Saturday, September 16, 2017

Composers and Biographies

I've got a "biographies" tag that I use for general talk about the biographies of musicians and for the specific discussion of the relationship between biographical events and compositions. One of the things I like about Taruskin's book on Stravinsky, which he subtitles: "A Biography of the Works Through Mavra" is that he focuses the discussion on the works and what events and ideas influenced them and does not talk about Stravinsky's private life except as it is relevant.

I have said before that, despite a lot of loose talk, a musical composition is really not so much autobiography. I just ran across an interesting example in the life of Sibelius. I have been reading the monograph by Guy Rickards from Phaidon and ran across this passage:
Sibelius returned home at the end of May [1909] to a financial crisis ... He had totalled up a large number of his debts while still in London and these came to well over 50,000 Finnish marks, approximately five years' average income ... but by December, matters had come to a head and he put out a desperate appeal to Carpelan who came to Ainola to work out Sibelius' exact position. To the horror of all concerned, the final total debt was closer to 100,000 marks, and Sibelius' expenses exceeded his income annually by 6,000 marks which was twice the amount of his state pension. By the time Christmas arrived, help was at hand after Carpelan had successfully petitioned the wealthy Dahlström family in Turku for funds to alleviate (but by no means clear) his debts. Such was the measure of security this afforded the composer that Sibelius immediately declared to Carpelan that he would devote himself to the composition of a fourth symphony...
Ok, good news, so one would expect something rather celebratory in the symphony, wouldn't one? Here is a performance of the Symphony No. 4, op 63, with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen:

That's a bit of a surprise. But not in my book. The aesthetic form and mood of a piece of music has nothing really to do with the psychological mood of the composer. Why not? I think they just live in different parts of the mind or brain.

The moral of the story? Never allow a composer to run a tab.

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