- The Correspondence of Jean Sibelius and Rosa Newmarch, 1906–1939 ed. by Philip Ross
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 music-related 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 deft use 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 well-being. 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...