Robert Reilly on Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony (Music Review)

“If you have never wept for joy at, or been shaken to the roots of your being by, music, here is the music to do it. Should I ever have the privilege of hearing God’s orchestra play, I am not sure what I will hear. But if it is Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, I will know where I am.” ROBERT REILLY

“Jean Sibelius’ Music of the Logos,” 
Robert Reilly, “The Imaginative Conservative,” 

Robert Reilly over at “The Imaginative Conservative” has posted a wonderful review of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, which includes an argument for the enduring value of Sibelius as a composer. Reilly notes: 

Sibelius’s music is a revelation of nature in all of its solitary majesty and portentiousness. Man is the spectator of the awesome drama that is unfolded before him and before which he must tremble, even in his exhilaration. 

Reilly’s argument is that Sibelius is not a romantic composer, concerned with self-expression or with the human experience. Rather, Sibelius is focused on a direct experience of the natural world, which he finds to be inherently musical. Reilly also explores Sibelius’ religious convictions about his music: “Though Sibelius was not religious in a conventional sense, he was a deep believer.” Sibelius thought of his composing as inspired by the Logos and embraced the medieval idea of the music of the spheres. All of this makes me far more interested in the music of Sibelius than I’ve ever been. It also makes me more comfortable with the use of “Finlandia” as a hymn tune, most frequently for the text “Be Still My Soul.” 

Reilly is a reviewer who searches for both beauty and spiritual meaning in music, and as such his guidance may be appreciated by visitors to this site. His 2016 book Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music (Ignatius) is a helpful entree into the music of the 20th and 21st century. It is certainly the case that the 20th century saw a turn away from beauty as a dominant concern of the arts, including music, but Reilly nonetheless finds many examples of beauty in the music of the last 100 years.