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Sibelius Hardcover – December 5, 2007

2.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this illuminating survey of Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), Barnett, founder of the U.K. Sibelius Society, attempts to place Sibelius's music in context by discussing all of his surviving works. The book benefits from the ambitious project of the Swedish record company BIS to record everything in its Complete Sibelius Edition, an undertaking in which Barnett has been closely involved since the mid-1980s. He traces the life of the composer from his early music lessons (violin, piano, cello) as a youth in Hameenlinna, Finland, and his first serious attempts at composition during the 1880s to the recognition of his talent at the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) and further studies in Berlin and Vienna, followed by the 1892 success of his first major orchestral work, his prolific creations over the following decades and his dwindling output after 1927 when he wrote in his diary, Abused, lonely, all my real friends dead. Just now my prestige here is non-existent. Impossible to work. In 1935, however, his status as an international icon was secure. Incorporated throughout is Barnett's in-depth analysis of Sibelius's compositions, a critique so finely tuned that many readers will want to listen as they read. 16 b&w illus. unseen by PW. (Dec.)
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Review

"Andrew Barnett is unfailingly perceptive and has the ability to engage the interest of both the less informed and the more expert reader. Few would be better qualified to undertake a new book on the Finnish master."—Robert Layton, author of Sibelius (Master Musicians Series)

(Robert Layton)

“Barnett neatly dispels other myths, explaining how from around 1930 to his death, Sibelius completed briefer works while striving, unsuccessfully, to complete his Eighth Symphony. . . . A warmly humanizing, informed biography.”--Benjamin Ivry, The Newark Star-Ledger
 
(Benjamin Ivry The Newark Star-Ledger)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (December 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300111592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300111590
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,694,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
After having been bored and disappointed with Foreman's new biography of Bax, I found myself the same but more so while reading this new biography of Sibelius. The problem is that it isn't in any real sense a biography at all. It is an exhaustive (and exhausting) annotated chronological inventory of all Sibelius's compositions, interspersed with cursory descriptions of his activities during a particular year. The approach is hopelessly clerical and dreary. Year by year works are listed in a narrative of the "and then, and then, and then" variety. Events in Sibelius's life are approached in the exact same way: "on so and so a date he travelled to this or that place where he conducted such and so a piece after which he returned home". There is no sense of depth, let alone of getting to know the composer. What about his alcoholism, which was at times extreme (at one point, a drunken Sibelius stopped the orchestra in the middle of a performance because he had forgotten he was conducting a public concert and thought he was at a rehearsal!). What about the silence of the last 30 years - did a man of Sibelius's artistic integrity really stop composing simply because he finally achieved financial stability? Or is there more to it? Don't expect Barnett to dwell on such essential matters. People around the composer, like the vibrant if bibulous circle of artist friends in Helsinki, remain mere ciphers, and references to the wider historical and cultural context are scanty at best.

Moreover, the urge to mention every composition precludes any in-depth analysis of the works as such; any average CD-booklet does better.
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Format: Paperback
Andrew Barnett's biography SIBELIUS was first published in 2007. It sets itself apart from other biographies of the great Finnish composer in English by working from the immense store of manuscripts that the Sibelius estate donated to the University of Helsinki in 1982. Barnett is project advisor to BIS Records' Complete Sibelius Edition and when he charts the composer's career, he describes the whole range of Sibelius' music, not only the most famous repertoire.

The other reviewer is right that Barnett's biography is essentially a chronological collection of works interspersed with a general description of Sibelius' home life and travels. Readers looking for a more probing psychological account of Sibelius and what thoughts guided his composition may be rather disappointed. Still, for anyone who is buying the BIS' Complete Sibelius installments, or the shorter but still ample Essential Sibelius boxset, then Barnett's biography is very helpful in sorting out where all those myriad little-known piano pieces and songs fit in among the more famous works that most fans already know about.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree whole-heartedly with the two other reviewers of Barnett's book. As a biography, this is much more in service to the BIS edition of all Sibelius' works than it is to an understanding of Sibelius the man or artist. If you've purchased the BIS CDs and want a companion guidebook that will provide more information about Sibelius' music than the CD booklets, this is a good investment. If you want anything deeper than a cursory understanding of Sibelius himself as a human being, save your money.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography effectively presents Sibelius, I think, as the highly original and prolific composer that he was. Shown was the effect on Sibelius' work of: the efforts of Finland to gain independence from Russia, World Wars I and II, his personality issues, and the need to keep composing in order to have an income. The one big challenge for the reader presented by the book is its mixing (1) telling of the composer's life story, state of mind, and achievements, and (2) paragraphs "talking shop" about almost every work, both small and large, that Sibelius produced (much of which gleaned from the immense store of manuscripts that the Sibelius estate donated to the University of Helsinki in 1982), including the keys used, movements, expressive style, and musical techniques used - the "back and forth" between the two areas could be disruptive. I would recommend that in future editions the publisher could place space (or dividing lines) between the paragraphs that contain the composer's life story and the paragraphs that have the musical details of his works (of which there are many). Or, better yet, move the musical details to the back of the book.
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