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A Composer’s Ties to Nazi Germany Come Under New Scrutiny

December 17, 2009

Peter Monaghan in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The composer Jean Sibelius is arguably as important to early 20th-century music as Ezra Pound was to literary modernism. Now, more than 50 years after the Finnish composer died, in 1957, at the age of 91, a musicologist in Texas is claiming that Sibelius was culpably entangled with Nazi Germany, and should join Pound, Richard Wagner, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline in the select group of artists who have been cast into anti-Semitic ignominy.

Sibelius’s associations with National Socialism amount to active support of Nazism and its propaganda efforts in Germany and the Nordic countries, says Timothy L. Jackson, a professor of music at the University of North Texas.

Other Sibelius experts say Jackson is making a Nazi out of a man who needed to deal with the Third Reich to earn his living, and who, along with most of the world, was perhaps too complacent about the rise of Hitler.

The role European composers may have played in laying the foundations for the grotesque ethos of Nazism has long been a contentious issue in musicological circles; the heat generated by such discussions relating to figures like Wagner suggests that the emerging dispute over Sibelius may significantly affect both the reception of his music and the way musical Romanticism is viewed in the history of 20th-century cultural life.

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