6 FEBRUARY 1948, Page 22

The Music of Sibelius

THIS is the third in the series of composite studies of individual composers edited by Professor Abraham. Tchaikovsky and Schubert (numbers i and 2) lent themselves more easily to this form of treat- ment, because their output was more evenly distributed over the various musical genres ; also the fact they have both been dead for some considerable time, whereas Sibelius is still living, meant that a great deal more personal material was available in their cases. Ralph Hill's short study of Sibelius's character sums up most of what a singularly uncommunicative personality has allowed the world at large to know about himself ; Scott Goddard deals with the chamber music (which for practical purposes means one string quartet) and the choral works, and Eric Blom has performed with singular elegance the thankless task of studying Sibelius's piano music. Astra Desmond is admirably qualified, both as singer and linguist, to deal with the songs, and although she comes to the con- clusion that translation takes more than the bloom off most of them, her essay should persuade singers to be more adventurous in this direction.

But Sibelius is essentially an orchestral composer and quint- essentially 'a symphonist, and by far the most important chapters are therefore Professor Abraham's own essay on the symphonies and Ralph Wood's on the miscellaneous orchestral works and theatre music, supplemented by a final summing up on Sibelius's style by David Cherniaysky. Professor Abraham's chapter is primarily, indeed almost exclusively, technical, and will be of great interest to music- students, but a very tough nut for the average reader. Ralph Wood writes ,for a less specialised public, and his essay is full of interesting and sometimes provocative theory (he rates the violin concerto, for example, as " the best concerto Tchaikovsky ever wrote ") and dis- cussion which is within the reach of most concert-goers. David Cherniaysky supplies a good 'deal of the general background which the reader might have expected to find in Mr. Hill's and Professor Abraham's chapters, and by this means the book as a whole does achieve a complete portrait of Sibelius such as is provided by no