Worst composer ever? (new article)

The Polish-born but naturalized French composer, conductor, music theorist and teacher René Leibowitz (1913–72) was significant in promoting serialism and the New Music in France after World War II, and famously described Sibelius – on the occasion of the Finnish composer’s 90th birthday – as ‘le plus mauvais compositeur du monde’. In a new article Ronald Powell discusses his music in the context of other composers, notably those of the Second Viennese School. Click here to read the article.

1 thought on “Worst composer ever? (new article)

  1. Interesting article by Mr. Powell. Yes Sibelius’s musical vocabulary was fairly conservative, however his approach to form, texture and timbre was highly advanced. Did the Finnish Master make use of fragments in his Symphonies? This notion probably originated in Cecil Gray’s book [1931] that Sibelius , makes use of fragments, or scraps of thematic material, which are then worked into a continuous statement later in the movement. However the composer himself told his secretary Santeri Levas ‘That’s not true at all-I do not build my themes from fragments’. With regard to Leibowitz’s infamous remark its worth knowing that he later told Ernst Tanzberger in a 1961 interview that ‘I never said that Sibelius’s music was worthless…the expression that Sibelius was the worst composer in the world was a joke. In France we had a questionnaire about who was the best composer in the world. Sibelius was mentioned. I reacted to this over-exaggeration by saying that he was the very worst….I only know the Fifth Symphony and the Violin Concerto well; those works I have conducted. I have also heard other Symphonies such as the Fourth and First’. Clearly Leibowitz would not have conducted any music by the worlds worst composer! With his Fourth Symphony [1911] Sibelius stood on the brink of atonality, but he never crossed this void. In Sibelius’s own words ‘Beyond that lies Madness’. With the Seventh Symphony and a late piece such as ‘Surusoitto’ [Funeral music] for Organ opus 111b [1931] which possibly contains themes for his projected E
    ighth Symphony Sibelius seem to be moving ever closer to expressionism. This is the tendency to discard rules and conventions and thus obtain complete freedom for the composer’s self-expression. I would contend that in this respect Sibelius was very close to Schoenberg.

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