Photo: Markus Jokela.
The Finnish music critic Vesa Sirén alerted me to an article that he wrote for the Helsingin Sanomat a couple of weeks ago, and that has now appeared in the paper's English-language edition. It concerns some orchestral sketches by Jean Sibelius, dating from the period when he was working on his Eighth Symphony. It was long assumed that the composer had destroyed almost all materials relating to the symphony, in an infamous burning of manuscripts at his home, but several years ago the scholar Nors Josephson, after studying a trove of sketches, came to the conclusion that some fragments of the work had survived. Sirén and the Sibelius scholar Timo Virtanen — whose view of the material is more cautious — recently had several passages copied out and brought them to John Storgårds, the conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic. On this page you can watch a video of the try-out that ensued. It's rather astonishing music, alternating between piercing dissonances and a spare, chantlike kind of writing. You get tantalizing glimpses of a musical landscape stranger and more unstable than almost anything in Sibelius's published output. Are we actually listening to the mythical Eighth? Whatever this is, it is thrilling to hear.
Update: Sirén also reports on newly discovered letters between Sibelius and his copyist.