This is the kind of writing on music that has no fear of talking about the details and in which no comment or opinion goes unsupported!
In complete contrast to the work of Joseph Kerman is the writing in a book on Sibelius I was reading yesterday as research for my upcoming posts on him. The book is called Jean Sibelius and His World and, save for one paper on his sketches, contains nothing but unsupported and often, in my view, unsupportable, baseless speculation in what I would call "new musicology lite style". In other words, just what you would get from not-terribly aware third-year undergraduates who have read some "new" musicology and not much else but have a lot of half-baked ideas to share with you. Shockingly, this book is published by Princeton University and the contributors are, many of them, actual professors of music at actual universities, though not very well-known ones.
In one paper, the author manages to avoid any discussion of the actual music in favor of long-winded musing over the significance of a comment Sibelius once made about how compositions are like butterflies, if you touch them the dust comes off and they are no longer so beautiful. Of course, Shostakovich made a similar observation once, with a different metaphor. Eating with a friend he commented that musicologists were like the cook in the kitchen. The chicken lays the eggs and we get to eat them when cooked, but the poor cook just cracks the eggs and scrambles them. In both cases, the observation is to the effect that musicology tends to be cold and distant analysis, which is not the ideal way to appreciate the beauty of music. But this writer takes off on a wild flight as follows:
Sibelius' butterfly metaphor fits the expressionist aesthetics of the fragility of individual utterance better than it does academic logic. This was combined with a readiness to deal with unlimited depths of sorrow and pain, and a naturalistic directness, alongside a gothic textural complexity.Yes, hundreds of pages of this kind of writing! What's wrong with it is, it uses terms like "expressionist aesthetics" that are crying out for both explanation and examples. What do you mean by "expressionist aesthetics"? Do you even understand those words? Can you find me examples, musical examples in Sibelius' music that would illustrate this? What do you mean by the "fragility of individual utterance"? Is there some way in which Sibelius' individual utterance is more fragile than mine? Or yours? And how would you show this? And how will you illustrate or demonstrate his "readiness to deal with unlimited depths of sorrow and pain"? Apart from mentioning his alcoholism, of course. And where, in the music, did you get this idea? I won't even ask what you could mean by "gothic textural complexity" but, if you can't show it to me in the music, I ain't interested!
Don't people who write like this have editors any more? Or, better still, teachers who are willing to ask these kinds of questions? This book on Sibelius, I am afraid, is the opposite of useful. Instead of giving you actual information about Sibelius and his music, everything it says makes you less-informed, because your head is swimming with all this "gothic textural complexity" nonsense. You are literally stupider after reading.
Let's listen to the Symphony No. 2 of Sibelius to clear our heads. See if you can hear any "gothic textural complexity":