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Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Sibelius is the great Finish composer who composed in a purely romantic style.


Johan (Jean) Julius Christian was born on December 8th, 1865 in Hämeenlinna, a small town north of Helsinki. He wrote is first piece of music at age 10, in 1875 for violin and cello. In 1880, he started taking violin lessons. In the autumn of 1885, he moved to Helsinki to study law. He also enrolled in the Helsinki Music Institute (now called the Sibelius Academy). Sibelius soon abandoned his legal studies. His first masterpiece, the String Quartet in A minor, performed for the first time on the 29th of May, 1889. 

During 1889-90 he studied in Berlin, and 1890-91 in Vienna. He made a great impression in 1900 with his nationalistic tone poem Finlandia, a composition that has remained popular in concert halls to this day. The wonderful and popular Symphony Number 2, with its ecstatic climax was composed in 1901 and 1902. In 1904, Sibelius moved with his family to Villa Ainola, the house they had built in Järvenpää, some 40 km north of Helsinki. 

The astonishingly beautiful Concerto for Violin was completed in 1904-05. He also Valse Triste in 1904 and it was played all over Europe. With it, Sibelius's name became even better known. Had he completed a good publishing contract, he would have become a rich man, but he sold the rights of the piece for a petty sum. With the completion of Tapiola in 1926, Sibelius's composition came to and end. He lived for another 30 years, but released no work of any stature. During the 1930s, there were some small works, but by the end of the decade, he had stopped composing, except for a few minor arrangements. 

Why was he silent? The story is not fully known, but during the 1930s, a strong torrent of reaction to Sibelius's music grew in the US and Europe. As Arnold Schönberg and Igor Stravinsky became the cultural heroes of classical music, more criticism was leveled against the Finish composer who was branded as a reactionary nationalist who wrote out-dated music in archaic forms. In all, Sibelius composed seven symphonies. We worked on an eighth for many years, then -- along with many other works we will never hear -- destroyed it. 

Sibelius died at Ainola on the evening of September 20th 1957, at the same time as his Symphony no. 5 was being performed in the University of Helsinki hall. The central part of Sibelius's work consist of his symphonies and other orchestral works, but he composed piano, chamber, choral, and incidental music, as well as an opera. Sibelius has became the national symbol of Finnish music and of even of Finland itself.


"I do not think of a symphony only as music in this or that number of bars, but rather as an expression of a spiritual creed, a phase in one's inner life"

"How little the public and the critics realize what I have given them...My time will come."

Web Sites

Index to the Sibelius Web Sites

Selected Compositions on CD

Violin Concerto
One of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, concertos for this instrument ever written.

Symphony #2
Feel the passion!

Symphony #5

Symphonies 4 through 7 plus Tapiola

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