‘Our True North’: Walton’s First Symphony, Sibelianism, and the Nationalization of Modernism in England

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‘Our True North’: Walton’s First Symphony, Sibelianism, and the Nationalization of Modernism in England by J. P. E. Harper-Scott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.jpehs.co.uk/publications/%E2%80%98our-true-north-walton%E2%80%99s-first-symphony-sibelianism-and-the-nationalization-of-modernism-in-england/.

‘“Our True North”: Walton’s First Symphony, Sibelianism, and the Nationalization of Modernism in England’. Music & Letters 89, no. 4 (2008): 562–89.

Click to access harper-scott-2008.pdf


The debt of Walton’s First Symphony to Sibelian models of symphonic form is often acknowledged, but the debt’s wider implications are seldom considered. The inter-war English idolization of Sibelius may help to explain why Walton should use characteristic Sibelian procedures such as rotational form, heavy dependence on pedal points for structural purposes, and focus on a sound-sheet or Klang – however individually Walton treats these devices – but it does not account for all that is interesting in this moment in British musical history. In this article a richer context is drawn by locating Walton’s Sibelianism in a more general contemporary artistic concern with what Michael Saler calls ‘the myth of the North’: an inter-war emphasis on the industrialized north of England. This ‘myth’, a development of modernist preoccupations with the relationship between technology and humanity, is reflected both in what Jed Esty calls an ‘anthropological turn’ in writers such as Eliot and Woolf (a turn to a romantic nationalism), and in Heidegger’s philosophy of art – connections that open up a range of ethical and political considerations. After presenting an analysis of the Sibelian technique of Walton’s symphony alongside discussion of its thematic treatments of nation, cultural, and geographic environment, and the changing antagonisms of late modernism, this article reconsiders the historical significance of Walton’s music, and reads it as a presentation of views on authentic community and the place of England in the twentieth century.


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