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One of the twentieth century’s greatest composers, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) virtually stopped writing music during the last thirty years of his life. Recasting his mysterious musical silence and his undeniably influential life against the backdrop of Finland’s national awakening, Sibelius will be the definitive biography of this creative legend for many years to c One of the twentieth century’s greatest composers, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) virtually stopped writing music during the last thirty years of his life. Recasting his mysterious musical silence and his undeniably influential life against the backdrop of Finland’s national awakening, Sibelius will be the definitive biography of this creative legend for many years to come.   Glenda Dawn Goss begins her sweeping narrative in the Finland of Sibelius’s youth, which remained under Russian control for the first five decades of his life. Focusing on previously unexamined events, Goss explores the composer’s formative experiences as a Russian subject and a member of the Swedish-speaking Finnish minority. She goes on to trace Sibelius’s relationships with his creative contemporaries, with whom he worked to usher in a golden age of music and art that would endow Finns with a sense of pride in their heritage and encourage their hopes for the possibilities of nationhood. Skillfully evoking this artistic climate—in which Sibelius emerged as a leader—Goss creates a dazzling portrait of the painting, sculpture, literature, and music it inspired. To solve the deepest riddles of Sibelius’s life, work, and enigmatic silence, Goss contends, we must understand the awakening in which he played so great a role.   Situating this national creative tide in the context of Nordic and European cultural currents, Sibelius dramatically deepens our knowledge of a misunderstood musical giant and an important chapter in the intellectual history of Europe.


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One of the twentieth century’s greatest composers, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) virtually stopped writing music during the last thirty years of his life. Recasting his mysterious musical silence and his undeniably influential life against the backdrop of Finland’s national awakening, Sibelius will be the definitive biography of this creative legend for many years to c One of the twentieth century’s greatest composers, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) virtually stopped writing music during the last thirty years of his life. Recasting his mysterious musical silence and his undeniably influential life against the backdrop of Finland’s national awakening, Sibelius will be the definitive biography of this creative legend for many years to come.   Glenda Dawn Goss begins her sweeping narrative in the Finland of Sibelius’s youth, which remained under Russian control for the first five decades of his life. Focusing on previously unexamined events, Goss explores the composer’s formative experiences as a Russian subject and a member of the Swedish-speaking Finnish minority. She goes on to trace Sibelius’s relationships with his creative contemporaries, with whom he worked to usher in a golden age of music and art that would endow Finns with a sense of pride in their heritage and encourage their hopes for the possibilities of nationhood. Skillfully evoking this artistic climate—in which Sibelius emerged as a leader—Goss creates a dazzling portrait of the painting, sculpture, literature, and music it inspired. To solve the deepest riddles of Sibelius’s life, work, and enigmatic silence, Goss contends, we must understand the awakening in which he played so great a role.   Situating this national creative tide in the context of Nordic and European cultural currents, Sibelius dramatically deepens our knowledge of a misunderstood musical giant and an important chapter in the intellectual history of Europe.

49 review for Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    I learned first about Sibelius from Alex Ross' book, The Rest is Noise. I immediately became enamoured with his symphonies. When I found this book on Amazon I grabbed it and had a hard time putting it down. The story of modern Finland is intimately intwined with that of Sibelius life and music. I did not know for example that Finland, once dominated by Russia rather that Sweden (this change taking place during Sibelius childhood) was a sort of Cote d'Azur for aristocrats in St Petersburg and oth I learned first about Sibelius from Alex Ross' book, The Rest is Noise. I immediately became enamoured with his symphonies. When I found this book on Amazon I grabbed it and had a hard time putting it down. The story of modern Finland is intimately intwined with that of Sibelius life and music. I did not know for example that Finland, once dominated by Russia rather that Sweden (this change taking place during Sibelius childhood) was a sort of Cote d'Azur for aristocrats in St Petersburg and otherwise cold and unknown Helsinki benefited from the intelligentsia and cultural creme de la crop of Russia and thus possessed orchestra houses and orchestral budgets superior to many other much larger European cities. And yet, there was a lot of resentment from the Swedish-friendly faction of Finns causing a short but brutal civil war. In all of this Sibelius was used by both sides and ended up withdrawing to the country side and going quite mad towards the end of his life - burning his hotly awaited and sadly now lost 10th Symphony in a fit of rage. Needless to say, this is a page turner of a biography where you will learn about Sibelius but also the entire historical context in which his stupendously incredible music - including the unsurpassed Violin Concerto in D Minor - was written. A must.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Bonetti

