Jean Sibelius


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Jean Sibelius, born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, was a Finnish composer and violinist of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. He is widely recognized as his country's greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.

Early Years

Sibelius was born on December 8, 1865 in Hämeenlinna in the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. He was the son of the Swedish-speaking medical doctor Christian Gustaf Sibelius and Maria Charlotta Sibelius (née Borg). The family name stems from the Sibbe estate in Eastern Uusimaa which was owned by his paternal great-grandfather. Sibelius's father died of typhoid in July 1868, leaving substantial debts. As a result, his mother—who was again pregnant—had to sell their property and move the family into the home of Katarina Borg, her widowed mother, who also lived in Hämeenlinna. Sibelius was therefore brought up in a decidedly female environment, the only male influence coming from his uncle, Pehr Ferdinand Sibelius, who was interested in music, especially the violin. It was he who gave the boy a violin when he was ten years old and later encouraged him to maintain his interest in composition. For Sibelius, Uncle Pehr not only took the place of a father, but acted as a musical adviser.

From an early age, Sibelius showed a strong interest in nature, frequently walking around the countryside when the family moved to Loviisa on the coast for the summer months. In his own words: "For me, Loviisa represented sun and happiness. Hämeenlinna was where I went to school; Loviisa was freedom." It was in Hämeenlinna, when he was seven, that his aunt Julia was brought in to give him piano lessons on the family's upright instrument, rapping him on the knuckles whenever he played a wrong note. He progressed by improvising on his own, but still learned to read music. He later turned to the violin, which he preferred. He participated in trios with his elder sister Linda on piano, and his younger brother Christian on the cello. (Christian Sibelius was to become an eminent psychiatrist, still remembered for his contributions to modern psychiatry in Finland.) Furthermore, Sibelius often played in quartets with neighboring families, adding to his experience in chamber music. Fragments survive of his early compositions of the period, a trio, a piano quartet and a Suite in D Minor for violin and piano. Around 1881, he recorded on paper his short pizzicato piece Vattendroppar (Water Drops) for violin and cello although it might just have been a musical exercise. The first reference he himself made to composing comes in a letter from August 1883 in which he reveals he had composed a trio and was working on another: "They are rather poor, but it is nice to have something to do on rainy days." In 1881, he started to take violin lessons from the local bandmaster, Gustaf Levander, immediately developing a particularly strong interest in the instrument. Setting his heart on a career as a great violin virtuoso, he soon succeeded in becoming quite an accomplished player, performing David's Concerto in E minor in 1886 and, the following year, the last two movements of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in Helsinki. Despite such success as an instrumentalist, he ultimately chose to become a composer.

Although his mother tongue was Swedish, in 1874 Sibelius attended Lucina Hagman's Finnish-speaking preparatory school. In 1876, he was then able to continue his education at the Finnish-language Hämeenlinna Normal Lyceum where he proved to be a rather absent-minded pupil, although he did quite well in mathematics and botany. Despite having to repeat a year, he succeeded in passing the school's final examination in 1885, which allowed him to enter a university. As a boy he was known as Janne, a colloquial form of Johan. However, during his student years, he adopted the French form Jean, inspired by the business card of his deceased seafaring uncle. Thereafter he became known as Jean Sibelius.

Studies and Early Career

After graduating from high school in 1885, Sibelius began to study law at the Imperial Alexander University in Finland but, showing far more interest in music, soon moved to the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) where he studied from 1885 to 1889. One of his teachers was its founder, Martin Wegelius, who did much to support the development of education in Finland. It was he who gave the self-taught Sibelius his first formal lessons in composition. Another important influence was his teacher Ferruccio Busoni, a pianist-composer with whom he enjoyed a lifelong friendship. His close circle of friends included the pianist and writer Adolf Paul and the conductor-to-be Armas Järnefelt, (who introduced him to his influential family, including his sister Aino, who would become Sibelius's wife). The most remarkable of his works during this period was the Violin Sonata in F, rather reminiscent of Grieg.

