Latest Posts

Sibelius and the Burning of the Eighth Symphony – Lyric Say

In 1962, pianist Harriet Cohen informed a narrative about composer Jean Sibelius on the radio.

Harriet Cohen interview from 1962

“I saw him a lot in Helsinki. I got awfully friendly with him. I used to tease him a lot, and he liked that.”

“Did you ever ask him about the mysterious eighth symphony?” the interviewer asks her.

“Well, I think that the reason… I did once tease him a bit, but I think the reason that he was so fond of me was that I didn’t ask the awkward questions. I did say when we’d been sitting up having a wonderful time with some other composers, and I said to him, ‘I don’t believe there is an eighth symphony. It’s absolutely all rot. You’re just talking about it to get attention, you see.’ And everyone roared with laughter…”

So what was the Sibelius eighth symphony all about? Why was it mysterious? Why was everybody so skeptical? And was it certainly “all rot”?

Sibelius and His Symphonies

Jean Sibelius

Jean Sibelius

Symphonies had been a Sibelius specialty, and far of his popularity rested on them.

His seventh symphony was accomplished in 1924. In the present day, it’s considered as certainly one of his nice masterpieces.

It’s no shock that expectations had been excessive for an eighth.

Author’s Block within the Twenties

In a September 1926 diary entry, Sibelius wrote, “I offered to create something for America.” On the time, this cryptic remark was the extent of his commentary on the topic.

Within the autumn of the next yr, he confessed to New York Occasions critic Olin Downes that he’d been making progress on a brand new symphony. He even claimed that he’d gotten as far as writing down the primary two actions and had written the others in his head.

Sadly, by 1928, his hopes had light. He started the yr by writing to his spouse that the brand new symphony could be “wonderful.” Nevertheless, by December, a Danish writer inquired after the eighth, and Sibelius confessed he hadn’t but written something down in any respect.

Koussevitzky Steps In

Serge Koussevitzky

Serge Koussevitzky

In 1930, a protracted back-and-forth started with Serge Koussevitzky, the music director of the Boston Symphony, to whom he’d promised his eighth symphony.

In January, he was elusive. He couldn’t “say when it [would] be ready.” By August, he promised a rating by the spring of 1931.

Then, in the summertime of 1931, Sibelius made an announcement: the symphony was nearly able to be despatched to the printers. Koussevitzky was ecstatic, and he took out an article within the Boston Night Transcript promoting the premiere. Sibelius responded to that by saying the symphony wouldn’t be prepared in spite of everything.

This irritating sport of cat and mouse continued by way of 1933, at which level Koussevitzky gave up. He gave a cycle of Sibelius symphonies, whose spotlight was meant to be the premiere of the eighth symphony. The cycle got here and went, with no eighth symphony.

So Was Sibelius Writing Something At All?

It’s sufficient to make one surprise if Sibelius had written something in any respect! And but his diary and correspondence along with his spouse Aino show he should have.

In Could 1931, he wrote to her in regards to the progress he was making, and his diaries reveal tantalizing clues. He mentioned that the brand new work was “romantic” and “like coming home” and that engaged on it made him really feel “full of youth. How can this be explained?”

A real breakthrough appears to have occurred in the summertime of 1933 when Sibelius employed his copyist to make a good copy of the primary motion.

Sibelius instructed to him that what he’d copied out was solely one-eighth of what was to return. The implications had been staggering. If these proportions held, this final symphony could be his longest. The parable continued to develop.

Author’s Block within the Nineteen Thirties

Fireplace in Sibelius' home

Hearth in Sibelius’ dwelling

However time handed with no updates, and contradictory stories started rising from the composer himself.

In 1935, Sibelius gave an interview during which he said he had not too long ago discarded a yr’s value of labor. It should have made his listeners’ hearts drop.

Throughout this time, he was paralyzed by self-doubt. His daughter wrote, “He wanted it to be better than the other symphonies. Finally, it became a burden, even though so much of it had already been written down. In the end, I don’t know whether he would have accepted what he had written.”

World Warfare and Burning Manuscripts

Stress introduced on by the mixed drive of World Warfare II and the Winter Warfare between the Soviet Union and Finland put a damper on his creativity. Sibelius wrote that present occasions had been holding him awake at night time.

He grew increasingly troubled. Lastly, on the tail finish of World Warfare II, Aino and Sibelius introduced a stack of manuscripts to the eating room desk, and Sibelius started to burn them. The destruction made Aino sick, however she didn’t cease her husband. (She absolutely realized she had no energy to.) It’s assumed that any present manuscript of the Eighth Symphony was destroyed within the hearth.

Sending up his outdated works in flame was deeply cathartic for Sibelius. Aino later recalled, “After this, my husband appeared calmer, and his attitude was more optimistic. It was a happy time.”

The Symphony That Refused to Die

However the concept nonetheless wasn’t utterly lifeless. Sibelius made temporary, imprecise references to an eighth symphony for years afterward.

Realistically talking, although, his inspiration had run dry: not solely when it got here to symphonic music, however when it got here to music, interval.

After 1926, he solely wrote a handful of works.

It’s unclear how a lot he wrote over the past a long time of his life that was destroyed and even conceived of however by no means written down.

Sibelius died in 1957. He was just a few months away from his 92nd birthday.

Legacy of the Eighth – And Might It Be Resurrected?

Aino and Jean Sibelius

Aino and Jean Sibelius

Within the years since, students have appeared on the remaining fragments and tried to reassemble a minimum of a portion of the eighth to decidedly blended outcomes.

A couple of temporary tantalizing excerpts have been recorded.

3 Sketches From Sibelius “Lost” eighth Symphony- World Premiere

Present views on the Eighth Symphony vary from the opinion that there’s sufficient surviving materials to reconstruct the whole work – to the opinion that there very a lot is just not – to the assumption that doing so, even when it was doable, could be disrespecting Sibelius’s reminiscence and needs.

Perhaps in the long run, it’s sufficient to know that Jean Sibelius created a surprising oeuvre that audiences nonetheless take pleasure in at present, even with out the Eighth Symphony. Absent any main scholarly breakthroughs, it seems like we’ll should make our peace with Sibelius’s resolution to destroy his final, probably finest work.

For extra of one of the best in classical music, for our E-E-newsletter

Latest Posts

Don't Miss