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Some of these 22 essays derive from the fourth International Jean Sibelius Conference held at the University of North Texas in 2005. other included contributions were planned for the conference but not actually presented. The preface tells us that the book ‘offers a compelling cross-section of the manifold approaches to Sibelius studies’. clearly this is a scholarly volume which will prove to be of greatest value to serious students of Sibelius. some of the essays concern unfamiliar works such as the G minor piano quintet and the five complete piano trios. Readers hoping for discussion of the essential Sibelius – central repertoire – may be a little disappointed.

The first of the four main sections, Historical and Cultural studies, includes essays on Sibelius’s works for the kantele and for brass septet, the ‘Leskovite’ meetings – named after Busoni’s Newfoundland dog, and a longer, controversial piece on Sibelius’s attitude to the Nazi regime and his reaction to a ‘cry for help’ from the young half-Jewish composer Günther Raphael.

The next section, analytical studies, incorporates essays on parts of the fourth and fifth symphonies and the violin concerto, while the thirst section – source studies – explores the original version of Lemminkäinen in Tuonela, the symphonic poem The Wood Nymph, and possible connections between the projected oratorio Marjatta and the third symphony.

In the final section, Reception and Interpretation, the topics include ‘Nordic landscape and “extra-territoriality”’, some parallels between the lives and creative output of Sibelius and the architect Alvar Aalto, Sibelius’ influence – rather tenuous, I feel – on Vaughan Williams’ fifth symphony, and the perception of Sibelius’s and other Nordic music in early 20th-century Paris.

I wonder why the usual brief biographies of all the contributors were not included. Do we not need to know whether ‘colin Davis’ is the conductor, or someone else entirely? These essays are certainly diverse, but I wish there was more focus on the composer’s greatest works, as in the much less expensive Cambridge Companion, for instance.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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