Simon Heffer

Seven Symphonies Strong

Sibelius

By

Yale University Press 445pp £25 order from our bookshop

We know, or think we know, two things about Jean Sibelius even if we cannot hum more than a bar or two of his music. He is the man who for the last thirty years of his long life – he died exactly fifty years ago, at the age of nearly ninety-two – wrote virtually nothing; and he was a legendary drinker. As Andrew Barnett illustrates in this new and very solid biography, the first of those assertions is not exactly true; and the second is absolutely so. Sibelius does not seem to have been a man who found composing, or indeed life itself, especially easy. He wrote music not, it seems, because he had any great well of inspiration that he needed to tap and pour out, but because he needed to earn a living. And for him, as for many Finns and others from the Nordic countries, the long darknesses of northern life seem to have gone hand-in-hand with a propensity towards depression, and with it an early recourse to the bottle.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,
    • 'Readers have no more power to predict where the next story is going to take them than the prisoners had to determi… ,
    • 'Ho was no Soviet or Chinese puppet. He was a nationalist first and foremost. Had the Americans just realised this.… ,