The most famous and respected Finnish composer, and one of the most important writers of symphonies and symphonic poems of the 20th century. Also a strong national figure and a big factor in creating a national identity for Finland.


"I have more skill, but he is greater."
  - Richard Strauss on Jean Sibelius


Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, called Janne by family members, was born in Hämeenlinna on the year 1865. He attended a Finnish-language grammar school and became bilingual. Janne became acquainted with Kalevala and the works of Aleksis Kivi at an early age, thanks to classical literature being a central element of the curriculum. Janne's interest in music also began when he was young, although his family wasn't as musical as Bach's or Mozart's. He began piano lessons at the age of 7 with his aunt Julia. His first genuine composition, Vesipisaroita Viululle ja Sellolle ("Waterdrops for Violin and Cello") dates from around 1875. Janne started violin lessons at the age of 14, and according to himself his ambition for the next 10 years was to become a violin virtuoso. During his Hämeenlinna years, from 1880 to 1885, Janne produced approximately 15 compositions of piano and chamber music for 2 or 4 players.

In autumn 1885, Janne moved to study law at The University of Helsinki. He also enrolled to the Helsinki Music Institute, which swallowed him up and caused him to quit his university studies after a year. At first his main course of study was violin playing, but it soon got replaced by musical theory and composition. Janne kept composing in his own style, which was far from the chromatic neo-German ideal favoured by his teacher Kari Wegelius. During his Helsinki period Janne composed almost a hundred works, which were mostly small pieces written for his friends and siblings. He soon got a reputation of being a musical genius, and got rave reviews for his String Quartet in A Flat played at the institute's spring concert. Many important relationships were formed in Helsinki. These included the composer/conductor Robert Kajanus, the writer Juhani Aho, the pianist and composer Paul Adolf, the composer and conductor Armas Järnefelt and Janne's future wife Aino Järnefelt.

According to his teacher's wishes, Janne, now known as Jean, left Finland to study in Berlin, Germany with Albert Becker as his teacher. The lessons didn't help him as much as his frequent concert-going. Inspired by Christian Sinding, Jean wrote the Piano Quintet in G minor in 1890. This is considered his first "Sibelian" composition. During this time he also finished String Quartet in B-flat major and got engaged to Aino.

Jean's studies continued in Vienna. The aging Johannes Brahms refused to take him on, so Karl Goldmark and Robert Fuchs became his new teachers. Hearing Anton Bruckner's Third Symphony and Hans Richter conducting Beethoven's 9th played a key role in Jean's development. He started evolving from a chamber music composer into an orchestral one, by composing Overture in E major and Scène de ballet under Goldmark's direction.

While in Vienna, Jean became interested in everything Finnish and the Finnish language. He became immersed in Kalevala and started working on the tone poem Kullervo. The work continued upon Jean's return to Finland in 1891. The premiere on April 28, 1892 was a huge success and was described as the birth of Finnish music. The following summer Jean and Aino were married and visited the birthplaces of Kalevala. The trip was behind the inspiration for the symphonic poem En Saga plus the Karelia Suite and Lemminkäinen legends.

Over the years Aino gave birth to 6 daughters, one of which died in infancy. Jean was forced to teach violin playing and theory for a regular income. He didn't have much ispiration for composing before his trip to Bayreuth and Munich in 1894. Unfortunately, hearing Wagner's powerful music made Jean cease working on his opera Veneen Luominen ("The Building of a Boat"), which was never completed. Jean concentrated on tone poems, using parts of the unfinished opera in Lemminkäinen Suite. In 1896 Jean applied for a music teacher's position at the University of Helsinki. The post went to his friend Robert Kajanus, but as a compensation Jean started recieving an annual grant, which later became a lifetime pension.

The romantical period of Sibelius' work concluded in 1899 with the First Symphony. It became a symbol of national frement under an era of oppression from the Russians. Jean had nothing against becoming a symbol for the nation, and composed both Atenaers sång and a piece later to be christened Finlandia in 1899. When Jean spent some time in Rapallo/Italy between 1900 and 1901, getting influenced by ancient Italian art, a notable shift from national romanticism to a more classical style occured. The Second Symphony finished in 1902 was the first manifestation of this change, followed by a renewed version of En Saga, as well as the Violin Concerto composed between 1903 and 1905. The change in style also caused changes in Sibelius' life. He escaped Helsinki to find peace in "Ainola", a house in Tuusula (now Järvenpää) designed by Lars Sonck. The Third Symphony released in 1907 reflected this new situation. In the maestro's own words: "Despite everything there is nevertheless a lot of the major key in life. The III flows in C major!"

Jean had a throat tumor removed in 1908, causing him to abstain from alcohol and cigars for 8 years. During this period he created his darkest and most expressionist works. These include the symphonic poem Öinen Ratsastus ja Auringonnousu (1908), the Voces intimae string quartet (1909), and the tone poems Barden and Luonnotar (1913). The modernistic Fourth Symphony did not do well with the audience and caused Jean's reputation suffer severely in the eyes of many Finns. His international reputation however was establishing itself, due to a constant series of concert tours around Europe. He turned down the offers for a professorship in composition at Vienna's Musikakademie in 1912, and a teacher's position at the Eastman School of Music in the State of New York 9 years later. Jean recieved an honorary doctorate at Yale University during his 1914 trip to America.

The World War I caused difficult times intellectually and materially. As a result of inflation, Sibelius' pension decreased heavily, and he recieved no royalties from his German publisher Breitkopf & Härtel. To support his family, he had to work creating minor compositions he called "bread-and-butter pieces". Finland achieved independence in 1917, but a civil war followed. Although Jean had composed the Jääkärimarssi for the white side, his life was never in danger. But the frequent house searches by the red forces made him escape to Helsinki with his family. The Fifth Symphony, which took 5 years to finish, was the product of this difficult time.

Sibelius' late symphonic period began after a creative void between 1920 and 1922. The Sixth Symphony finished in 1923 combined symphonic and modal features in an innovative fashion, and the single-movement Seventh Symphony created a year later marked an end for the classical and romantic repertoire. Opus nos. 114-116 appeared in 1929, but after them Jean had seemingly used all his creative powers. He wrestled with the Eight Symphony up until 1943, but in the end burned it with a large number of his other works in the late 40s. Surusoitto, which was composed for the funeral of Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1931, is the only existing example of what the Eight Symphony might have been like.

Sibelius was regarded as one of the greatest composers of his age during his final years, and he never ceased to be interested in the latest musical trends. He died in September 20, 1957 from a celebral haemorrhage, 92 years old. He was buried on a slope near Ainola.

The house Jean Sibelius was born in can be found in the middle of downtown Hämeenlinna. It continues to be one of the most popular sights my small hometown has to offer, attracting busloads of tourists from the far east each summer.


I'm sorry to disappoint the soft-linking coward, but this text was NOT copied straight from anywhere.The information came from various sources, most notably from a biography by Veijo Murtomäki.
Thanks to Stupot for corrections.

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