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Thread: Sibelius vs. Mahler

  1. #61
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    Hm, I never quite understood the reasons for this Sibelius cult. Perhaps his music is just too cold for a Brazilian to understand, it melts before arriving here. Some years ago I bought a CD with Rattle conducting Sibelius and Nielsen, this one I already knew from his piano sonata (great piece). I love Nielsen (I think it was Sinfonia espansiva) and found the Sibelius, a few months later, I found a great bargain with all his symphonies and tone poems with the same Rattle. I never got the music, found it too much rhapsodic, too slow, too monochromatic, and never went back to it. Since I arrived in this forum and found the excitement of its members, I decided to give Sibelius a go. I can't like it. I'm even listening now to his most "acessible" symphony, but for me it is just empty. Void of any meaning, even musical.

    I was, as so much people are, a Mahler fan in my teens, I bought with my sparse earnings all his symphonies and songs, and had almost all of then in my head. And then I grew up, his overblown sentimentality doen't appeal anymore to me. Not that I don't like Mahler, I still listen quite frequently to most of his symphonies, and the Song of Earth is one of my favorites, but Mahler just doesn't excites me anymore. To me he is so much ahead of Sibelius, his works have a germanic coherence totally lacking in Sibelius.

    So I would vote for Mahler, but that's not a great duo for me.

    And as for the guy who said about the second half in 20th century music, Messiaen's Turangalīla is as good as a symphony as anything I heard: exciting, great melodies, incredible orchestration (and that Ondes Martenot). At least to me some miles ahead of everything Sibelius did and and most of what Mahler did.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tapkaara View Post
    Andre, what new insights did Mahler provide?
    Well I've posted about this above already extensively. Notably on Mahler's new way of composing for large orchestra, in particular, and combining it as well with soloists and chorus. Sure, there were precedents such as what Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn & Liszt had done, but since then, no other composer had looked at the symphony in this way until Mahler.

    I'm certainly not rubbishing Sibelius. I just think that Mahler's handling of the symphonic form opened it up to newer possibilities, rather than restricting it. Of course, the pendulum swings back & forth, even within a single composer's career. Look at Penderecki, who has composed big Mahlerian symphonies as well as single movement Sibelian ones. It just depends on what approach you as a listener value more, & for me, it has to be Mahler. Although I do think that the Lemminkainen Suite is one of the greatest pieces ever written. I just don't have a preference for his restrictive & rather gloomy symphonies like the 4th & 7th, although they are probably what he did best.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bdelykleon View Post
    Hm, I never quite understood the reasons for this Sibelius cult. Perhaps his music is just too cold for a Brazilian to understand, it melts before arriving here. Some years ago I bought a CD with Rattle conducting Sibelius and Nielsen, this one I already knew from his piano sonata (great piece). I love Nielsen (I think it was Sinfonia espansiva) and found the Sibelius, a few months later, I found a great bargain with all his symphonies and tone poems with the same Rattle. I never got the music, found it too much rhapsodic, too slow, too monochromatic, and never went back to it. Since I arrived in this forum and found the excitement of its members, I decided to give Sibelius a go. I can't like it. I'm even listening now to his most "acessible" symphony, but for me it is just empty. Void of any meaning, even musical.

    I was, as so much people are, a Mahler fan in my teens, I bought with my sparse earnings all his symphonies and songs, and had almost all of then in my head. And then I grew up, his overblown sentimentality doen't appeal anymore to me. Not that I don't like Mahler, I still listen quite frequently to most of his symphonies, and the Song of Earth is one of my favorites, but Mahler just doesn't excites me anymore. To me he is so much ahead of Sibelius, his works have a germanic coherence totally lacking in Sibelius.

    So I would vote for Mahler, but that's not a great duo for me.

    And as for the guy who said about the second half in 20th century music, Messiaen's Turangalīla is as good as a symphony as anything I heard: exciting, great melodies, incredible orchestration (and that Ondes Martenot). At least to me some miles ahead of everything Sibelius did and and most of what Mahler did.
    Messiaen miles ahead of Sibelius? No way. The Turangalila Symphony is self-indulgent, formless musical nonsense. But that's just my opinion.

    Sibelius lacks Germanic coherence? What exactly is that? Whatever it is, Turangalila most certainly lacks it, but you like this work. So what does "Germanic coherence" really matter, then?

    Anyhow, I know Sibelius is a little bit difficult for some people, so I can only respect your comments on the matter. Perhaps Sibelius is a little "cold" and those seeking the "warmth" and outgoing nature of other composers may be turned of to Sibelius who can be, admittedly, a little on the grim side at times.
    Last edited by Tapkaara; May-29-2009 at 07:32.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    Well I've posted about this above already extensively. Notably on Mahler's new way of composing for large orchestra, in particular, and combining it as well with soloists and chorus. Sure, there were precedents such as what Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn & Liszt had done, but since then, no other composer had looked at the symphony in this way until Mahler.

