Biography of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Finnish composer born in Hämeenlinna (Finland) on December 8, 1865 and died in Järvenpää (Finland) on September 20, 1957.

Sibelius . Finland.



Jean Sibelius was the initiator of the modern school of musical composition of his country. His father since the age of three, belonged to a family of Swedish descent, so at home spoke in this language. Later he/she learned Finnish at school and became more deeply interested in various aspects of the culture of his country, which belonged to Russia until 1917.

He acquired his first notions of piano from the hand of his Aunt Julia, and later, in 1885 started his studies of law at the University of Helsinki, to leave them a year later and thus be able to focus on music. He/She studied composition with Wegelius and Csillag violin in the Finnish capital until 1889. Wegelius quickly discovered the great musical skills of the young Sibelius, that in those years had already composed works that include a Trio for piano in c major and a Sonata for violin in f major. During his time as a student at the Conservatory of Helsinki, Sibelius came into contact with some of the people who would later influence both in his life and in his work: the pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni and also composer Armas Järnefelt, whose sister he/she married Sibelius later.

It was your Professor Wegelius, who encouraged him to apply for a grant for studies to Berlin and, if you granted this, he/she moved to the German city in September 1889. There he/she studied composition privately with Albert Becker and, although he/she was not very happy with the teachings he/she received from him, it enjoyed glowing Berlin cultural life. In the summer of the following year returned to Finland, where he/she wrote his String Quartet in b flat major. Again he/she won a support of the Government of his country to study abroad, and this time it was the chosen city Vienna. There he/she studied with Robert Fuchs and Karl Goldmark Hungarian and was in the Austrian capital, where he/she began to focus on writing for Orchestra due to the influence of the works of Wagnerand Bruckner .

His first project of nationalist resonance was Kullervo, a composition of Finnish melodic ideas and dark and serious tone. The work was conceived in Vienna and finished after returning to his native country in 1891. Its successful premiere took place the following year in Helsinki. At that time, Sibelius was joined to the carelianista movement, a group of artists interested in deepening the roots of Finland through the study of the national epic Kalevala (see the Kalevala). In 1892 he/she composed another piece of Finnish inspiration: the symphonic poem in the saga. That same year he/she married Aino Järnefelt and took a trip to the region of Karelia, where he/she had opportunity of transcribing folk melodies in the area.

Their first three daughters were born in the Decade of the 1990s and, in 1892, due to his family's economic needs, Sibelius began to teach music at the Music Institute in Helsinki. Fortunately, the Government agreed to grant him in 1897 a life pension of 3,000 frames annually which provided some economic slack, at least during the first years.

After the premiere in 1898 of the theatrical Kung Kristian II to Adolf Paul, whose incidental music composed Sibelius, emerged you offers to publish its work both in his country and in Germany, where he/she signed a contract with the prestigious publishing house Breitkopf. In July 1900 he/she made a successful tour of Europe (Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and France) who helped him to acquire fame and prestige in these countries. Despite musical achievements, Sibelius continued drinking until troubling ends, so his wife Aino decided to purchase a house in the forest of Järvenpää and thus move to urban Helsinki life composer. In September 1904 he/she moved together with his wife and their four daughters to the new home, called Ainola, he/she lived for the rest of his life.

The following year he/she managed to publish his work published by Schlesinger in Berlin, owned by Robert Lienau. He/She signed with him a contract in which it undertook to deliver various works per year. The first that saw the light in the editorial was Pelléas and Mélisande, a score of incidental music. Also in 1905, there was his first trip to England, where he/she conducted several of his works and gained great popularity. He/She continued composing, and in 1907, completed his third Symphony in c major, a more demure than his two previous symphonies work. That same year he/she met Gustav Mahlerin Helsinki, and could converse with him on musical themes.

After the birth of his latest two daughters, in 1908 and 1911 respectively, Sibelius was plunged into a personal and economic crisis in which the spirit became his inseparable companion. In this period was his approach to Chamber music, which is reflected in his Quartet in d minor from 1909 and vocal works as eight songs op. 57 based on texts by the Swedish writer Ernst Josephson or ten pieces for piano op. 58.

In 1909, and again in 1912 he/she returned to England. There remained an admired composer, whereas in central Europe it started to have opinions that most advanced classification it into the background, since great figures of music like Debussy or Schoenberg who raised stylistic proposals had emerged. His fourth Symphony was a failure of public in Germany and France, but he/she continued exploring the compositional language had been made so far, to resist adopting the musical trends of the rest of Europe.

An important event for his musical career took place in 1914: took a trip to the United States of America invited by the fellow composer Horatio Parker. There he/she premiered his symphonic poem the ocean, composed on behalf of the Norfolk Music Festival, and received an honorary doctorate awarded prestigious Yale University.

Once back in Finland ended up writing the Fifth Symphony in e flat, which meticulously revised until it ended in 1919. In 1921, he/she refused the post of director of the Eastman School of Music of United States that was offered to him and, unfortunately, continued drinking excessively to the point of becoming drunk directed his sixth Symphony in a concert held in Gothenburg (Sweden) in the spring of 1923. The following year he/she concluded his seventh Symphony, a masterpiece of the genre written in a single movement; and in 1926, on behalf of the Philharmonic Society of New York, he/she completed the symphonic poem Tapiola, based on a Finnish mythological character Tapio.

After the aforementioned work, Sibelius was plunged into a depression that prevented him from composing major works. His eighth Symphony, which apparently worked to 1933, never to see the light. On September 20, 1957 he/she died due to a brain hemorrhage.

The Sibelius Museum of Turku retains different materials about life and work by the Finnish composer, as well as the library of the University of Helsinki, which keeps a large number of manuscripts and sketches of his works.


The work of Sibelius drink directly from the great literary epic of his country, the Kalevala, whose texts and rhythmic motifs served as material for his music. His work exudes a love of nature, is rather gloomy and harmonically conservative, even though it employs in her conventional chords with great freedom. In the 1890's, he/she composed three symphonic poems of nationalist dyes: Finland, the Swan of Tuonela and in Saga. The latter uses the main theme of a string octet, composed when he/she was a student and created great controversy after its premiere in Berlin in 1902. Despite the influence of Finnish popular music in the works of Sibelius, it is not easy to find recognizable folk melodies in his compositions. The footprint of composers such as the Norwegian Edvard Grieg, Borodin or the same Tchaikovsky Russian is heard in his early scores.

During his stay in Vienna, he/she focused his interest in orchestral music, field where he/she developed his talent more easily. The first of his seven symphonies was published in 1899 and the last in 1924. Since the publication of Tapiola to the following year, the Finnish composer didn't create a major again. Despite this, he/she continued to be a composer recognized in their country. His first Symphony in e minor (1899) mixes his own style with some romantic overtones from Tchaikovsky. The second, composed in 1902 in the key of d major, contains resonances folk especially at the end, and in it are already so characteristic of the style of Sibelius short Melodic motives.

Its third and fourth symphonies are written in a language that combines the classic modernism and it was from his fourth Symphony (1911) when decided to move in some way to dependent on traditional music musical structures. Result of these advances is his Fifth Symphony in e flat major, triumphalist and majestic nature. The work was revised on several occasions and its final version dates from 1919. His penultimate Symphony, the sixth (1923), possesses traits clearly Finns and a pastoral and meditative temperament. It is composed in four movements and he/she found modal scales as the Doria (see scale). But without a doubt, the Seventh Symphony (1924) is his most ambitious work. Written in a single movement, it Sibelius achieved a great expressiveness through a symphonic development without interruptions.

His violin concerto in d minor is one of the more popularity gave him, and continued performing frequently even though his figure had fallen in some forgotten due to the interest that woke up the avant-garde music in Europe. In it he/she tried to melt own a work instrument for virtuoso soloist with the lacking depth of ostentation that his music was characterized. The concert was revised on several occasions with the thoroughness of Sibelius, until in October 1905 he/she debuted in Berlin under the baton of Richard Strauss.

In addition to his interest in symphonic music, he/she also devoted part of his time to the creation of vocal works. He/She wrote songs for soprano with Swedish texts, frequently performed by the Finnish singer Ida Ekman. Some examples of this type of works are his seven songs of Runeberg op. 13, published in 1892 and based on texts of the Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg, or songs of the op. 36, 37 and 38.

The language of Sibelius music has influenced the work of some British composers of the 20th century such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as serve as inspiration for the minimalist movement, composed by composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

Selected discography

Symphonic music

-Symphony No. 1 / Suite Karelia. Performers: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Mariss Jansons. EMI CLASSICS 754 273 2. -Symphony No. 2 / Finland / the Swan of Tuonela. Performers: Boston Symphony Orchestra. Director: Sir Colin Davis. PHILIPS 442 389-2. -Symphonies No. 4 and 6. Performers: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Director: Simon Rattle. EMI CLASSICS 764121 2. -Symphony No. 5 (+ Nielsen: Symphony No. 4). Performers: Philharmonia Orchestra. Director: Simon Rattle. EMI CLASSICS 764 737 2. -Pelléas and Mélisande. Performers: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Herbert von Karajan. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON, 410-026-2. -Symphonies 3, 5, 6 and 7 /Tapiola /En Saga. Performers: Philharmonia Orchestra. Director: Vladimir Ashkenazy. DECCA 430 737 2. -Works for String Orchestra. Performers: Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. Director: Juha Kangas. FINLAND-WARNER 4509-98995-2. -Lemminkäinen Legends Op. 22 interpreters: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Director: Jukka-Pekka Sarste. FINLAND - WARNER 3984-27890-2.

Concerts for instrument solo

-Concerto for violin op. 47 performers: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Director: André Previn. EMI CLASSICS 556150 2. -Concerto for violin op. 47 performers: Gidon Kremer (violin), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Riccardo Muti. EMI CLASSICS 572992 2.

Chamber music

-Malinconia / two pieces Op. 77 / pièces Op. 78 (+ Grieg: Sonata for cello). Performers: Truls Mørk (cello), Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano). 5 45034 2 VIRGIN. -String quartets. Performers: The Sibelius Academy Quartet. Finland-WARNER 4509-95851-2 - piano Quintet / String Quartet / piano Trio. Performers: E. Tawaststjerna, Sibelius Academy Quartet, Tapiola trio. FINLAND-WARNER 4509-95858-2. -Lieder. Performers: Jorma Hynninen (baritone), Ralf Gothóni (piano). FINLAND-WARNER 4509-95848-2.

Choral music

-Complete songs for male voice choir. Performers: Helsinki University Chorus. Director: Matti Hyokki. FINLAND-WARNER 4509-95849-2. -Kullervo. Performers: Randi Stene, Peter Mattei, National Male Choir of Estonia, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Paavo Järvi. 5 45292 2 VIRGIN.

Selected bibliography

DERNONCOURT, Sylvie: Sibelius, Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1985.

EIMAN, Karl: Jean Sibelius: The life and personality of an artist, Helsingfors: Holger Schildts, 1935.

TAWASTSTJERNA, Erik: Sibelius, London: Faber and Faber, 1976.

Links on the Internet ; complete page about the life and work of the Finnish composer. It contains information in English, Italian, Chinese and other languages. ; Biography of Sibelius illustrated with photographs. In English. ; web page about Sibelius that contains links to other pages about the composer. In English.