Jean Sibelius and Olin Downes: music, friendship, criticism

Front Cover
Northeastern University Press, 1995 - Biography & Autobiography - 274 pages
Few composers in the history of music have had so ardent a champion as Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) had in Olin Downes (1886-1955), the highly influential music critic for the New York Times. The evangelical zeal with which Downes promoted the work of Sibelius to the American people transformed the Finnish composer into an immensely popular figure in American musical culture.
In the first volume to explore the importance and the impact of the relationship between Sibelius and Downes, Glenda Dawn Goss draws on her exhaustive examination of nearly thirty years of their correspondence to chart the course of this unique musical friendship, providing revealing insights into the lives and careers of both men.
During his career, Jean Sibelius was criticized at various times as either a radical modernist or a venerated conformist. Olin Downes played a key role in establishing Sibelius's reputation as a Romantic composer fated to live in the wrong century. As first Schoenberg and then Stravinsky began to explore the outer limits of music's language, Downes began to spread the gospel of Sibelius's music as salvation for the contemporary soul. He preached this message across America and around the world with an enthusiasm and devotion that did not abate until his death, two years before Sibelius's own. Attitudes toward Sibelius began to change dramatically when Virgil Thomson, music critic for the New York Herald Tribune, decried the popular power of Sibelius's music, describing it as unprogressive and superficial.
The captivating story of Sibelius and Downes demonstrates how a composer, seized as an artistic cause and appropriated by a consumer culture, acquired a popular image that arose without regard for the intrinsic musical values of his compositions. Goss explores the fallibility of studying how others receive a work of art as a basis for one's own understanding of it. She unmasks the ideological and personal biases of Sibelius's critics in an effort to allow an unprejudiced consideration of the essence of his extraordinary oeuvre.
The volume also contains the complete, previously unpublished correspondence between Sibelius and Downes, as well as a listing of Downes's reviews and articles on Sibelius written during a career that spanned nearly fifty years.

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


one Jean Sibelius and Modern Finland Come of Age
three Sibelius Discovers America
four Enter Igor Stravinsky
and the American People
seven Sibelius and Posterity
and Olin Downes
on Jean Sibelius

About the author (1995)

Glenda Dawn Goss is Professor of Music at the University of Georgia.

Bibliographic information