In an interesting coincidence (or was it?), he stopped composing in the mid-1920s, after his Symphony No. 7, right about the same time that Schoenberg developed his atonal method of composition. I suspect that, for composers like Sibelius, the methods and principles of modernism were a harsh challenge to everything he was doing in music. Judging by his music, Sibelius seems to have had finely-tuned aesthetic sensibilities. Wikipedia says that:
According to Sibelius's biographer Erik Tawaststjerna, he was an enthusiastic Wagnerian at the beginning of the 1890s but then began to feel disgust for his music, calling it pompous and vulgar.No argument from me on that. Sibelius and other composers like Vaughan Williams and William Walton were on the opposite side, aesthetically, from the progressive modernists like Schoenberg. Part of the project of modernism involved discrediting the more conservative musical procedures of these composers. Again, quoting from Wikipedia:
Theodor Adorno, philosopher and composition student of Alban Berg, was the foremost theorist of the modernist school. His point is absurd to read because Sibelius is particularly renowned for the organic, motivic unity of his compositions! But this is more about a strategic polemic than truth, I'm afraid. René Leibowitz, of course, is the author of that other well-known polemic Schoenberg and His School. Something that is not pointed out enough is the political nature of the aesthetic conflicts in and around the modernist movement in the mid-20th century. Vicious attacks such as those above may have been the reason that Sibelius released virtually no music after the 1920s. In the 1940s he burned a lot of manuscripts. Perhaps he had started to believe the nonsense put out by Adorno and Leibowitz!In 1938 Theodor Adorno wrote a critical essay about the composer, notoriously charging that "If Sibelius is good, this invalidates the standards of musical quality that have persisted from Bach to Schoenberg: the richness of inter-connectedness, articulation, unity in diversity, the 'multi-faceted' in 'the one'." Adorno sent his essay to Virgil Thomson, then music critic of the New York Herald Tribune, who was also critical of Sibelius; Thomson, while agreeing with the essay's sentiment, declared to Adorno that "the tone of it [was] more apt to create antagonism toward [Adorno] than toward Sibelius". Later, the composer, theorist and conductor René Leibowitz went so far as to describe Sibelius as "the worst composer in the world" in the title of a 1955 pamphlet.
In any case, I would like to devote a few posts to Sibelius for no other reason than I think he is a very fine composer. I want to look at some of the symphonies and, as I said the other day, the Violin Concerto. I won't start today because I am still getting over my cold and I want to have sufficient time and energy to give Sibelius the attention he deserves.
Let's listen to his Symphony No. 7, just to whet the appetite: