Born: December 8, 1865 – Hämeenlinna, Grand Duchy of Finland
Died: September 20, 1957 – Ainola, Järvenpää, Finland
A Few Facts About Jean Sibelius:
- Though he considered himself Finnish Sibelius’s first language was Swedish.
- Christened Johan Julius Christian, in his youth he was known as Janne. However as a student, inspired by the business card of a deceased seafaring uncle, he decided that Jean was more sophisticated.
- Sibelius longed to be a violinist but admitted that he had started lessons too late in life and would never be the virtuoso he dreamed of becoming. He sent violinist Ida Haendel a fan letter after hearing her perform his Violin Concerto.
- More than once Sibelius’s fondness for drinking, smoking, gambling, and partying led to financial problems for him, his wife Aino and their six daughters. On several occasions he was saved from the bailiff through the generosity of friends and admirers. In 1920 when a group of business men donated money to pay his debts he used a portion of it celebrating to excess in Helsinki.
- By 1907 his smoking and drinking became life-threatening and he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The malignant tumor was successfully removed by doctors in Berlin in 1908 and he was given the all clear later that year. He vowed to give up tobacco and the bottle.
- In 1917 Sibelius began drinking again and tensions at home mounted, further fueled by his support of the Whites and Aino’s sympathies for the Reds during the Finnish Civil War.
- 1926 saw a sudden decline in his output and until his death in 1957 little emerged other than incidental music for The Tempest and his tone poem In 1927 he was granted a generous pension by the Government of Finland and it has been suggested that he no longer needed to compose to secure an income.
- Known as the Silence of Järvenpää, the last years of his life were spent being lionized as the great Finnish Nationalist. A visit to his home to pay homage became de rigeur for dignitaries – musical and otherwise – on their visits to Finland.
- The first existing examples of Sibelius compositions date from 1881 when he was 16 years old. For the next six decades he was to turn out an impressive body of work.
- In 1896 he began to catalogue his works but constantly add or removed works as he assessed them. The exact number of pieces he composed is unknown but include:
- 7 symphonies
- 16 tone poems
- 12 concertante
- 24 incidental theatre pieces
- 9 Cantatas
A listing of his compositions can be found at: Jean Sebelius – Compositions.
A Few Quotes from Sibelius:
‘Pay no attention to what the critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.’
“Music begins where the possibilities of language end”
“Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces.”
“Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public cold spring water.”
“Musicians talk of nothing but money and jobs. Give me businessmen every time. They really are interested in music and art.