Jean Sibelius


It was not until the age of 25 that Jean Sibelius conquered Vienna with what was to become his most important medium: the orchestra, with the Overture in E major and [Scène de ballett]. Until then, he had written only songs and chamber music during his studies in Helsinki and Berlin. Now he was considered the most important symphonic composer in Finland, whose compositions were on a par with those of famous contemporaries such as Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss.

The life of the Finnish composer was marked by contradictions: Johan Christian Julius Sibelius, who later gave himself a French version of his nickname Janne as his first name, was born on 8 December 1865 in the small town of Hämeenlinna, where he grew up in a Swedish-speaking home. Yet the area in the south of Finland officially belonged to Russia as an autonomous grand duchy. From 1880, Sibelius received regular violin lessons – he wanted to pursue a career as a virtuoso. After an injury to his right elbow, he was forced to change to composition at the new music institute founded by Martin Wegelius (today’s Sibelius Academy), which quickly became the focus of his artistic activities. At the age of 23, Sibelius began studying under Albert Becker, who taught at Xaver Scharwenka’s private conservatory in Berlin. In the German capital he met his future wife Aino Järnefelt, who he married after a further period of study in Vienna and after the first performance of his Kullervo Symphony. In the following years, Sibelius taught at Kajanus’s Orchestra Academy and Wegelius’s Music Institute, turning down further teaching offers from Vienna and Rochester; instead, he wrote such famous works as his Violin Concerto. Despite all his successes, the composer suffered from massive self-doubt, which he regularly tried to combat through heavy drinking. After completing his Seventh Symphony, Sibelius finally fell silent: with the exception of his Three Pieces for Violin and Piano op. 116, printed in 1929, not a single work by him was published again before his death on 20 September 1957 – a great loss to music history.

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