Sibelius continued his studies in Berlin (from 1889 to 1890) with Albert Becker, and in Vienna (from 1890 to 1891) with Robert Fuchs and Hungarian-Jewish Karl Goldmark. In Berlin, he had the opportunity to widen his musical experience by going to a variety of concerts and operas, including the premiere of Richard Strauss's Don Juan. He also heard the Finnish composer Robert Kajanus conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a program which included his symphonic poem Aino, a patriotic piece which may well have triggered Sibelius's later interest in using the epic poem Kalevala as a basis for his own compositions. While in Vienna, he became particularly interested in the music of Anton Bruckner whom, for a time, he regarded as "the greatest living composer", although he continued to show interest in the established works of Beethoven and Wagner. He enjoyed his year in Vienna, frequently partying and gambling with his new friends. It was also in Vienna that he turned to orchestral composition, working on an Overture in E major and a Scène de Ballet. While embarking on Kullervo, an orchestral work inspired by the Kalevala, he fell ill but was restored to good health after gallstone-excision surgery. Shortly after returning to Helsinki, Sibelius thoroughly enjoyed conducting his Overture and the Scène de Ballet at a popular concert. He was also able to continue working on Kullervo, now that he was increasingly developing an interest in all things Finnish. Premiered in Helsinki on April 28, 1892, the work was an enormous success.

It was around this time that Sibelius finally abandoned his cherished aspirations as a violinist: "My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning to night. I hated pen and ink — unfortunately I preferred an elegant violin bow. My love for the violin lasted quite long and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late."

In addition to the long periods he spent studying in Vienna and Berlin (1889–91), in 1900 he traveled to Italy where he spent a year with his family. He composed, conducted and socialized actively in the Scandinavian countries, the UK, France, and Germany and later traveled to the United States.

Marriage and Rise to Fame

While Sibelius was studying music in Helsinki in the autumn of 1888, Armas Järnefelt, a friend from the Music Institute, invited him to the family home. There he met and immediately fell in love with Aino, the 17-year-old daughter of General Alexander Järnefelt, the governor of Vaasa, and Elisabeth Clodt von Jürgensburg, a Baltic aristocrat. The wedding was held on June 10, 1892 at Maxmo. They spent their honeymoon in Karelia, the home of the Kalevala. It served as an inspiration for Sibelius's tone poem En saga, the Lemminkäinen legends and the Karelia Suite. Their home, Ainola, was completed on Lake Tuusula, Järvenpää, in 1903. Over their years in Ainola, they had six daughters: Eva, Ruth, Kirsti (who died very young from typhoid), Katarina, Margareta and Heidi. Eva married an industrial heir, Arvi Paloheimo, and later became the CEO of the Paloheimo Corporation. Ruth Snellman was a prominent actress, Katarina Ilves married a banker and Heidi Blomstedt was a designer, wife of architect Aulis Blomstedt. Margareta married conductor Jussi Jalas, Aulis Blomstedt's brother.

In 1892, the Kullervo inaugurated Sibelius's focus on orchestral music. It was described by the composer Aksel Törnudd as "a volcanic eruption" while Juho Ranta, who sang in the choir, stated: "It was Finnish music." At the end of that year the composer's grandmother, Katarina Borg died. Sibelius went to her funeral, visiting his Hämeenlinna home one last time before the house was sold. On February 16, 1893, the first (extended) version of En saga was presented in Helsinki. It was not extremely well-received, the critics suggesting that superfluous sections should be eliminated (as they were in Sibelius's 1902 version). Even less successful were three more performances of Kullervo in March, which one critic found incomprehensible and lacking in vitality. Following the birth of Sibelius's first child Eva, in April the premiere of his choral work Väinämöinen's Boat Ride was a considerable success, receiving the support of the press.

On November 13, 1893, the full version of Karelia was premiered at a student association gala at the Seurahuone in Viipuri with the collaboration of the artist Axel Gallén and the sculptor Emil Wikström who had been brought in to design the stage sets. While the first performance was difficult to appreciate over the background noise of the talkative audience, a second performance on November 18 was more successful. Furthermore, on the 19th and 23rd Sibelius presented an extended suite of the work in Helsinki, conducting the orchestra of the Philharmonic Society. Sibelius's music was increasingly presented in Helsinki's concert halls. In the 1894–95 season, works such as En saga, Karelia and Vårsång (composed in 1894) were included in at least 16 concerts in the capital, not to mention those in Turku. When performed in a revised version on April 17, 1895, the composer Oskar Merikanto welcomed Vårsång (Spring Song) as "the fairest flower among Sibelius's orchestral pieces".

For a considerable period, Sibelius worked on an opera, Veneen luominen (The Building of the Boat), again based on the Kalevala. To some extent he had come under the influence of Wagner, but subsequently turned instead to Liszt's tone poems as a source of compositional inspiration. Adapted from material for the opera which was never completed, his Lemminkäinen Suite consisted of four legends in the form of tone poems. They were premiered in Helsinki on April 13, 1896 to a full house. In contrast to Merikanto's enthusiasm for the Finnish quality of the work, the critic Karl Flodin found the cor anglais solo in The Swan of Tuonela "stupendously long and boring," although he considered the first legend, Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island, as representing the peak of Sibelius's achievement to date.

