Author: Ross, Ryan
Date published: March 1, 2013
The Correspondence of Jean Sibelius and Rosa Newmarch, 1906-1939. Edited and translated by Philip Ross Bullock. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 2011. [xxii, 289 p. ISBN 9781843836834. $90.] Music examples, illustrations, chronology, bibliography, index.
This volume contains the complete extant correspondence (mostly letters, but also the texts of telegrams and postcards) shared between Sibelius and his passionate British advocate, Rosa Harriet Newmarch (1857-1940). Editor and translator Philip Ross Bullock writes that one of its major aims is "to restore her letters to their rightful place, whether as documents chronicling Sibelius's reception in Britain, or as a private commentary on her own busy contribution to British musical life" (p. 39). This statement comes with his observations that Sibelius's letters to Newmarch have long been more familiar, and that her messages to him are both greater in number and lengthier overall than his to her. This, therefore, is a collection that teaches us much about Sibelius, but at least as much about Rosa Newmarch. And this is a quite a good thing, owing to her prominence as a writer, lecturer, facilitator, and promoter within the early twentieth-century English concert scene. In those capacities, she played a significant role in establishing Sibelius's high esteem there. Many of the circumstances leading to this result figure in their letters. But whether one consults The Correspondence of Jean Sibelius and Rosa Newmarch primarily for issues relating to Sibelius, Newmarch, or any of the matters discussed (including plenty on music and life), one could scarcely ask for a more skillful presentation of their written communication than Bullock's.
After the acknowledgments and a list of illustrations, Bullock's volume opens with a useful chronology showing highlights of both Sibelius's and Newmarch's lives and careers alongside notable world and musicrelated events. After a brief explanation of editorial conventions, a lengthy introduction follows. This in itself constitutes a significant scholarly contribution while at the same time it alerts the reader to the salient themes surrounding the correspondence. In addition to recounting key points of Newmarch's and Sibelius's relationship, not to mention the British musical climate just after the turn of the century, Bullock discusses Newmarch's writings and lectures on music alongside the composer's reception in Britain and elsewhere. We read about her shrewd promotion of Sibelius as a composer at once national in the positive sense that his art provided a viable alternative to German models (similar to how she felt about Russian music), and modern in the sense of his fresh yet tempered symphonic aesthetic. Making deftuse of primary and secondary sources, Bullock's introduction effectively facilitates an enhanced understanding of the letters that follow, adding greatly to the book's value.
Bullock numbers each entry in the correspondence itself in chronological order, beginning with Newmarch's letter to Sibelius dated 15 January (with the year 1906 in brackets), and ending with the 135th entry in the form of Newmarch's last letter to Sibelius, dated 13 October 1939. He also includes some letters exchanged between Newmarch and Sibelius's wife Aino (nos. 17, 23, 25, 105, and 128) that concern among other things his music and wellbeing. Also helpful are Bullock's indications at the head of each message as to the original language selected by the given writer. Sibelius and Newmarch wrote to each other mostly in French and German (with Newmarch writing primarily in French), while Aino's modest skills allowed her to write to Newmarch on one occasion in the latter's own language and to read some letters received in English.
The Sibelius-Newmarch correspondence itself covers a wide range of issues and says a great deal about both writers. Not surprisingly, many were written around planned and recent visits to each other's country or trips to third locations (such as France). Much discussion is therefore concerned with the logistics and itineraries of their travels. As historical documents for Sibelius's visits, such exchanges are significant for tracing the British premieres and other performances of major works and for illuminating the actions and attitudes of key participants therein. On that account alone, the availability of this full correspondence in a single volume should prove extremely useful for future scholarship.
At the same time, The Correspondence of Jean Sibelius and Rosa Newmarch is more than a source of practical details. A great deal of it makes for engaging reading. Long quoted in the secondary literature, Sibelius's letters to Newmarch contain some of his most striking remarks on the musical world and his own compositions. For example, significant statements he made about his Fourth Symphony-that it "stands out as a complete protest against the compositions of today" and has "Nothing-absolutely nothing of the circus about it"-come in a letter to her dated 2 May 1911 (no. 53, p. 128). On other occasions these letters offer us glimpses into his psyche at various points in his career. For instance, following the favorable impressions of his Fourth Symphony upon other artists, Sibelius speaks of inwardly growing "stronger and [his] ideas [becoming] clearer day by day" (no. 73, p. 163).
