Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Kodály — a post-Romantic fulfilment of Johann Gottfried von Herder’s vision and prophesy?



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Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Zoltán Kodály are three composers of distinct generations – but lived and worked through the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. They concurrently, but independently of each other, promulgated very similar arguments on music nationalism and the role of folklore in helping to achieving national awakening in their respective countries. And indeed, their philosophies and work are very consistent with the arguments promulgated 150 years previously by a German philosopher – Johann Gottfried von Herder.

Was it coincidence that these composers would involve themselves in folklore at almost the same time, and synthesise this with their compositions? Or, could it be argued that these three composers (amongst many other contemporaries) had the same unmet vision and desire for cultural awakening – and found their answers in a timely manner with Herder’s arguments? It is worth remembering that Herder wrote his essays 150 years previously, prior to the French revolution, and yet they still found relevance in a completely different time and society.

This document consults the philosophies and lifeworks of Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Kodály, and cross references them with that of Herder’s – and argues that Herder’s ideas on folklore were one (out of many) answers to achieve greater cultural sovereignty for countries at the end of the nineteenth century and through the twentieth.



Folksong Herder Sibelius Vaughan Williams Kodály