It is finally time for Erkki Melartin to emerge from "the shadow of Sibelius", nearly 63 years after his death. Is Melartin a symphonic composer of international stature or merely one of those "harlots and their pimps", as Gustav Mahler termed the "national geniuses" in music?
The shadow of Sibelius is an utterly fascinating phenomenon. In the normal course of things, the Björn Borg phenomenon is the rule: one supremely talented figure attracts potential talent that is not only noticed but actively searched for. What happened in Finnish music in the wake of Sibelius was the exact opposite.
Sibelius was creating a fantastic international career before the First World War and attained a permanent standing in concert repertoires throughout the Western world - so much so that he is widely regarded as the most significant 19th-century composer of the 20th century. Regardless of this, it was difficult for other Finnish composers, however talented, to gain any kind of international recognition after him. Any ground won was soon lost. It was not until the past two decades or so that some few Finnish composers have achieved genuine international recognition, such as Sallinen, Rautavaara or Lindberg.
Why was this? Since the music of Sibelius cannot be decisively ranked as "better" on any unambiguous scale than the music of Leevi Madetoja, Aarre Merikanto or Erkki Melartin, for instance, must we be content with the explanation that Sibelius just had better timing, or perhaps even just better luck?
It is true that the music of Sibelius was championed by influential music writers and vociferous conductors, and the Violin Concerto was a real hit. Still, Erkki Melartin had a composition concert in Berlin in November 1923, with the composer himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic - an achievement as fantastic for a Finnish composer then as it would be now.
( by Osmo Tapio Räihälä )