Sibelius and His Masonic Music, by Hermine Weigel Williams
Review by Wallace McLeod
from The Philalethes magazine, June 1999
NEW BOOK TELLS US ABOUT A VANISHED TREASURE
by Wallace McLeod, FPS
Sibelius and His Masonic Music: Sounds in `Silence.’ By Hermine Weigel Williams. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. 1998. Pp. xiii, 249. List price, $89.95, plus shipping and handling. Copies may be ordered from the Edwin Mellen Press, Box 450, 415 Ridge Street, Lewiston, New York 14092-0450.
The musical composer Jean Sibelius was born in Finland, on December 8, 1865. When the Grand Lodge of New York reintroduced Freemasonry into his homeland in 1922 (by chartering Suomi Lodge, No 1), Sibelius was in the first class of candidates; the visiting Grand Master of New York, M.W. Arthur S. Tompkins, presided as Worshipful Master. Soon after the independent Grand Lodge of Finland was formed in 1924, Sibelius was named Grand Organist. On May 5, 1927, he was made an Honorary Member of his Grand Lodge. But he received Masonic recognition in America too. The American Lodge of Research elected him a Fellow on September 30, 1935, and in 1938 the Grand Lodge of New York awarded him its Medal for Distinguished Achievement. In February 1947 he became an Honorary Member of the Philalethes Society. In March 1948 he was featured in an article in the magazine, with his portrait on the cover. He passed to the Grand Lodge Above on September 20, 1957.
In addition to his other works, Sibelius composed some pieces for use in lodges. And in this new book we have the definitive study of his Masonic Ritual Music (Opus 113); the author is Dr Hermine Williams, who has lectured on music at several universities in America and New Zealand. She has had access to a number of previously neglected documents, including the Sibelius Family Collection in the National Archives of Finland, and manuscripts and photocopies of the successive revisions of the music in the Livingston Masonic Library in New York. She is therefore able to explain the evolution of his ritual music in fuller detail than ever before.
In January 1927, it was first performed in his Grand Lodge. It was restricted to use in Masonic lodges, and was not to be used outside the Grand Lodge of Finland. There were a number of handwritten copies, but no printed texts. Then, on 7 April 1935, a transcript of nine vocal and instrumental pieces was presented to the Grand Lodge of New York. With the permission of the composer, they were published there in 1936. The book was available only to Masons, and had to be ordered through the Grand Secretary’s Office. Sibelius kept on working, and in December 1946, at the age of eighty-one, he produced two new pieces. A second edition of his Masonic Music, with the new works and a version of his best known composition, Finlandia, was published by the Grand Lodge of New York in 1950.
Dr Williams has put together a fascinating story. She tells us about the evolution of the music through successive handwritten versions, the sources of the words, the lives of some of those involved in the publication, and much more. But there is one other detail that should concern us.
In an Appendix to her book, Dr Williams notes that a number of manuscript copies of the Masonic music were prepared by Sibelius’s friend, the opera singer Wäinö Sola, and, with the composer’s authorization, were sent to the United States. One was given, as we noted, to the Grand Lodge of New York in 1935, and so was a later version, in 1948. Another copy was sent to the Grand Lodge of Iowa in 1949. These are among the treasures of their respective collections.
But she also tells us (on page 223) that “In 1946, Valter W. Granberg of the St. Henrick Lodge No. 5, Helsinki arranged for a `gift’ manuscript to be sent to The Philalethes Society in care of the President, Walter A. Quincke, who resided in Los Angeles, CA. A letter acknowledging receipt of the manuscript in a bound volume and autographed by Sibelius is dated 11 December 1946 (see `Sibelius Family Collection 36/94,’ National Archives of Finland). At this writing, the Philalethes Society manuscript has not been located.”
This seems like a shocking and almost incredible story; but the past issues of our magazine (now so readily available on CD-ROM) provide confirmation. In February, 1947, Leo Fischer wrote, “The members of the Philalethes Society will be particularly proud to know that Brother Sibelius has presented to the Society, through Bro. Valter W. Granberg, M.P.S., Worshipful Master of St. Henrick Lodge No. 5, of Helsinki, a bound volume containing manuscripts of Ritualistic music composed by our great Brother for use within a tiled Masonic Lodge.” And in March 1948, in his cover-article about the composer, our President, and the founding Editor of our magazine, Walter A. Quincke, mentioned the donation again — a trifle plagiaristically.
The Philalethes Society, to the best of my knowledge, has never had a permanent headquarters or its own office building. The administrative work has generally been carried out by the successive officers in their homes. This makes the keeping of records a bit difficult, especially when one of the senior administrators retires without warning. On October 29, 1951, the President and Editor, Walter Albert Quincke passed away. His successor as President and Editor, Harold Hite Kinney, died suddenly on July 21, 1952. As Lee Edwin Wells wrote a year and a half later (February 1954), “It has always been a weakness of the Society from its very inception that it was a `one man’ organization.” And with the loss of two successive leaders within such a brief time, the Society almost sank into oblivion. Fortunately, however, it was revived by the efforts of Bros. Lee Wells and Al Cerza; and to prevent a recurrence of the disaster, they arranged for a Constitution to be drawn up for the Society. But the manuscript of Sibelius’s Masonic music, donated to the Society late in 1946, carefully bound, and autographed by the composer, has not been heard of since. One wonders what it would be worth today.
But to return to Dr Williams’s fine book, we can provide further confirmation of one other detail. She notes on pages 75-76 that the composer “had difficulty controlling the motions of his right hand. Sibelius suffered from some sort of a tremor in that hand.” She observes that mention of this tremor found its way into print only a few times. We can add one more reference to the list.
The Philalethes for July 1947 published a letter from Dr Granberg, reporting on the composer’s condition: “Bro. Sibelius is now an old man and lives in his country house some 100 kilometers from Helsingfors with his aged wife, the daughters being married. He cannot have many visitors, because of his age, and we Brethren here cannot send him many comforts because nothing much can be obtained here in a legal way and the black market cannot supply anything, either. His music and his accomplishments are not forgotten; but an old man has to be remembered occasionally to make his last day more pleasant. He cannot go out and cannot read because his hands are shaky. But he still enjoys sweet fruits and tidbits. He says he still has many melodies in his head but is unable to put them on paper. Sometimes he is composing and is able to write things; for instance, he has composed two new songs for us Brethren which we can send you later. I must also mention that the ritualistic music he wrote in the past has now been orchestrated, not by himself alone but he has made the necessary corrections. We can send you that later, for Lodge use.” The composer survived for another ten years.
Anyway, if you should come across a handwritten copy of “Masonic Ritual Music,” inscribed to the Philalethes Society and signed “Respectfully, Jean Sibelius,” please feel free to get in touch with the officers of the Society.