To pay his way, from 1892 Sibelius had taken on teaching assignments at the Music Institute and at Kajanus's conducting school but this left him insufficient time for composing. The situation improved considerably when in 1898 he was awarded a substantial annual grant, initially for ten years and later extended for life. He was able to complete the music for Adolf Paul's play King Christian II. Performed on February 24, 1898, its catchy tunes appealed to the public. The scores of four popular pieces from the play were published in Germany and sold well in Finland. When the orchestral suite was successfully performed in Helsinki in November 1898, Sibelius commented: "The music sounded excellent and the tempi seem to be right. I think this is the first time that I have managed to make something complete." The work was also performed in Stockholm and Leipzig.

In January 1899, Sibelius embarked on his First Symphony at a time when his patriotic feelings were being enhanced by the Russian emperor Nicholas II's attempt to restrict the powers of the Grand Duchy of Finland. The symphony was well-received by all when it was premiered in Helsinki on April 26, 1899. But the program also premiered the even more compelling, blatantly patriotic Song of the Athenians for boys' and men's choirs. The song immediately brought Sibelius the status of a national hero. Another patriotic work followed on November 4 in the form of eight tableaux depicting episodes from Finnish history known as the Press Celebration Music. It had been written in support of the staff of the Päivälehti newspaper which had been suspended for a period after editorially criticizing Russian rule. The last tableau, Finland Awakens, was particularly popular; after minor revisions, it became the well-known Finlandia.

In February 1900, Sibelius and his wife were deeply saddened by the death of their youngest daughter. Nevertheless, in the spring Sibelius went on an international tour with Kajanus and his orchestra, presenting his recent works (including a revised version of his First Symphony) in thirteen cities including Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin and Paris. The critics were highly favorable, bringing the composer international recognition with their enthusiastic reports in the Berliner Börsen-Courier, the Berliner Fremdenblatt and the Berliner Lokal Anzeiger.

During a trip with his family to Rapallo, Italy in 1901, Sibelius began to write his Second Symphony, partly inspired by the fate of Don Juan in Mozart's Don Giovanni. It was completed in early 1902 with its premiere in Helsinki on March 8th. The work was received with tremendous enthusiasm by the Finns. Merikanto felt it exceeded "even the boldest expectations," while Evert Katila qualified it as "an absolute masterpiece." Flodin, too, wrote of a symphonic composition "the likes of which we have never had occasion to listen to before."

Sibelius spent the summer in Tvärminne near Hanko, where he worked on the song Var det en dröm (Was it a Dream) as well as on a new version of En saga. When it was performed in Berlin with the Berlin Philharmonic in November 1902, it served to firmly establish the composer's reputation in Germany, leading shortly afterwards to the publication of his First Symphony.

In 1903, Sibelius spent much of his time in Helsinki where he indulged excessively in wining and dining, running up considerable bills in the restaurants. But he continued to compose, one of his major successes being Valse triste, one of six pieces of incidental music he composed for his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt's play Kuolema (Death). Short of money, he sold the piece at a low price but it quickly gained considerable popularity, not only in Finland but internationally. During his long stays in Helsinki, Sibelius's wife Aino frequently wrote to him, imploring him to return home but to no avail. Even after their fourth daughter, Katarina, was born, he continued to work away from home. Early in 1904, he finished his Violin Concerto, but its first public performance on February 8th was not a success. It led to a revised, condensed version which was performed in Berlin the following year.

In November 1903, Sibelius began to build his new home Ainola (Aino's Place) near Lake Tuusula, some 30 miles north of Helsinki. To cover the construction costs, he gave concerts in Helsinki, Turku and Vaasa in early 1904 as well as in Tallinn, Estonia, and in Latvia during the summer. The family were finally able to move into the new property on September 24, 1904, making friends with the local artistic community, including the painters Eero Järnefelt and Pekka Halonen and the novelist Juhani Aho.

In January 1905, Sibelius returned to Berlin where he conducted his Second Symphony. While the concert itself was successful, it received mixed reviews, some very positive while those in the Allgemeine Zeitung and the Berliner Tageblatt were less enthusiastic. Back in Finland, he rewrote the increasingly popular Pelléas and Mélisande as an orchestral suite. In November, visiting Britain for the first time, he went to Liverpool where he met Henry Wood. On December 2nd, he conducted the First Symphony and Finlandia, writing to Aino that the concert had been a great success and widely acclaimed.

