Author Topic: Schonberg on Sibelius  (Read 31747 times)

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Offline Sef

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Schonberg on Sibelius
« on: October 06, 2008, 01:52:03 PM »
Having just read The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold Schonberg, and of his indifference to Sibelius (summarizing somewhat begrudgingly that he should occupy a place amongst the minor composers), there is a reference that I am not qualified to answer. He states that although there is a large fondness of his music particularly amongst the English and American public, he knew of no professional musicians who saw anything much in his work. Now perhaps I can get an answer as to whether my love of Sibelius' music is all just sentimental romantic twaddle, or whether some "real" classically trained musicians may want to argue the point (probably in ways that I couldn't possibly understand)!

BTW - Saw CSO perform Sibelius 4 under MTT on Saturday. Music to die for (or die with, more like). Overall a very enjoyable(?) performance though I thought the conclusion was rather too abrupt. I prefer a desolate ending more in tune with the atmosphere of the entire symphony. To his credit though MTT did explain his interpretation before the start, so I wasn't taken quite by surprise.
"Do you think that I could have composed what I have composed, do you think that one can write a single note with life in it if one sits there and pities oneself?"

Homo Aestheticus

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2008, 01:59:42 PM »
Sef,

Jbuck, an old member of GMG who is classically trained (a professional organist) said the following to a Sibelius devotee:

"Why do you have such little sense as to mention Arnold Schoenberg and Jean Sibelius in the same sentence?   One was a giant, the other a simpering mediocrity who might have composed two interesting works in his entire career...." 


Offline Brian

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2008, 02:02:08 PM »
Sef,

Jbuck, an old member of GMG who is classically trained (a professional organist) said the following to a Sibelius devotee:

"Why do you have such little sense as to mention Arnold Schoenberg and Jean Sibelius in the same sentence?   One was a giant, the other a simpering mediocrity who might have composed two interesting works in his entire career...." 
Schoenberg composed two interesting works? That many?

Homo Aestheticus

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2008, 02:02:47 PM »
Schoenberg composed two interesting works? That many?

No, he was referring to Sibelius, obviously.

Offline Brian

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2008, 02:03:28 PM »
No, he was referring to Sibelius, obviously.
I was inserting my own opinion, obviously.

Offline Sef

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2008, 02:04:27 PM »
Sef,

Jbuck, an old member of GMG who is classically trained (a professional organist) said the following to a Sibelius devotee:

"Why do you have such little sense as to mention Arnold Schoenberg and Jean Sibelius in the same sentence?   One was a giant, the other a simpering mediocrity who might have composed two interesting works in his entire career...." 


Interesting. Harold Schonberg mentions the two interesting works also. He does not mention which they are. I wonder if he and Jbuck would agree on which two? Or if anyone else would care to summize, feel free.
"Do you think that I could have composed what I have composed, do you think that one can write a single note with life in it if one sits there and pities oneself?"

Homo Aestheticus

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2008, 02:05:53 PM »
Interesting. Harold Schonberg mentions the two interesting works also. He does not mention which they are. I wonder if he and Jbuck would agree on which two? Or if anyone else would care to summize, feel free.

I believe it's the Violin concerto and Fourth Symphony but I'm not sure.

Online some guy

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2008, 02:39:38 PM »
I can't imagine that anyone who would pick the fourth symphony as one of the two would pick the violin concerto as the other one. Not with things like Luonnotar and The Bard to choose from.

I'd say Luonnotar and the fourth symphony would be the likeliest. Be interesting to know, though if Schonberg and Schoenberg picked the same two. Anybody know?

greg

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2008, 02:44:33 PM »
I know Schonnberg did.

Mark G. Simon

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2008, 03:21:21 PM »
When Schonberg wrote that book (1970), Sibelius' reputation was at a low point. It has come back quite a bit in the decades since. Many composers, such as John Adams, cite his music as a major influence. So don't take Schonberg as the final word on the subject.

Online some guy

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2008, 03:59:43 PM »
I think we were only wondering about which two pieces Schonberg and Schoenberg would have picked as the good ones. Even though I have, and enjoy, practically everything he wrote, I was guessing that the two that curmudgeons would pick would be Luonnotar and the fourth symphony. No matter how grumpy you are, there's nothing in those two pieces that's not to like.

