Music and the Nordic Breakthrough: Sibelius/Nielsen/Glazunov 2015

Painting of a naked Madonna in muted tones

The 150th anniversary of the births of Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, and Alexander Glazunov presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the life, work, and cultural environment of three of the most significant creative musical figures from the greater Baltic/Nordic region (Copenhagen to St Petersburg) around the turn of the twentieth century. Taking its cue from the title of Danish literary scholar George Brandes’ epochal 1883 volume Men of the Modern Breakthrough, the anniversary also offers a chance to reappraise the emergence of a distinctively Nordic/Northern European modernism from the 1890s: a remarkable generation of artists, writers, architects, designers and musicians that included Henrik Ibsen, Amalie Skram, August Strindberg, Edvard Munch, Knut Hamsun, Selma Lagerlöf, Eliel Saarinen, and Ilya Repin.

Though recent studies have sought to promote a more pluralistic and geographically diverse understanding of modernism in these years, the broader significance of the Nordic wave and its impact upon continental European modernism remains under-appreciated outside the Nordic zone. This conference seeks to reappraise the work of Sibelius, Nielsen, Glazunov and their contemporaries in their anniversary year, and to reassess the wider implications of the ‘Nordic breakthrough’ in music, art, literature, and architecture at the turn of the century for thinking about modernism, modernity, and its reactions. Simultaneously, it seeks to expand the notion of the ‘Nordic zone’ as a geographical category, moving beyond conventional nationally determined modes of critical enquiry to embrace a broader definition of cultural regionality. In so doing, it seeks to promote a new, wider understanding of the Nordic region as a distinctive arena of cultural activity.

Conference topics include:

• The music of Sibelius, Nielsen, Glazunov, including its genesis, critical reception and analysis;

• Performance in the Nordic fin-de-siècle: the lives, careers, and mobilities of instrumentalists and divas such as Christina Nilsson and Aino Ackté;

• Notions of influence, inheritance, and legacy (e.g. the ‘shadow of Sibelius’);

• Definitions of ‘modernism’ and reactions/resistance to the ‘modern breakthrough’, conservatism;

• Gender, sexuality, and the Nordic fin-de-siècle;

• Music, myth, folklore, and fairytale;

• Musical landscapes, Texts, and Environments;

• Centres and Peripheries: issues of music, geography, and historiography;

• Music and the Idea of North (including ideologies of ethnicity and race);

• Translation, mediation, and transnationalism in the Nordic sphere.

The conference also includes an evening recital given by award-winning soprano Hedvig Paulig and Prof Gustav Djupsjöbacka, Rector of the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, entitled ‘Sibelius and modernist tendencies in Northern Europe 1910-20’, with music by Sibelius, Madetoja, Kuula, Melartin, Merikanto, and Rachmaninov.

Click here to view the full conference programme.

The conference gratefully acknowledges support from the Centre for Eastern European Language-Based Area Studies (CEELBAS), the Music & Letters Trust, and the John Fell Fund.

Click here to register. Day rates are £20, or £10 for students.


Nordic Network

Contact name: Leah Broad

Contact email:

Website: Nordic Breakthrough Conference

Audience: Open to all