Jean Sibelius Works, a major undertaking, is advancing

14.6.2019
In a major undertaking carried out by the University of Helsinki, the complete works of Jean Sibelius are being published in a thoroughly studied and re-examined edition. After decades of expectations, the entire oeuvre of the composer will be made available to musicians and scholars.

In 1982 the estate of Jean Sibelius donated the composer’s personal archive of music to the National Library of Finland.

— At the time, there was public discussion on the necessity of publishing Sibelius's complete works, University Librarian Emeritus Esko Häkli reminisces.

— The absence of a complete works was considered a real problem. Most of the works were no longer available, and many of the sheets in use contained apparent errors.

In the early 1980s Esko Häkli worked as University Librarian at the Helsinki University Library. From the start, he has served as the coordinator and chair of the editorial staff of the Jean Sibelius Works project.

Varying sources

After substantial negotiation efforts concerning funding and publishing rights, the precise work of actual editing commenced in 1996. The core team of scholars has remained unchanged throughout the project, with Professor Timo Virtanen serving as the editor-in-chief and Kai Lindberg, Anna Pulkkis, Tuija Wicklund and Sakari Ylivuori, all of whom hold doctoral degrees in music, working under Virtanen as editors.

Docent Kari Kilpeläinen, a scholar specialised in Sibelius, retired in 2015 after participating in the project from the planning stages. Other contributors have included Folke Gräsbeck, DMus, and Pekka Helasvuo, LMus, as well as a number of proofreaders.

Going through source materials and checking sheets of music is work that requires time and precision. In the case of several works, the original musical manuscript is missing.

— For certain pieces, various sketches by Sibelius may have been preserved, as well as full scores and orchestral parts written down by copyists with differences in content between them, Timo Virtanen notes.

Some of his works Sibelius modified even after the first public performance, in addition to which he occasionally submitted amendments to his publisher by mail in the event of potential second editions.

— We have to track down all such changes and justify our final choices.

Previously unknown works included

By the end of 2019, a total of 33 blue-covered volumes will have been published. Once the project is finished, that number will be 60. At the rate of two volumes per year, the entire edition will be available by the mid-2030s.

The volumes include introductions to the works in English and German, scores and critical commentary describing and analysing the sources used.

During the process, the editors even came across a handful of lost and finished works.

— One of these is Adagio JS 13 for piano, now included in the volume for piano works, Virtanen says.

Deeper understanding of Sibelius

The ongoing project will help deepen and expand the perception of Sibelius prevalent in the international music scene, as the volumes contain such a great number of works previously unavailable in written form.

— Already now, the number of Sibelius’s works performed in public has grown by a significant degree, in addition to which the number of recorded works has also increased, Häkli happily reports.

— I also wish to thank the Sibelius estate for giving permission to publish the early versions of all works. For the sake of scientific research and the big picture, it’s really important to have them included in our edition.

This major project can be supported by making a donation to the National Library Cultural Heritage Fund and allocating the donation to the Sibelius Fund.