I was very disappointed a few years back when the recording of the original fifth symphony came out. I thought, cool, now we see how Sibelius got from the fourth to the fifth--via the URfifth. Simple. That's been the thing that's puzzled me from when I was just a kid. But when I started asking around if people had heard that recording, what I found was that no one in my circle had heard the fifth in any form! (And when my oldest son took on my request to listen to the revised fifth and then to the original fifth, he couldn't do it. The revised fifth was too hideous (romantic, lush, et cetera) to listen to.

So if I can bother you all, who have listened to the revised version (the familiar one), and who have perhaps been puzzled, in spite of liking it, how Sibelius ever got from the lean and beautiful fourth to the soft and pretty fifth, I'd like to ask how many of you have listened to the original version of the fifth. What did you think of it?

Offline Szykneij

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2008, 04:06:01 PM »
I found some helpful background information on Harold Schonberg in his obituary here:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE2D7113FF934A15754C0A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1

Since he's quoted as saying "''I write for myself -- not necessarily for readers, not for musicians,'' and "It's not a critic's job to be right or wrong; it's his job to express an opinion in readable English'', I wouldn't get too upset over his views. As much as he didn't care for the music of Sibelius, he was far more critical of Leonard Bernstein's conducting.
Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. ~ Satchel Paige

Offline Brian

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2008, 07:37:46 PM »
I think we were only wondering about which two pieces Schonberg and Schoenberg would have picked as the good ones. Even though I have, and enjoy, practically everything he wrote, I was guessing that the two that curmudgeons would pick would be Luonnotar and the fourth symphony. No matter how grumpy you are, there's nothing in those two pieces that's not to like.

I was very disappointed a few years back when the recording of the original fifth symphony came out. I thought, cool, now we see how Sibelius got from the fourth to the fifth--via the URfifth. Simple. That's been the thing that's puzzled me from when I was just a kid. But when I started asking around if people had heard that recording, what I found was that no one in my circle had heard the fifth in any form! (And when my oldest son took on my request to listen to the revised fifth and then to the original fifth, he couldn't do it. The revised fifth was too hideous (romantic, lush, et cetera) to listen to.

So if I can bother you all, who have listened to the revised version (the familiar one), and who have perhaps been puzzled, in spite of liking it, how Sibelius ever got from the lean and beautiful fourth to the soft and pretty fifth, I'd like to ask how many of you have listened to the original version of the fifth. What did you think of it?
The original version of the Fifth is a strange beast; it's a bit like the hunk of marble which eventually becomes a glorious statue once enough rock is carved away from it. But then again, I have the exact opposite point of view from yours, being an ardent fan of the lush romanticism of the "final cut."

springrite

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2008, 07:48:56 PM »
So if I can bother you all, who have listened to the revised version (the familiar one), and who have perhaps been puzzled, in spite of liking it, how Sibelius ever got from the lean and beautiful fourth to the soft and pretty fifth, I'd like to ask how many of you have listened to the original version of the fifth. What did you think of it?

It is almost impossible for someone who actually likes the revised (final) version of the 5th to have an "objective" opinion on the original. The revised final version is just too familiar and it is always in the back of your head as you listen to the original version. For me, it's like listening for what's wrong with the original! Well, after a while I did find the original rather good. But I will stick with the one I have known for 30 years.

M forever

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2008, 09:16:54 PM »
I am not into that whole comparison and ranking and "greatest this or that" thing, but if asked directly, I have no hesitation at all to say that I think Sibelius was one of the "greatest" composers ever, a musical genius on a vast scale which completely defies comprehension. I do not know a single piece by him, not even a single phrase or passage, which isn't superbly crafted and original, from the smaller and elegantly entertaining forms of chamber music, lieder, piano music, to shorter orchestral works and incidental music to the tone poems and symphonies which are concise and epic at the same time. His musical language is highly original and concentrated, and it has a compelling inner logic which sounds very "natural" and "organic" but it is the result of an agonizing, highly self-critical and relentlessly reviewing compositional process which led him to create masterpieces which are among the most profound utterances ever made in music. Sibelius was someone who could hear the music suggested by the rustling of leaves, the ripples created on the surface of water by the wind, the natural processes underlying everything and who could translate that into music which isn't naturalistic and imitating, but highly spiritual, a reflection of the way the human spirit perceives and struggles with the world. In some of his greatest pieces, he ventured into regions of the soul which only very few other composers dared to explore, and came back with strikingly original and unique music.
This includes the 5th symphony which isn't a particularly "romantic" or "lush" piece - 80-90% of the music is rather quiet and intimate, and everything, including the greatest climaxes and outbursts, is developed organically from only a few concise musical cells which is what makes this music so coherent and compelling.
Comparing the final version to the first version is highly interesting because one can hear in the first version how all these elements are already there, but Sibelius hadn't yet managed to bring them all into the most concise and coherent form. It shows that the musical elements he originally came up with were born from a higher musical inspiration, an intuitive feeling for the underlying development processes which would be expressed in the revised version, but that he hadn't yet found the ways to express the connection between all of these elements. Which he eventually did. So this shows us what true musical genius consists of. The music isn't "constructed", it's elements are felt and perceived, and the underlying streams and energies which are expressed in the final version are not the result of a random invention process, but of a deeply probing musical and psychological investigation process.

