The Kennedy Center

Jean Sibelius


Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born in H"meenlinna, Finland on December 8th, 1865. His father was a prominent physician, and his mother came from a family of clerics. Finland, like most of the Scandinavian countries at that time, was dominated by Swedish culture, and like most middle and upper class Finns of this era, the family spoke only Swedish. Sibelius did not learn to speak the language of his native country until he was enrolled in a local school at age eight.

Although he was recognized as musically gifted from an early age, he was given a classical education, and studied law at Helsingfors University. His musical vocation proved to be more compelling than the practice of law, and he subsequently entered the Conservatory at Helsingfors. He had studied violin and composed chamber music throughout his youth, and would now be influenced greatly by his principal teacher, Wegelius, in expressing his interest in Finnish folklore and the Finnish lyrical poets through vocal and instrumental music.

After his studies at Helsingfors he went to Berlin to study with Bargiel and Becker, and then to Vienna, where he completed his musical training under Goldmark and Robert Fuchs. In 1892 he married Aino J"rnefelt, with whom he had five daughters.

He returned to his native country in 1893, where he taught violin and theory at the Conservatory in Helsingfors. In the three years after he returned to Finland his nationalistic compositions gained for him such widespread recognition and regard that he was awarded a life-time grant by the state, which would allow him to retire from teaching and devote himself completely to creative work in music.

In his forties he began to expand his musical activities to international venues, first to Germany and then to England and America, where he resumed teaching for a short time at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

His fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays were celebrated at Helsingfors as national holidays. At these times his fifth and seventh symphonies were premiered.

The publication of his Third Symphony showed his musical ideas moving counter to the direction of his musical contemporaries. His work became more spare and classical, while others were composing ever more lavishly colored, dissonant harmonies. Each of his seven symphonies would be unique unto itself, never developing a characteristic Sibelius style. After 1927, at age 62, he returned to Finland permanently, never traveling abroad again. His musical output declined after that, perhaps for reasons of failing health. Although his music continued to be popular in both England and America he lived for the next thirty years in virtual seclusion at Ainola, his family home in J"rvenp"" until his death at age 92 on September 20th, 1957. He is best remembered for his early composition, Finlandia, which became a virtual Finnish national anthem, and for his symphonic poems Swan of Tuonela, Kalevala , Tapiola, Lemmink"nen's Homecoming and Pohjola's Daughter, based on early Finnish legends. His only violin concerto is a demanding work that has retained its popularity in the concert repertoire to this day.

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