Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is regarded with Edvard Grieg as the most prominent composer to have emerged from Northern Europe. Known primarily as a symphonist, the "Violin Concerto" and some smaller works such as the symphonic poem "Finlandia" have also become staples of the orchestral repertoire. A master of the orchestra, he approached each symphony in an original way, his inspiration drawn from literature - primarily the Finnish epic "Kalevala" and other Norse mythology - and his love of nature. This biography of the composer's life shows how he attained monumental status in his homeland, having first come to notice in the 1890s at the start of Finland's struggle for independence. He was to become his country's primary cultural export, enjoying popular recognition in Britain and the United States. For so public a figure, much of his life remained a mystery. Sibelius himself became increasingly selective about details of his life, not least his creative output in the last three decades of his life, when he released very few new works. The author of this study asserts Sibelius was plagued with self-doubt throughout his life, frequently seeking refuge in alcohol.
The long silence of his final 30 years is shown to have been bound up with the composition of his Eighth Symphony, which he ultimately destroyed. This text is part of the 20th-century composers series, examining composers in a biographical context, and offering a comprehensive study of key figures in the creation of 20th-century music. None of the books in the series presume a knowledge of specialized terms or musical notation. Each book in the series features a list of works, a bibliography, and a discography.
Guy Rickards is a freelance writer on music, and author of Hindemith, Hartmann and Henze in the 20th-Century Composers series.