Offline The new erato

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2008, 10:45:15 PM »
Thanks M. Well put. A composer I feel is one of the essential giants of the 20th century. 

Offline Wanderer

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2008, 11:17:36 PM »
I am not into that whole comparison and ranking and "greatest this or that" thing, but if asked directly, I have no hesitation at all to say that I think Sibelius was one of the "greatest" composers ever, a musical genius on a vast scale which completely defies comprehension. I do not know a single piece by him, not even a single phrase or passage, which isn't superbly crafted and original, from the smaller and elegantly entertaining forms of chamber music, lieder, piano music, to shorter orchestral works and incidental music to the tone poems and symphonies which are concise and epic at the same time. His musical language is highly original and concentrated, and it has a compelling inner logic which sounds very "natural" and "organic" but it is the result of an agonizing, highly self-critical and relentlessly reviewing compositional process which led him to create masterpieces which are among the most profound utterances ever made in music. Sibelius was someone who could hear the music suggested by the rustling of leaves, the ripples created on the surface of water by the wind, the natural processes underlying everything and who could translate that into music which isn't naturalistic and imitating, but highly spiritual, a reflection of the way the human spirit perceives and struggles with the world. In some of his greatest pieces, he ventured into regions of the soul which only very few other composers dared to explore, and came back with strikingly original and unique music.
This includes the 5th symphony which isn't a particularly "romantic" or "lush" piece - 80-90% of the music is rather quiet and intimate, and everything, including the greatest climaxes and outbursts, is developed organically from only a few concise musical cells which is what makes this music so coherent and compelling.
Comparing the final version to the first version is highly interesting because one can hear in the first version how all these elements are already there, but Sibelius hadn't yet managed to bring them all into the most concise and coherent form. It shows that the musical elements he originally came up with were born from a higher musical inspiration, an intuitive feeling for the underlying development processes which would be expressed in the revised version, but that he hadn't yet found the ways to express the connection between all of these elements. Which he eventually did. So this shows us what true musical genius consists of. The music isn't "constructed", it's elements are felt and perceived, and the underlying streams and energies which are expressed in the final version are not the result of a random invention process, but of a deeply probing musical and psychological investigation process.

A very fine post with which I agree wholeheartedly.

Concerning the original version of the Fifth Symphony, I do occasionally tend to like its closing pages more than the ending of the revised version (it's good to have two alternatives, actually:-). Overall, though, it can't be denied the revision improved the work in many levels; a seemingly effortless but painstaking fine-tuning process, revealing the composer's formidable craft and instincts at work.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2008, 02:45:22 AM »
M's post is an excellent piece of informed advocacy. Chapeau!
« Last Edit: October 07, 2008, 04:26:43 AM by Jezetha »
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Homo Aestheticus

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2008, 04:25:28 AM »
not even a single phrase or passage, which isn't superbly crafted and original.

Let's not get carried away here, please.


Homo Aestheticus

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Re: Schonberg on Sibelius
« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2008, 04:27:07 AM »
Harold Schonberg in the same book, different chapter:

"Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisande' has never been popular in the sense that the operas of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Wagner are popular. It is too refined, to lacking in red blood. These attributes are, of course, the very things that attract the minority who consider 'Pelleas et Melisande' the most subtle and atmsospheric opera ever written... It is set in a dream world, a world of pianissimo sounds, diaphanous colors, subtlety and restraint. It is an opera of 'sensibilite'... It had no followers... It was unique and has remained unique"

********

Harold Schonberg is my kind of guy...

0:)