Lost Chords: Sibelius (1)
Scan the opus lists of many composers and there are gaps: lost works, unpublished or suppressed manuscripts, projected works that were never completed, published works that were initially performed but later withdrawn. This series investigates four such pieces. What, if anything, is left of them today, and if restored what would they add to our knowledge of the composer?

We start with a famous lost work: the Symphony No 8 by Sibelius. The Eighth might have been his crowning achievement, and its publication was anticipated for over three decades. But when Sibelius died in 1957 his family told the world it no longer existed and that the composer had destroyed it himself in 1945.

After the symphonic poem Tapiola appeared in 1926, new compositions from Sibelius all but ceased, and from 1928 until his death three decades later at the age of 92 very little was published. What happened to the Eighth Symphony, which the composer had apparently started work on as early as 1924? Despite frequent enquires from friends, conductors and publishers Sibelius always remained evasive, though Koussevitzky was promised a first performance for the Spring 1932 season in Boston, and there is documentary evidence that a fair copy was prepared by Sibelius’s regular copyist, Paul Voigt, in the late summer of 1933. But in 1945 at Ainola, the composer’s forest retreat 40km north of Helsinki, Sibelius was discovered in the act of burning a large number of manuscript pages by his wife Aino. Was this the end of the Eighth?

What caused Sibelius’ thirty year silence from composition and drove him to suppress and perhaps destroy the Eighth? The theory that he just had nothing left to say after the Seventh symphony and Tapiola doesn’t fit the evidence of numerous letters, memoirs and records. These reveal that the symphony was almost certainly complete by the early 1930s. A decade later in 1943 Sibelius’ diary indicates that his mind was still engaged with the problems of symphonic composition. “Only very few understand what I have done and want to do in the world of the symphony,” he wrote. “The majority have no idea what it is about.” In the second part of this post we will take a look at four key strands of evidence that shed some light on the lost work