Jean Sibelius

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About Jean Sibelius

Finnish composer Sibelius was the last great nationalist in the grand Romantic tradition. But more than a composer of picturesque northern landscapes, he was an active figure in Finland’s drive towards independence, which came in 1917. Born in Hämeenlinna in 1865, Sibelius never explicitly quoted Finnish folk songs, but he produced numerous works based on the folk legend Kalevala, including the symphonic suite Kullervo, Op. 7 (1892), the tone poem The Swan of Tuonela (1895, second movement of the Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22), and the Karelia Suite, Op. 11 (1893). It was Finlandia, Op. 26 (1900) that brought Sibelius global recognition, its heroic tunes so rousing that the Czarist authorities censored its performance. Sibelius found his most original voice in large forms, particularly in the lush and moody Violin Concerto (1905) and in his seven symphonies, each with an entirely fresh approach to form. While the popular Second (1902) and Fifth (1915) symphonies contain folklike themes and murmurings of nature, the one-movement Seventh (1924) has an austere and unsettled quality. After Tapiola (1926), a turbulent portrait of the Finnish forest, Sibelius abruptly stopped composing, living his final 30 years in virtually unbroken silence. Whether his ideas had run dry or personal demons became too much, he had long since made the world aware of Finland’s cultural aspirations and vitality.

Hämeenlinna, Finland
December 8, 1865

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