In 1906, after a short, rather uneventful stay in Paris at the beginning of the year, Sibelius spent several months composing in Ainola, his major work of the period being Pohjola's Daughter, yet another piece based on the Kalevala. Later in the year he composed incidental music for Belshazzar's Feast, also adapting it as an orchestral suite. He ended the year conducting a series of concerts, the most successful being the first public performance of Pohjola's Daughter at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Ups and Downs

From the beginning of 1907, Sibelius again indulged in excessive wining and dining in Helsinki, spending exorbitant amounts on champagne and lobster. His lifestyle had a disastrous effect on the health of Aino, who was driven to retire to a sanatorium, suffering from exhaustion. While she was away, Sibelius resolved to give up drinking, concentrating instead on composing his Third Symphony. He completed the work for a performance in Helsinki on September 25. Although its more classical approach surprised the audience, Flodin commented that it was "internally new and revolutionary."

Shortly afterwards, Sibelius met Gustav Mahler who was in Helsinki. The two agreed that with each new symphony, they lost those who had been attracted to their earlier works. This was demonstrated above all in St. Petersburg where the Third Symphony was performed in November 1907 to dismissive reviews. Its reception in Moscow was rather more positive.

In 1907, Sibelius underwent a serious operation for suspected throat cancer. Early in 1908, Sibelius had to spend some time in the hospital. His smoking and drinking had now become life-threatening. Although he cancelled concerts in Rome, Warsaw and Berlin, he maintained an engagement in London, but there too his Third Symphony failed to attract the critics. In May 1908, Sibelius's health deteriorated further. He traveled with his wife to Berlin to have a tumor removed from his throat. After the operation, he vowed to give up smoking and drinking once and for all. The impact of this brush with death has been said to have inspired works that he composed in the following years, including Luonnotar and the Fourth Symphony.

More Pleasant Times

In 1909, the successful throat operation resulted in renewed happiness between Sibelius and Aino in the family home. In Britain too, his condition was well-received as he conducted En saga, Finlandia, Valse Triste and Spring Song to enthusiastic audiences. A meeting with Claude Debussy produced further support. After another uneventful trip to Paris, he went to Berlin where he was relieved to learn that his throat operation had been entirely successful.

Sibelius started work on his Fourth Symphony in early 1910, but his dwindling funds also required him to write a number of smaller pieces and songs. In October, he conducted concerts in Kristiania (now Oslo) where The Dryad and In Memoriam were first performed. His Valse triste and Second Symphony were particularly well-received. He then traveled to Berlin to continue work on his Fourth Symphony, writing the finale after returning to Järvenpää.

Sibelius conducted his first concerts in Sweden in early 1911, where even his Third Symphony was welcomed by the critics. He completed the Fourth Symphony in April but, as he expected, with its introspective style it was not very warmly received when first performed in Helsinki with mixed reviews. Apart from a trip to Paris where he enjoyed a performance of Richard Strauss's Salome, the rest of the year was fairly uneventful. In 1912, he completed his short orchestral work Scènes historiques II. It was first performed in March together with the Fourth Symphony. The concert was repeated twice to enthusiastic audiences and critics including Robert Kajanus. The Fourth Symphony was also well received in Birmingham in September. In March 1913, it was performed in New York but a large section of the audience left the hall between the movements, while in October, after a concert conducted by Carl Muck, the Boston American labelled it "a sad failure."

Sibelius's first significant composition of 1913 was the tone poem The Bard which he conducted in March to a respectful audience in Helsinki. He went on to compose Luonnotar (Daughter of Nature) for soprano and orchestra. With a text from the Kalevala, it was first performed in Finnish in September 1913 by Aino Ackté (to whom it had been dedicated) at the music festival in Gloucester, England. In early 1914, Sibelius spent a month in Berlin, where he was particularly drawn to Arnold Schönberg. Back in Finland, he began work on The Oceanides which had been commissioned by the American millionaire Carl Stoeckel for the Norfolk Music Festival. After first composing the work in D flat major, Sibelius undertook substantive revisions, presenting a D major version in Norfolk which was well-received, as were Finlandia and the Valse triste. Henry Krehbiel considered The Oceanides to be one of the most beautiful pieces of sea music ever composed, while The New York Times commented that Sibelius's music was the most notable contribution to the music festival. While in America, Sibelius received an honorary doctorate from Yale University and, almost simultaneously, one from the University of Helsinki where he was represented by Aino.

