The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) is extraordinarily popular in Japan; he is among the most frequently performed orchestral composers, and even Empress Emerita Michiko is known as a Sibelius enthusiast. This article charts the composer’s rise to prominence and investigates his reception in Japan by analyzing Japanese discourses on his music. These discourses have tended to frame Sibelius in specific spatio-cultural contexts such as Finnishness or Nordicness, frequently emphasizing his proximity to nature. While this tendency is also common to the reception of Sibelius in other parts of the world, the meanings assigned to Sibelius’s Finnishness and affinity with nature in Japan are distinct. Unlike in Western Europe, where such characterizations are deployed to imply the peripherality of his music, in Japan they serve to highlight aspects of sameness between Sibelius’s music and domestic Japanese discourses about nature. This process represents an intriguing dynamic wherein cultural meaning is negotiated at a complex intersection of two discursive spheres.
Sibelius in Japan: Cultural Domestication and Images of Sameness
Lasse Lehtonen received his PhD from the University of Helsinki, Finland, in 2018. He has been affiliated with the University of Tokyo and the Tokyo University of the Arts as a visiting scholar. Combining approaches from musicology and Japanese studies, Lehtonen’s research explores music in and as modern Japanese culture through a variety of perspectives, including cultural history, sociology, and music analysis. His research interests range from Western art music composition to popular music and video game music.
Lasse Lehtonen; Sibelius in Japan: Cultural Domestication and Images of Sameness. Journal of Musicology 1 October 2023; 40 (4): 485–510. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2023.40.4.485
Download citation file: