Jean Sibelius

Classical Music: Composer's Datebook: December 8

Finland's greatest 19th century nationalist composer, whose musical inspirations were derived from native legends. Famous for symphonic poem 'Finlandia' and orchestral works.

”Nature is coming to life: that life which I so love, now and forever, whose essence shall infuse everything that I compose."  ~  Jean Sibelius

Johan Julius Christian "Jean" Sibelius (Dec 8, 1865 – Sept 20, 1957) was a classical music Finnish composer, one of the most notable composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. Considered the most distinguished Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius was comfortably brought up in a musical environment by his mother and grandmother.

A son of an army doctor, he was born into a Swedish-speaking family in Haemeenlinna in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. Although known as "Janne" to his family, during his student years he began using the French form of his name, "Jean", from a stack of visiting cards used by his seafaring uncle.

His family sent him to a Finnish language school, and he attended The Haemeelinna normal-lycee from 1876 to 1885. Romantic Nationalism was to become a crucial element in Sibelius's artistic output and his politics. The heart of Sibelius's ouvre is his seven symphonies. He used each one to develop a single musical idea and to further develop his own personal compositional style, very much like Beethoven. His works continue to be performed frequently in the concert hall and recorded.

Among Sibelius's best-known compositions: Finlandia, Valse Triste, Karelia Suite, the Violin Concerto and The Swan of Tuonela. Other works major works include pieces inspired by the Kalevala, over 100 songs for voice and piano, incidental music for 13 plays, the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music, piano music, 21 separate publications of choral music, and Masonic ritual music. Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s. Soon after completing his seventh symphony (1924) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he went into a 30-year period of near artistic silence, which lasted until his death in 1957. Since 2011, Finland celebrates a Flag Day on 8 December, the composer's birthday, also known as the 'Day of Finnish Music'.

Recommended Listening:

Sibelius - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43, Marisse Jansons. Bavarian SRO. Youtube, Uploaded by Paul Feyerabend. Accessed December 8, 2017.

Interesting Read:

The Sound of Silence. Jean Sibelius and the symphony that never was. By Sudip Bose. February 29, 2016.  The American Scholar.  Accessed  May 13, 2016.

Image Credit:

Jean Sibelius.

  • Burnett-James, David (1989). Sibelius. Omnibus Press.
  • Ekman, Karl (1972). Jean Sibelius, his Life and Personality. Greenwood Press.

Originally published December 8, 2013.  Latest update: December 8, 2017.

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