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After Sibelius

  • Module tutor: Dr Tim Howell
  • Level C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)

Aims and content

A seemingly disproportionate creative energy has emerged from Finland over the last 25 years or so. Finland has more contemporary composers and professional orchestras per capita than any nation in the world: why?  It apparently defies prevalent trends in the production of classical music elsewhere in Europe so we should consider why there is so much new music emerging from such a small country.  This project will explore a wide sweep of music history ranging from Sibelius’ position in relation to 19th-century models, through to present-day compositional styles: from national romanticism to modernism and beyond. Exploring the Sibelius legacy, the effect of this considerable influence on subsequent generations and its lasting consequences – an internationally acclaimed school of contemporary music – is the broadest aim here.  The national, political and cultural background to this music, the relationship between creativity and national identity that is so particular to Finland,  will form an important context for our discussions. 

To give focus to the project, a detailed consideration of music by key figures will form case studies: Jean Sibelius, Erik Bergman, Einojuhanni Rautavaara, Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg (though there will be reference to others). The project will take an historical and analytical approach to a selection of ‘set works’ as the focus of a stylistic investigation supplemented by additional pieces as the basis of student-directed seminars. Discovering underlying features behind this richly varied corpus of music – involving issues of climate, landscape, language and timescale –  will help to inform our understanding of widely-differing compositional styles.

Reading and listening

Essential Scores

  • Sibelius: Symphonies 5, 6 and 7; Tapiola
  • Bergman: Colori ed improvvisazioni; Birds in the Morning; Sub luna
  • Rautavaara: Symphony No.5; Piano Concerto No.3 (‘Gift of Dreams’)
  • Saariaho: Lichtbogen; Aile du songe; Orion;  Notes on Light
  • Lindberg: Aura; Clarinet Concerto

Copies of all the post-Sibelius set works will be provided for the relevant classes; scores are in the Library along with CD recordings.

You will find the website for the Finnish Music Information centre: an invaluable source for background information; they have also released a number of small printed guides written by Kimmo Korhonen. Access to the periodical Finnish Music Quarterly is also useful as this has numerous relevent articles.  My book, After Sibelius: Studies in Finnish Music (Ashgate 2006) will help as a follow-up to project sessions and includes studies of other composers not included here.  It has an extensive bibliography of works in English that deal with the music of Finland. The more recent anthology, Kaija Saariaho: Visions, Narratives, Dialogues (Ed. Tim Howell with Jon Hargreaves & Michael Rofe) has wide-ranging bibliographical information (in English and Finnish!) as well as a range of articles specifically on this leading contemporary figure.


An essay of approximately 5000 words on a topic agreed in tutorial (67%) and a seminar presentation and its written account (33%).

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the module all students should:

  • become familiar with issues of style and compositional technique relating to selected Finnish composers from Sibelius to the present day;
  • gain an awareness of Finland’s political, historical and cultural position as a contextural framework for the project;     
  • have developed analytical approaches to a range of selected works which may act as methodological models for other projects;
  • achieve an understanding of musical developments from 19th-century romanticm through to 20th-century modernism – and beyond;
  • develop their presentational skills through seminars and discussion groups. 

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A7 & A9

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B7 & B9

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C7 & C9