First World War Years

While travelling back from the United States, Sibelius heard about the events in Sarajevo which led to the beginning of the First World War. Although he was far away from the fighting, his royalties from abroad were interrupted. To make ends meet, he was forced to compose lots of smaller works for publication in Finland. In March 1915, he was able to travel to Gothenburg in Sweden where his The Oceanides was really appreciated. While working on his Fifth Symphony in April, he saw sixteen swans flying by, inspiring him to write the finale. "One of the great experiences of my life!" he commented. Although there was little progress on the symphony during the summer, he was able to complete it by his 50th birthday on December 8th.

On the evening of his birthday, Sibelius conducted the premiere of the Fifth Symphony in the hall of the Helsinki Stock Exchange. Despite high praise from Kajanus, the composer was not satisfied with his work and soon began to revise it. Around this time, Sibelius was running ever deeper into debt. The grand piano he had received as a present was about to be confiscated by the bailiffs when the singer Ida Ekman paid off a large proportion of his debt after a successful fundraising campaign.

A year later, on December 8, 1916, Sibelius presented the revised version of his Fifth Symphony in Turku, combining the first two movements and simplifying the finale. When it was performed a week later in Helsinki, Katila was very favorable but Wasenius frowned on the changes, leading the composer to rewrite it once again.

From the beginning of 1917, Sibelius started drinking again, triggering arguments with Aino. Their relationship improved with the excitement resulting from the start of the Russian Revolution. By the end of the year, Sibelius had composed his Jäger March. The piece proved particularly popular after the Finnish parliament accepted the Senate's declaration of independence from Russia in December 1917. The Jäger March, first played on January 19, 1918, delighted the Helsinki elite for a short time until the launch of the Finnish Civil War in January. Sibelius naturally supported the Whites, but as a tolstoyan, Aino Sibelius had some sympathies for the Reds too.

In February, the house Ainola was searched twice by the local Red Guard looking for weapons. During the first weeks of the war, some of his acquaintances were killed in the violence, and his brother, the psychiatrist Christian Sibelius, was arrested as he refused to reserve beds for the Red soldiers who had suffered shell shock at the front. Sibelius' friends in Helsinki were now worried about his safety. The composer Robert Kajanus had negotiations with the Red Guard commander-in-chief Eero Haapalainen, who guaranteed Sibelius a safe journey from Ainola to the capital. On February 20, a group of Red Guard fighters escorted the family to Helsinki. Finally, on April 12-13, the German troops occupied the city and the Red period was over. A week later, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra gave a homage concert for the German commander Rüdiger von der Goltz. Sibelius finished off the event by conducting the Jäger March.

Revived Fortunes

In early 1919, Sibelius enthusiastically decided to change his image, removing his thinning hair. In June, together with Aino, he visited Copenhagen on his first trip outside Finland since 1915, successfully presenting his Second Symphony. In November he conducted the final version of his Fifth Symphony, receiving repeated ovations from the audience. By the end of the year, he was already working on the Sixth.

In 1920, despite a growing tremor in his hands, Sibelius composed the Hymn of the Earth to a text by the poet Eino Leino for the Suomen Laulu Choir and orchestrated his Valse lyrique. On his birthday in December 1920, Sibelius received a donation of 63,000 marks, a substantial sum that the tenor Wäinö Sola had raised from Finnish businesses. Although he used some of the money to reduce his debts, he also spent a week celebrating to excess in Helsinki.

Sibelius enjoyed a highly successful trip to England in early 1921, conducting several concerts around the country which included the Fourth and Fifth symphonies, The Oceanides and the ever-popular Finlandia and Valse triste. Immediately afterwards, he conducted the Second Symphony and Valse triste in Norway. Although he was beginning to suffer from exhaustion, the critics were still very positive. On his return to Finland in April, he presented Lemminkäinen's Return and the Fifth Symphony at the Nordic Music Days.

Early in 1922, after suffering from headaches, Sibelius decided to acquire spectacles although he never wore them for photographs. In July, he was saddened by the death of his brother Christian. In August, he joined the Finnish Freemasons and composed ritual music for them. February 1923 saw the premiere of his Sixth Symphony which was highly praised by Evert Katila who qualified it as "pure idyll." Before the year was out he had also conducted concerts in Stockholm and Rome, the first to considerable acclaim, the second to mixed reviews. He then proceeded to Gothenburg where he enjoyed an ecstatic reception despite arriving at the concert hall suffering from over-indulgence in food and drink. Despite continuing to drink, to Aino's dismay, Sibelius managed to complete his Seventh Symphony in early 1924. In March, under the title of Fantasia sinfonica it received its first public performance in Stockholm where it was a success. It was even more highly appreciated at a series of concerts in Copenhagen in late September. Sibelius was honored with the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog.