    I'm certainly not rubbishing Sibelius. I just think that Mahler's handling of the symphonic form opened it up to newer possibilities, rather than restricting it. Of course, the pendulum swings back & forth, even within a single composer's career. Look at Penderecki, who has composed big Mahlerian symphonies as well as single movement Sibelian ones. It just depends on what approach you as a listener value more, & for me, it has to be Mahler. Although I do think that the Lemminkainen Suite is one of the greatest pieces ever written. I just don't have a preference for his restrictive & rather gloomy symphonies like the 4th & 7th, although they are probably what he did best.
    I don't think big ochestras and voices are all that earth-shattering as far as symphonies go, and you agree by mentioning Beethoven and the like. I think the internal/structural complexity in Sibelius is more innovative than Mahler's large orchetras.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    I'd have to agree with bdelykleon in saying that I'm neither a big fan of either Mahler or Sibelius. However, I think that Mahler made more of an impact on the next generation of composers, which I have already discussed extensively earlier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    I don't think that it is really a problem that Sibelius did not respond to atonalism. What was the problem, as we discussed above with Tapkaara, is that he stopped composing altogether. Bach compared him to Vaughan Williams, although I know he was making a joke/putdown, the fact is that Vaughan Williams went on composing to the very end. Listen to his last two symphonies & you get an idea how far he was willing to push the envelope (eg. variations without a theme in the 8th's first movement).

    My main criticism of Sibelius has nothing to do with what Adorno or Liebowitz said. I don't really care what they said, it was so long ago, that today it's basically irrelevant. The issue with Sibelius is that after some brilliant pieces early-mid career - eg. Lemminkainen Suite, Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 4 - he seemed to have nothing new to say, really. Although late works like the Symphony No. 7 or Tapiola are brilliant pieces, they just stay within the same sphere as the early works (which I find to be better, as they have more of a white hot intensity).

    I do think that it's a pity how Sibelius didn't give us any new insights, unlike Mahler. I also find the output of the others of the 1860's generation, such as Richard Strauss, Janacek or Debussy more varied & interesting. I kind of sense a certain inflexibity in Sibelius which, as some have said, can be a positive thing, staying true to your ideals. But didn't the other composers do this, as well as change and be more flexible? & what Sibelius did was unrelenting, churning out these intense pieces one after the other. I think he set a very high standard for himself; this had something to do with his method of composing, which he was not willing to change as he aged. He's the complete opposite of centenarian Elliot Carter, who wasn't so prolific when young, but for him the past few decades have bought an Indian summer of composing. Same could be said of late Janacek. These guys, the older they got, the better.
    All of what you just said Andre is purely subjective and hypothetical. So what if Sibelius didn't offer any new insights? Is this the criteria you use to evaluate all composers? Whether they pushed the boundaries of experimentation or not? This is totally irrelevant I think. Charles Stanford composed amazing music, but there was nothing innovative about it or Earth-shattering, but this doesn't make it bad music. Stanford is an amazing composer whether he broke new ground or not.

    I'm sorry my friend, but I think you're way off the mark here. Also, what does change and being flexible have to do with good music? Absolutely nothing, it's either good or it's not.

    Have you heard all of Sibelius' tone poems, Andre? Have you heard his choral works? Have you heard anything besides the same old pieces you continue to mention over and over again?

    I mean it's one thing to criticize a composer having heard their a lot of their work, but I seriously doubt you've heard as much as Tapkaara or I have heard.

    You're a fan of composers like Berg, Webern, etc. Does their music touch you? Does it move you emotionally?
    Last edited by Mirror Image; May-29-2009 at 07:48.

  7. #67
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    Quote Originally Posted by bdelykleon View Post
    Hm, I never quite understood the reasons for this Sibelius cult. Perhaps his music is just too cold for a Brazilian to understand, it melts before arriving here. Some years ago I bought a CD with Rattle conducting Sibelius and Nielsen, this one I already knew from his piano sonata (great piece). I love Nielsen (I think it was Sinfonia espansiva) and found the Sibelius, a few months later, I found a great bargain with all his symphonies and tone poems with the same Rattle. I never got the music, found it too much rhapsodic, too slow, too monochromatic, and never went back to it. Since I arrived in this forum and found the excitement of its members, I decided to give Sibelius a go. I can't like it. I'm even listening now to his most "acessible" symphony, but for me it is just empty. Void of any meaning, even musical.

    I was, as so much people are, a Mahler fan in my teens, I bought with my sparse earnings all his symphonies and songs, and had almost all of then in my head. And then I grew up, his overblown sentimentality doen't appeal anymore to me. Not that I don't like Mahler, I still listen quite frequently to most of his symphonies, and the Song of Earth is one of my favorites, but Mahler just doesn't excites me anymore. To me he is so much ahead of Sibelius, his works have a germanic coherence totally lacking in Sibelius.

    So I would vote for Mahler, but that's not a great duo for me.