But it is Newmarch who more often steals the show with her strong opinions and liberties taken. Her stated enthusiasm for Sibelius's music, at times bordering upon flattery, and her well-meaning advice on various points concerning his health and career, at times bordering upon presumption, are on display throughout her letters. Explicitly expressed sentiments such as "your music has qualities which spoil for me the pleasure of hearing any other which is less distinguished" (no. 26, p. 86), "the most modern composer at the moment is neither Strauss, nor Debussy, nor any of their imitators, but-Sibelius" (no. 51, p. 125), and "Only, I beg you don't go wasting your energy teaching young Americans to write harmony and orchestration in the style of Sibelius" (no. 106, p. 212) are representative examples. For his part, Sibelius seems to have largely taken her strong opinions and attempts at motherly guidance in stride despite any private exasperation at her habits and prejudices (for instance, in a diary note mentioning her and others' "hatred of the Germans," p. 190 n. 1). It is obvious that he enjoyed New - march's letters, occasionally responding thoughtfully or favorably to opinions she divulged in them (for example, see nos. 53, 75, 77 and 120). Almost at the end of their written communication, Newmarch sent to Sibelius a copy of her new book, Jean Sibelius: A Short Story of a Long Friendship (1939). This memorial to their friendship also contains some discussion on his music. Sibelius's pleasure with the volume is plain to see (no. 134, p. 243).
For those familiar with Jean Sibelius: A Short Story of a Long Friendship, reading this correspondence, some of which Newmarch quotes in her book, presents something of a look behind that account. One can perhaps sense in the letters postdating Sibelius's last visit to Britain in 1921 a gradual realization on the part of each that, despite their expressed wishes to see each other again, they increasingly realized another meeting would not come to pass. With no visits or mutually-attended events taking place after further intentions came to nothing, the letters become fewer and farther between. The last letter comes in October 1939, just as the Second World War had erupted in Europe and shortly before her death during the following year. (Newmarch's physical condition had deteriorated in her later years.) A footnote to that message explains it to have been her final letter to Sibelius and provides the entirety of Elsie Newmarch's letter to the composer after the war, when he had finally learned that his old friend and advocate had passed away some years earlier.
Bullock's editorial work in this correspondence is abundant. He supplies many of the entries with lengthy footnotes that go beyond simply giving a decent amount of background information. As partially discussed, many of these quote at length from reviews, outside letters, and other writings in addition to fleshing out significant references in painstaking detail. One example involves Newmarch's suggestion that she and Sibelius meet the English conductor Henry Wood and his wife at Pagani's restaurant in London during the composer's 1909 visit. Not stopping with a brief description of the establishment, Bullock proceeds to quote generous passages from a guide to Victorian London outlining the character of the place and its musical significance (no. 12, pp. 68-70 n. 2). Such extensive notes are typical of the entire volume. Finally, directly before the bibliography and index at the very end, Bullock supplies some useful appendixes. The first provides a list of publications by Rosa Newmarch pertaining to Sibelius, and the second (another important inclusion) contains Newmarch's analytical notes on the Fourth Symphony. The latter includes, of course, an introduction and footnotes by Bullock.
In light of all that this volume offers, and the impressive lengths to which Bullock has gone to both illuminate and supplement its featured texts, it seems almost ungrateful to suggest that perhaps one editorial feature is lacking. Nevertheless, I did find myself wishing that I had access to an index of the separate correspondence entries. This would have sped up locating them by date, place, and sender, and would have also made it easier to find those letters exchanged between Aino and Newmarch, and also perhaps those of Elsie and John Newmarch found only in footnotes. (As with the other names in the volume, the master index lists only the pages bearing each name, which in Aino's and the New - marches' cases are numerous.) Regardless, Bullock's meticulously researched edition of this correspondence is a welcome resource and promises to be an essential tool for scholarship concerning English musical life and each of its primary authors.
Mississippi State University