The Transformative Paradoxes of Jean Sibelius

Leon Botstein

Wildly popular a century ago as an icon of Finnish nationalism in a late-Romantic vein, Jean Sibelius was largely dismissed by music aficionados after World War II as something of a conservative lightweight. So why is the Bard Music Festival this month featuring his work in a series of concerts titled "Sibelius and His World"?

Because his condemnation, much like his popularity, was based on reductive assumptions colored by politics. Sibelius’s aesthetic paradoxes mirror those of his biography, and his iconoclastic work deserves close, fresh, sustained, and open-minded attention. A modernist in traditional musical trappings, a globalist whose work spoke in a nationalist dialect, an innovator whose pleasing tonalities snuck his inventions into the popular ear, Sibelius is as underappreciated today as he was perhaps overlionized between the world wars.

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The Transformative Paradoxes of Jean Sibelius 1

Paul Popper, Getty Images

Jean Sibelius, 1957

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