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

Faculty of Music, University of Oxford, 31 August-2 September 2015

The 150th anniversary of the births of Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, and Alexander Glazunov presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the work of three of the most significant creative musical figures from the greater Baltic/North Sea region (Norway 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, artists, designers and musicians that included Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Edvard Munch, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eliel Saarinen, and Ilya Repin and whose influence extended far more widely beyond the Nordic region.

Though recent studies have energetically 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 legacy of the ‘Nordic breakthrough’ in music, art, literature, and architecture at the turn of the century for thinking about modernity (and modernism) and its reactions.

Presentations focused on the work of Sibelius, Nielsen, and Glazunov will be especially welcomed. However, papers dealing with the work of other contemporary figures, or relevant themes, are also strongly encouraged. Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • The music of Sibelius, Nielsen, Glazunov, including its critical reception and analysis;
  • Notions of influence, inheritance, and legacy (e.g. the ‘shadow of Sibelius’);
  • Definitions of ‘modernism’ and reactions/resistance to the ‘modern breakthrough’;
  • Gender and the Nordic fin-de-siècle;
  • Myth, folklore, and fairytale;
  • Landscapes, Texts, and Environments;
  • Centres and Peripheries: issues of music, geography, and historiography;
  • Ideas of North (including ideologies of ethnicity and race);
  • Translation, mediation, and transnationalism.

Further details, including a formal call for papers, will be published soon. For more information, please contact:

Daniel Grimley (
Philip Bullock (