He spent most of the rest of the year resting as his recent spate of activity was straining his heart and nerves. Composing a few small pieces, he relied increasingly on alcohol. In May 1925, his Danish publisher Wilhelm Hansen and the Royal Danish Theatre invited him to compose incidental music for a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. He completed the work well in advance of its premiere in March 1926. It was well-received in Copenhagen although Sibelius was not there himself.

Last Major Contributions

The year 1926 saw a sharp and lasting decline in Sibelius's output: after his Seventh Symphony, he produced only a few major works during the rest of his life. Arguably the two most significant of these were the incidental music for The Tempest and the tone poem Tapiola. For most of the last thirty years of his life, Sibelius even avoided talking publicly about his music.

There is substantial evidence that Sibelius worked on an eighth symphony. He promised the premiere of this symphony to Serge Koussevitzky in 1931 and 1932, and a London performance in 1933 under Basil Cameron was even advertised to the public. The only concrete evidence of the symphony's existence on paper is a 1933 bill for a fair copy of the first movement and short draft fragments first published and played in 2011. Sibelius had always been quite self-critical; he remarked to his close friends, "If I cannot write a better symphony than my Seventh, then it shall be my last." Since no manuscript survives, sources consider it likely that Sibelius destroyed most traces of the score, probably in 1945, during which year he certainly consigned a great many papers to the flames. His wife Aino recalled: "In the 1940s there was a great auto da fé at Ainola. My husband collected a number of the manuscripts in a laundry basket and burned them on the open fire in the dining room. Parts of the Karelia Suite were destroyed – I later saw remains of the pages which had been torn out – and many other things. I did not have the strength to be present and left the room. I therefore do not know what he threw on to the fire. But after this my husband became calmer and gradually lighter in mood."

On January 1, 1939, Sibelius participated in an international radio broadcast which included the composer conducting his Andante Festivo. The performance was preserved on transcription discs and later issued on CD. This is probably the only surviving example of Sibelius interpreting his own music.

Final Years and Death

From 1903 and for many years thereafter Sibelius had lived in the countryside. From 1939, he and Aino again had a home in Helsinki but they moved back to Ainola in 1941, only occasionally visiting the city. After the war he returned to Helsinki only a couple of times. The so-called "the Silence of Järvenpää" became something of a myth, as in addition to countless official visitors and colleagues, his grandchildren and great grandchildren also spent their holidays in Ainola.

Sibelius avoided public statements about other composers, but Erik W. Tawaststjerna and Sibelius's secretary Santeri Levas have documented his private conversations in which he admired Richard Strauss and considered Béla Bartók and Dmitri Shostakovich the most talented composers of the younger generation. In the 1950s he promoted the young Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.

His 90th birthday in 1955 was widely celebrated and both the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham gave special performances of his music.

Tawaststjerna also relates an anecdote in connection with Sibelius's death: "[He] was returning from his customary morning walk. Exhilarated, he told his wife Aino that he had seen a flock of cranes approaching. 'There they come, the birds of my youth,' he exclaimed. Suddenly, one of the birds broke away from the formation and circled once above Ainola. It then rejoined the flock to continue its journey."

Two days later, on September 20, 1957, Sibelius died of a brain hemorrhage at age 91 in Ainola. At the time of his death, his Fifth Symphony, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, was being broadcast from Helsinki. He is buried in the garden at Ainola. Another well-known Finnish composer, Heino Kaski, died the same day. Aino lived there for the next 12 years until she died on June 8, 1969; she is buried alongside her husband.

Recent Additions



Piano Duet with Cello in F Major - Sibelius 5

Piano Duet with Cello in F Major - Sibelius 5

Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 /  Rattle · Berliner Philharmoniker

Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 / Rattle · Berliner Philharmoniker

Andante Festivo by Jean Sibelius (String Quartet Version)

Andante Festivo by Jean Sibelius (String Quartet Version)

Hilary Hahn - Sibelius Violin Concerto (part 1)

Hilary Hahn - Sibelius Violin Concerto (part 1)

Sibelius Symphony No 1 LSO Anthony Collins

Sibelius Symphony No 1 LSO Anthony Collins

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