Dust of Hue

You might be wondering what does the name of this blog mean. The phrase “dust of hue” comes from a quote from Jean Sibelius. It goes:

If someone writes about my music and finds, let us say, a feeling of nature in it, all well and good. Let him say that, as long as we have it clear within ourselves, we do not become a part of the music’s innermost sound and sense through analysis … Compositions are like butterflies. Touch them even once and the dust of hue is gone. They can, of course, still fly, but are nowhere as beautiful …

A work of art is often dissected and deconstructed to better understand it. For example in music, a work in sonata form can be divided and described in its classic parts, introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation and coda.


Do you know what butterfly wings are made of? They’re actually pretty complex. The main structure of the wing is made of thin layers of chitin, a protein that also makes up the outer “shell” of the body. These layers are so thin you can see through them. They are covered with thousands of tiny modified hairs called scales, which create the colors and patterns we see. These scales are the “dust” that comes off a butterfly wing if you touch it.

From San Diego Zoo.org

While this is meaningful for study, and can also help appreciation, for Sibelius, it is perhaps potentially damaging to the appreciation of his music. The reason is Sibelius’ unique brand of form in music – organicism, organic development. Whereas a classical sonata form is like Lego blocks which can be easily taken apart and displayed as different parts of the whole, in Sibelius’ most mature work, his music is so organically unified that to dissect it is like peeling apart a flower or a butterfly – petals, stem, wings, antennae… laying them out in pieces, labeling them… and then saying, “I have studied this and I understand it.” But the flower or butterfly has been destroyed in the process.

Is it necessary to dissect a piece of music in order to appreciate it? In some cases, it is true, or does enhance appreciation.  But in other cases, if you “touch” it that way, you disturb a layer of art, of aesthetic meaning, that will never be restored to you. In the same way that the beauty of a rainbow becomes a little less divine once you start describing it in scientific/meteorological terms.

Compositions are like butterflies. Touch them even once and the dust of hue is gone. They can, of course, still fly, but are nowhere as beautiful …

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Leon is Singapore's resident champion of Jean Sibelius.

6 thoughts on “Dust of Hue”

  1. Hi Ju, so nice to see you here! :) I am still experimenting with the site’s look and feel! It’s probably going to change again soon though, want to evaluate more themes (this one, Expi, is free, can you believe it?). But I am hoping more eyes will trickle into this realm to give comments on the design! Be honest – thanks! Feels good to be publishing again.

  2. Great new site! For the love of Sibelius, please write regularly! For a moment, I thought the Dust of Hue referred to the road and weather conditions in Vietnam!

  3. LOL! Well, perhaps it sounds more meaningful in the original Finnish! So glad to have you here, Dr. Chang, it’s an honour. I put your blog on my blogroll some time back. :)

    I hope to write regularly, but the little distractions that stopped me back in 2002 are growing up and still demanding attention. :) But I shall definitely try. Thank you!

  4. Very beautiful site and very nice story to introduce to the amazing Sibelius music. I love Sibelius and I also deeply love Bruckner. I think they have a lot in common, what do you think ?

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