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Jean Sibelius (Composer)

Country: Finland
Birth: Dec 8, 1865 in Hameenlinna, Finland
Death: Sep 20, 1957 in Jarvenpaa, Finland
Period: Modern


Finland‘s Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) is regarded as the foremost Nordic symphonist of the twentieth century. As the dominant figure in Finnish musical life, he almost single-handedly brought Finland to international musical prominence. Sibelius‘s music, including his numerous orchestral, chamber, vocal, choral and piano works, draws on the various resources of nationalism, nature, and the epic Finnish poetry of the Kalevala.

At the time of Sibelius‘ birth, Finland was governed by Russia, gaining independence only in 1917. Swedish was the most prominently spoken language, with Finnish used mostly by the peasants. Young Sibelius became aware of his nation‘s great literary tradition when, at the age of eleven, his parents enrolled him in the first Finnish-speaking school in Hämeenlinna. Eventually he went to the University of Helsinki to study law, but ended up studying music, with the original intention of becoming a violinist. After his second year at the university, Sibelius decided on composition as a career. He studied there with Ferrucio Busoni, who had come to Finland to teach piano. In 1889, his studies also took him to Berlin, where he studied counterpoint with Becker. In 1892 he married Aino Järnefelt, the daughter of a distinguished family of Finnish artists, and later named their home Ainola, (in Järvenpää) in honor of her. To this day, the Sibelius Academy (in Helsinki) - one of the world‘s foremost music conservatories - remains an ongoing testament to his stature in Finnish cultural life.

Sibelius‘s nationalist musical style was fueled more by feelings of patriotism stemming from the Russian oppression than by an inclination toward the quotation of folk melodies or themes. His music often depicts a close affinity with the natural world -- easily understandable after a visit to the beautifully maintained Ainola -- and he consistently referred to the image-laden mythology of the Kalevala for metaphoric themes and motives. Sibelius also drew creative energy from his tightly knit association with many Finnish authors and artists of his generation. His first important works include the symphonic poems The Swan of Tuonela (1893), and Finlandia (1899). During this period Sibelius composed in a familiar, Romantic style that was primarily tonal, with extensive gradations of color and much motivic development.

The development of Sibelius‘ musical language is distinguished not so much by originality of material as it is by the novel use of materials already known; an ethos that sets him apart from many of the prevailing currents in the first half of the twentieth century. His mature symphonic works are characterized by unprecedented groupings of instruments, striking harmonic shifts, and expressive declamations. His seven symphonies combine incisive formal plans with resonant orchestral colors and a rich emotional palette. With this in mind, it is regrettable that his only opera, Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower) was not published in his lifetime. By the time of his Fourth Symphony (1911), the subtle colorations of harmony and instrumentation become truly sublime. Completing the composer‘s oeuvre, the meditative Symphony No. 7 (1924), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926) strike many listeners as works that fully express Sibelius‘s most profound creative aspirations. Feeling isolated from the world and growing increasingly self-critical, Sibelius ended his career in the late 1920s, writing very little after Tapiola and basically remaining silent as a composer for almost three decades. Of considerable merit though less well known, Sibelius‘ chamber music, including numerous piano, choral and vocal works, remains notable and often performed, particularly in Finland.



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