If Sibelius had passed you the score for his Eighth Symphony …

… and instructed you to take it to the publishers but phone before arriving, what would you have done if he said ‘don’t deliver it … destroy it’? Would you have honoured Sibelius’s wishes or the traded them for the demands of musical posterity?

8 thoughts on “If Sibelius had passed you the score for his Eighth Symphony …

  1. I think the best solution would be to keep the MS safe while reporting its destruction to Sibelius, only delivering it to the publisher after his death. Dishonest perhaps, but as publishers/editors will often tell you: an author (composer) is not always the best judge of his/her work. I think Vaughan Williams had it right: if you can, keep composing until the end and see where the muse takes you. His ninth symphony may not be his ‘greatest’, but there’s such depth, wisdom and humanity in it.

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    1. Sound principle there David. And yes, he owes us nothing at all. But if you were the delivery boy and he told you, after pondering the issue, to burn it … would you, or like Andrew, would you ‘keep the MS safe while reporting its destruction to Sibelius, only delivering it to the publisher after his death’? It’s an agonising one but I can’t help thinking that major ‘late’ Sibelius that we’ve never heard or seen would be well worth salvaging. On the other hand, if it really marked a decline (or repetition ‘of same’) after the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies and Tapiola, then no-one would benefit, least of all Sibelius himself.

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  2. Ian Julier

    In reality the sad thing is that Sibelius would have probably have said ‘don’t deliver it… bring it back, I want to make changes’, then destroyed his work if he felt so dissatisfied. Interesting that his symphonic oeuvre is bookended by two works he didn’t want the world to hear, the other being Kullervo. Composers and musicians can be like other talented professionals and peak earlier in life with no Indian Summer or ongoing development to ever-increasing greatness. Rossini, Copland and Walton spring to mind as other ‘burn-outs’. Apparently there is quite a lot of smaller scale music that did survive in sketch or fragmentary form from the last two decades of Sibelius’ life, but pertinent that little has been published or made public.

    What about composers who died prematurely? What sort of music would Mozart and Schubert have written had they lived for just another 20 years. An especially intriguing case is Tchaikovsky, who could have lived to see the start of WW1 or the Russian Revolution as well as the dawn of cinema.

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    1. Ian – you’ve inspired my next thread. I’ve often wondered how much further into the darkness Schubert could have ventured, and where Mozart’s harmonic adventurous might have led him. As for Tchaikovsky, with those great ballets, operas and symphonies behind him … goodness knows! Lets get talking!

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  3. Robert Roy

    Hi Rob. There’s a story about Elgar sending a song to his publishers late in his career which they deemed inferior. Elgar replied ‘then just tear it up’, whereupon the publisher retorted that it wasn’t his place to destroy an original Elgar manuscript and they would return it so he could do it himself.

    Wise words, I think.

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