'Axel' is the fictional diary of Baron Axel Carpelan, friend and confidant of Jean Sibelius. The novel was written in 1986.
Bo Carpelan is the great-nephew of Axel and is one of the leading Finnish-Swedish writers. He was born in Helsinki in 1926 and received the Nordic Literature Prize in 1977 and has won the Finlandia Prize twice in 1993 and 2005.
It is not known whether Axel himself ever kept a diary but Bo Carpelan was given access to the correspondence between Axel and Janne [Sibelius] from 1900 onwards and the book brings alive a momentous cultural and historical epoch--the period of the awakening of Finnish national consciousness.
The diary entry 25-2-1902 reads: 'Jean has sent the score of his Second Symphony to me with a moving, magnificent dedication. The whole symphony is dedicated to me! Even if the whole of my life had been lived in emptiness, this would have been worth it, this music that speaks of new life out of darkness; have not had time to study the details. Now my insomnia will be easy to bear. Here in my [!] symphony there is a message, a freedom like a tree stretching its roots deep into the soil of our land and even deeper, to the all-embracing, the limitless! Cannot sleep.'
Much of this book I find profoundly moving; it is difficult to know where reality ends and fiction begins. In this final extract from the diary entry 3-9-1899 Axel, having met up with architect D., 'Took up the subject of Sibelius. D. talks quickly with inner necessity, distrustful of S., he 'doesn't develop any of his themes, just blows them up and minimizes them again'; can't stand Mahler either, but finds Bruckner truly great. When I attempted to prove the contrary tears suddenly came into my eyes and I suffered a violent surge of emotion, a sign of old age. Tried to talk about a movement towards the inner, about fruitful uncertainty, the darkness of myth, the visionary, about the white swan on the dark waters and a music that does not divide but joins together, organically. He looked at me with sympathy'.
I can recommend this book with all enthusiasm to all lovers of Sibelius. It portrays a vanished world in which some of the greatest music ever written saw the light of day.
Axel is published by Northwestern University Press.
Earlier editions, Paladin [paperback] and Carcanet [hardback] are to be found on line [second hand]--kullervopete.