Who cares about the wishes of a dead composer?
'I believe that the Eighth Symphony was not the only work which Sibelius destroyed... He spoke again and again about the unpublished works of his youth, with evident disquiet. He was oppressed by the though that after his death they would be taken out of their hiding place and made public'.Those are the words of Santeri Levas who was secretary to Sibelius from 1938 until the composer's death in 1957, which includes the period when he worked on the Eighth Symphony. The sketches which have recently surfaced may not be youthful works, but am I the only one to feel rather sad that the composer's explicit wishes are viewed as less important than the media opportunity offered by a playthrough of "the possible initial draft of the Eighth Symphony"? Will the next advance in Sibelius scholarship be to ignore the composer's wishes as expressed in the scores of his extant symphonies?
* The header photo of Sibelius at home was used in an earlier post about my visit to the composer's house at Järvenpää.
Header quote is from Sibelius, a personal portrait by Santeri Leavas. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.
Ultimately, though, I think I would rather live with the sadness. Beyond the fact that it was Sibelius' explicit wish that the work never be heard, the sadness, and the romance of what remains unknown, is as much a part of my love for the idea of the man and his work as anything else. There are those who will always want to dig for more, and understandably enough. But what happens when we answer all of our questions?
What will happen when we answer all of our questions is that we will try to answer the question of what happens when we answer all our questions.
Whenever I hear the 7th I don't really want to hear anything else after it. Indeed, when it was done at the proms this summer before the interval (a weird programming choice), I ended up switching off the radio. The difficulty of how you follow that masterpiece seems to me a pretty convincing explanation for why Sibelius never did.
Of course, what we have here can't really be described as the 8th symphony, but rather a couple of minute long fragments that might have come from it. At best, they are of academic interest, and given the vehemence of the composer's wishes on the subject, I'm inclined to the view they should be respected.
It is true that sometimes artists can be over-critical of their work and gems can languish unpublished, but it is tough to make such a case on what remains here. Did he not leave more than enough completed gems for us to be satisfied with?
Interestingly, though not really the same thing, I never find Bruckner's un-numbered symphonies especially satisfying. Nor, as a rule, am I a big fan of completions, which generally don't feel whole to my ears.