    This is a very comprehensive book, not just about Sibelius, but the whole era and history through which he lived. It gives interesting background of the turbulent Finnish events that shaped this composer, of his family and compatriots. I can understand some might feel disappointed that it deals more with Finnish history and background than the composer. I read it for both musical and historical interests. Being such a comprehensive book it too well over 200 pages to come to that crucial era under This is a very comprehensive book, not just about Sibelius, but the whole era and history through which he lived. It gives interesting background of the turbulent Finnish events that shaped this composer, of his family and compatriots. I can understand some might feel disappointed that it deals more with Finnish history and background than the composer. I read it for both musical and historical interests. Being such a comprehensive book it too well over 200 pages to come to that crucial era under the dictatorship of Governor-General Bobrikov, whose oppressions led to the migration of my own grandfather. But in a book of 500+ pages, there is plenty of information for everyone. I especially enjoyed that Goss interspersed with quotations from Finnish poets and other writers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Philippe

    This book on one of the great early Modernist symphonists is itself symphonic in scope and conception. Skillfully the author has woven several themes together: Finlands cultural and political history from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, Sibelius’ biography and the shape and logic of his artistic production. Despite some longueurs the narrative is compelling and one finishes the book with a feeling of having gained a helicopter perspective on a complex process of artistic maturation and dec This book on one of the great early Modernist symphonists is itself symphonic in scope and conception. Skillfully the author has woven several themes together: Finlands cultural and political history from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, Sibelius’ biography and the shape and logic of his artistic production. Despite some longueurs the narrative is compelling and one finishes the book with a feeling of having gained a helicopter perspective on a complex process of artistic maturation and decline. Goss’ reasoning about the composer’s creative stasis strikes me as sophisticated and lucid. In the wake of the Russian Revolution Finland became quite unexpectedly an independent nation. The resulting civil war was short but left a deep trauma and unsettled deep-seated tensions between the country’s Swedish-speaking elite and the rural, Finnish-speaking population. The cultural and political climate that emerged in the early decades of the twentieth century confronted Sibelius with a dilemma from which he was unable to extricate himself. He had a huge personal (and financial) stake in maintaining his position as cultural figurehead in the emerging Finnish state. But because of his Swedish-speaking, aristocratic and essentially classicist disposition Sibelius became increasingly alienated from a matter-of-fact, militaristic, and rancorous Zeitgeist, with fatal implications for his creative impulses. Despite this illuminating thesis and Goss’ considerable skills as a raconteuse the composer’s tormented psychology remains somewhat opaque. Readers looking for incisive musicological analyses also need to complement this book with other sources. It would be fascinating to contrast Goss’ analysis of Sibelius’ artistic path with a comparable study on Edward Elgar. A near-contemporary of the Finn, Elgar’s life shows a similar mix of overwhelming public endorsement and deeply felt, class-based alienation. He too lived through epochal change in his country, including the impact of the Great War, and grew disenchanted with the spiritlessness of the 1920s. Elgar’s creative wellspring seemed to have dried up more or less in sync with his Finnish counterpart. All in all this is a rewarding book for people keen on a wide-angle perspective on one of the most loved composers of the 20th century.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    One might argue that in Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland, Goss leaves out the story of Sibelius. However, considering how his life was intertwined with the rise of Finland from a Russian state to an independent nation, and the lack of saved letters and journal entries from the composer himself, Goss does a wonderful job of weaving the narrative that is Sibelius's life. Although at times, Goss has trouble creating a longitudinal sequence of events, it is a well researched One might argue that in Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland, Goss leaves out the story of Sibelius. However, considering how his life was intertwined with the rise of Finland from a Russian state to an independent nation, and the lack of saved letters and journal entries from the composer himself, Goss does a wonderful job of weaving the narrative that is Sibelius's life. Although at times, Goss has trouble creating a longitudinal sequence of events, it is a well researched and well cited biography.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tony Gualtieri

    Not really a biography and not really a history of Finnish national awakening, but rather an amalgamation of the two. It gives an idea of the cultural milieu surrounding Sibelius and his response to it, but his private life and music are incidental to the narrative. Somehow it winds up giving one a deeper understanding of the man and his music.

  6. 5 out of 5

    PLVS OVLTRE

  7. 4 out of 5

    Heather Garbes

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  21. 5 out of 5

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  22. 4 out of 5

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  23. 5 out of 5

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  24. 5 out of 5

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    University of Chicago Press

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