clear; cf. Dahlhaus’s discussion of these concepts (1983: 89).
[8] “Die Substanz des musikalischen Zusammenhangs — eines Zusammenhangs, den man auch dann als zwingend empfindet, wenn man ihn nicht durchschaut — bilden weniger Motive im Sinne fest umrissener melodisch-rhytmischer Prägungen als vielmehr Teilmomente des Tonsatzes, die sich dem Zugriff der Analyse fast entziehen: unscheinbare Motivreste, Rhythmen getrennt von der Tonfolge oder Intervalle, die abwechselnd in simultaner und sukzessiver Gestalt erscheinen.” (Dahlhaus 1974: 297).
[9] Dahlhaus (1978); see also, Dahlhaus (1988: 777-815).
[10] Hepokoski puts it even more sharply (1993: 2): “Dahlhaus’s point is nothing less than that after the Fourth Symphony Sibelius’s music no longer belongs to history.”
[11] See Henri-Claude Fantapié (1993), Jean Sibelius et la France, au miroir des écrits musicographiques 1900-1965, in Boréales 54/57 (Colloque international Jean Sibelius), 59-82. René Leibowitz’s pamphlet Sibelius, le plus mauvais compositeur du monde (1955) deserves attention only as a literary theft revealing the intellectual and moral decline among the champions of “Schoenberg et son école”. Cf. also, Ilkka Oramo, Sibelius, le plus mauvais compositeur du monde, in Boréales 54/57, 51-58.
[12] Yet to my knowledge there is only one book on twentieth-century music — Wörner’s Musik der Gegenwart (1949) — in which Sibelius is the only composer to receive a chapter dedicated entirely to him.

About Ilkka Oramo

Professor of Music Theory, emeritus
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