    And as for the guy who said about the second half in 20th century music, Messiaen's Turangalīla is as good as a symphony as anything I heard: exciting, great melodies, incredible orchestration (and that Ondes Martenot). At least to me some miles ahead of everything Sibelius did and and most of what Mahler did.
    You misunderstand me. Messiaen is a great composer and the Turangalila Symphonie is great and all though I personally can't agree he's "miles ahead of everything Sibelius did and most of what Mahler did". What I was trying to say is that there are composers like Messaien who are the originators of the craft and love and know what they write and others who copy the art merely to "compose the new, cool stuff". Just read the biography of any "atonal" composer and you'll find out they made a "conversion" some time in their life. I won't name any of these but there are enough of them today...
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Quote Originally Posted by bdelykleon View Post
    And as for the guy who said about the second half in 20th century music, Messiaen's Turangalīla is as good as a symphony as anything I heard: exciting, great melodies, incredible orchestration (and that Ondes Martenot). At least to me some miles ahead of everything Sibelius did and and most of what Mahler did.
    It amazes me that you view music as some kind of competition. If you don't view it this way, then maybe you wouldn't mind explaining the comment that you wrote above. I'm awaiting your answers.

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    I still think the "but Sibelius didn't/couldn't compose anything the last 30 years of his life" thing is a bizarre and unfair critique of a composer who created a substatial catalog over works spanning about 4 decades. Since when is it requisite for all great composers to write till the very end of their lives? Shouldn't it be quality over quantity, anyway? After all, that applies to Mahler.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tapkaara View Post
    I still think the "but Sibelius didn't/couldn't compose anything the last 30 years of his life" thing is a bizarre and unfair critique of a composer who wrote hundreds of works in his lifetime. Since when is it requisite for all great composers to write till the very end of their lives? Shouldn't it be quality over quantity, anyway? After all, that applies to Mahler.
    EXACTLY THAT'S WHAT I'VE BEEN SAYING ALL ALONG. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING!!!!

    All caps aside, the music is what's being evaluated, not what he should've, could've, would've done. That's an irrelevant argument Andre is making and quite frankly a peculiar one at that.

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    Well, it's an arguement that I've seen others besides Andre make. Not singling him out, but I really would like to know what this is supposed to prove?

    What it does NOT prove is that Sibelius simply ran out of ideas. I understand how it could look like that on the surface, but any substatial scholarship into the man's life proves otherwise.

    He became so self-critical that he would compose works then not release them and/or destroy them. He did write an 8th symphony that he destroyed in the 1940s. Many believe he wanted to destroy Tapiola, but only got around to thinking it should be destroyed after it was already published.

    Bottom line: Artists like Sibelius do not simply run out of ideas. His depression, alcoholism and extreme self-criticism got in the way. Yes, this is a character flaw, but THIS is what prevented the further production of major works, not lack of artistic steam.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tapkaara View Post
    Well, it's an arguement that I've seen others besides Andre make. Not singling him out, but I really would like to know what this is supposed to prove?

    What it does NOT prove is that Sibelius simply ran out of ideas. I understand how it could look like that on the surface, but any substatial scholarship into the man's life proves otherwise.

    He became so self-critical that he would compose works then not release them and/or destroy them. He did write an 8th symphony that he destroyed in the 1940s. Many believe he wanted to destroy Tapiola, but only got around to thinking it should be destroyed after it was already published.

    Bottom line: Artists like Sibelius do not simply run out of ideas. His depression, alcoholism and extreme self-criticism got in the way. Yes, this is a character flaw, but THIS is what prevented the further production of major works, not lack of artistic steam.
    Bravo!

    Well put, Tapkaara. I couldn't have said it any better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mirror Image View Post
    All of what you just said Andre is purely subjective and hypothetical. So what if Sibelius didn't offer any new insights? Is this the criteria you use to evaluate all composers? Whether they pushed the boundaries of experimentation or not?
    Of course what I said is "subjective & hypothetical" as you say. But so is the whole nature/topic of this thread!

    As for whether music has to be challenging or ground-breaking to be enjoyed, of course not. But I myself am somewhat tired of some of the cliches, and am interested in music that is innovative as such. But that's just my preference.

    As for how much I've heard of Sibelius, I've heard all of his symphonies on radio, as I have most of Mahler's, so I think that qualifies me to share my comments on this thread (even though I don't own much music by them). I've also heard most of the tone-poems & the Violin Concerto, but they are somewhat outside the more restricted scope of this thread: comparing the Mahler & Sibelius symphonies. So I haven't heard as much as you or Tapkaara, but share in common with those posters above who listen to classical music, but don't count these two as their favourite composers.

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    It seems there are several in this thread that think Mahler and Sibelius are both feeble composers, but I don't think that's the path I intended for this thread to go down. Basically, this thread is about which composer's philosophy towards the writing of a symphony is more "true," and ultimately, who was the better symphonist. Perhaps someone who likes neither composer, or is not sufficiently well acquainted with either composer's symphonic output is not really in line to comment in this thread.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Sibelius has always reminded me of Vaughan-Williams (not Mahler) - and I think he is a composer of the same stature and of comparable influence.

    Mahler is of an older and grander tradition and his acute ear and musicality as a conductor is testament to this intense training.

    Neither Sibelius or Vaughan-Williams quote the folk songs of their respective countries in their symphonies, but both are overwhelmed by a sense of national colour and identity.
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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