02 January 2009

Loss of a Masterpiece

Never thought I'd see the day
Playing with my life this way.

— Sting, The Police (“Deathwish”)

Reading the final chapter (“The Silence of Järvenpää”) of Rickards’ book on Sibelius is a bit like watching Titanic: you know how it’s going to end, and cannot feel good about it; but there is a fascination with the progress of events, and (I think) even more important than this fascination, there is speculation on how things might have gone otherwise, to avoid disaster.

The disaster in the case of Sibelius is, of course, the composer’s act of destroying a basket of his MSS., apparently including the Eighth Symphony whose premiere he once promised to Boston’s Serge Koussevitsky.

I will not here recapitulate that story, partly because to tell it in brief is perforce a kind of infidelity, partly because it would be spoiler (!)

Read the book.


Cato said...

The Case of the Sibelius Eighth Symphony has been discussed on the Good-Music-Guide in earlier days. I recall Eugene Ormandy writing about a visit to Sibelius in the 1950's, and inquiring about the 8th. Sibelius' daughter urged her father to admit that there would be no 8th Symphony. Ormandy commented that the composer "seemed greatly relieved" to admit this.

One musicologist has theorized that alcoholism had sapped the concentration Sibelius needed for an 8th Symphony.

Who knows?

Karl Henning said...

Rickards takes as a working hypothesis that 1933 was the last period of sustained work on the Eighth. And the notorious burning would have been sometime in the '40s.