Sibelius, Jean (actually, Johan Julius Christian)

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Sibelius, Jean (actually, Johan Julius Christian)

Sibelius, Jean (actually, Johan Julius Christian), great Finnish composer whose music, infused with the deeply felt modalities of national folk songs, opened a modern era of Northern musical art; b. Hämeenlinna, Dec. 8, 1865; d. Järvenpää, Sept. 20, 1957. The family name stems from a Finnish peasant named Sibbe, traced back to the late 17th century; the Latin noun ending was commonly added among educated classes in Scandinavia. Sibelius was the son of an army surgeon; from early childhood, he showed a natural affinity for music. At the age of 9, he began to study piano; then took violin lessons with Gustaf Levander, a local bandmaster. He learned to play violin well enough to take part in amateur performances of chamber music. In 1885 he enrolled at the Univ. of Helsingfors (Helsinki) to study law, but abandoned it after the first semester. In the fall of 1885, he entered the Helsingfors Cons., where he studied violin with Vasiliev and Csillag; he also took courses in composition with Wegelius. In 1889 his String Quartet was performed in public, and produced a sufficiently favorable impression to obtain for him a government stipend for further study in Berlin, where he took lessons in counterpoint and fugue with Albert Becker. Later he proceeded to Vienna for additional musical training, and became a student of Robert Fuchs and Karl Goldmark (1890–91). In 1892 he married Aino Järnefelt. From then on, his destiny as a national Finnish composer was determined; the music he wrote was inspired by native legends, with the great Finnish epic Kalevala as a prime source of inspiration. On April 28, 1892, his symphonic poem Kullervo, scored for soloists, chorus, and orch., was first performed in Helsingfors. There followed one of his most remarkable works, the symphonic poem entitled simply En Saga, that is, “a legend”; in it he displayed to the full his genius for variation forms, based on a cumulative growth of a basic theme adorned but never encumbered with effective contrapuntal embellishments. From 1892 to 1900 he taught theory of composition at the Helsingfors Cons. In 1897 the Finnish Senate granted him an annual stipend of 3, 000 marks. On April 26, 1899, he conducted in Helsingfors the premiere of his first Sym. He subsequently conducted the first performances of all of his syms., the fifth excepted. On July 2, 1900, the Helsingfors Phil, gave the first performance of his most celebrated and most profoundly moving patriotic work, Finlandia. Its melody soon became identified among Finnish patriots with the aspiration for national independence, so that the Czarist government went to the extreme of forbidding its performances during periods of political unrest. In 1901 Sibelius was invited to conduct his works at the annual festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Tonkünstlerverein at Heidelberg. In 1904 he settled in his country home at Järvenpää, where he remained for the rest of his life; he traveled rarely. In 1913 he accepted a commission for an orch. work from the American music patron Carl Stoeckel, to be performed at the 28th annual Festival at Norfolk, Conn. For it he contributed a symphonic legend, Aalotaret (Nymphs of the Ocean; later rev. as The Oceanides). He took his only sea voyage to America to conduct its premiere on June 4, 1914; on that occasion he received the honorary degree of Mus.D. from Yale Univ. Returning to Finland just before the outbreak of World War I, Sibelius withdrew into seclusion, but continued to work. He made his last public appearance in Stockholm, conducting the premiere of his 7th Sym. on March 24, 1924. He wrote 2 more works after that, including a score for Shakespeare’s The Tempest and a symphonic poem, Tapiola; he practically ceased to compose after 1927. At various times, rumors were circulated that he had completed his 8th Sym., but nothing was forthcoming from Järvenpää. One persistent story was that Sibelius himself decided to burn his incomplete works. Although willing to receive journalists and reporters, he avoided answering questions about his music. He lived out his very long life as a retired person, absorbed in family interests; in some modest ways he was even a bon vivant; he liked his cigars and his beer, and he showed no diminution in his mental alertness. Only once was his peaceful life gravely disrupted; this was when the Russian army invaded Finland in 1940; Sibelius sent an anguished appeal to America to save his country, which by the perverse fate of world politics became allied with Nazi Germany. But after World War II, Sibelius cordially received a delegation of Soviet composers who made a reverential pilgrimage to his rural retreat. Honors were showered upon him; festivals of his music became annual events in Helsinki; in 1939 the Helsinki Cons. was renamed the Sibelius Academy in his honor; a postage stamp bearing his likeness was issued by the Finnish government on his 80th birthday; special publications—biographical, bibliographical, and photographic—were publ, in Finland. Artistically, too, Sibelius attained the status of greatness rarely vouchsafed to a living musician; several important contemporary composers paid him homage by acknowledging their debt of inspiration to him, Vaughan Williams among them. Sibelius was the last representative of 19th- century nationalistic Romanticism. He stayed aloof from modern developments, but he was not uninterested in reading scores and listening to performances on the radio of works of such men as Schoenberg, Prokofiev, Bartók, and Shostakovich.

The music of Sibelius marked the culmination of the growth of national Finnish art, in which Pacius was the protagonist, and Wegelius a worthy cultivator. Like his predecessors, he was schooled in the Germanic tradition, and his early works reflect German lyricism and dramatic thought. He opened a new era in Finnish music when he abandoned formal conventions and began to write music that seemed inchoate and diffuse but followed a powerful line of development by variation and repetition; a parallel with Beethoven’s late works has frequently been drawn. The thematic material employed by Sibelius is not modeled directly on known Finnish folk songs; rather, he re-created the characteristic melodic patterns of folk music. The prevailing mood is somber, even tragic, with a certain elemental sweep and grandeur. His instrumentation is highly individual, with long songful solo passages, and with protracted transitions that are treated as integral parts of the music. His genius found its most eloquent expression in his syms. and symphonic poems; he wrote relatively little chamber music. His only opera, The Maid in the Tower (1896), to a text in Swedish, was never publ. He wrote some incidental music for the stage; the celebrated Valse triste was written in 1903 for Kuolema, a play by Arvid Järnefelt, brother-in-law of Sibelius.


DRAMATIC: Opera: Jungfrun i tornet (The Maid in the Tower; Helsinki, Nov. 7, 1896). Incidental Music : Overture, op.10, and Suite, op.ll, to Karelia (Helsinki, Nov. 13, 1893); King Kristian II, op.27, for a play by A. Paul (Helsinki, Feb. 28, 1898, composer conducting); Kuolema (Death) for Strings and Percussion, op.44, for a play by Arvid Järnefelt (Helsinki, Feb. 28, 1898, composer conducting); Pelléas et Mélisande, op.46, for Maeterlinck’s play (Helsinki, March 17, 1905, composer conducting); Belshazzar’s Feast, op.51, for a play by H. Procopé (Helsinki, Nov. 7, 1906, composer conducting); Svanevhit (Swanwhite), op.54, for Strindberg’s play (Helsinki, April 8, 1908, composer conducting); Ödlan (The Lizard) for Violin and String Quintet, op.8, for a play by M. Lybeck (1909; Helsinki, April 8, 1908, composer conducting); Jedermann for Chorus, Piano, Organ, and Orch., op.83, for Hofmannsthal’s play (Helsinki, Nov. 5, 1916); The Tempest, op.109, for Shakespeare’s play (1925; Copenhagen, March 16, 1926). Other: Nacken (The Watersprite), 2 songs with Piano Trio, for a play by Wennerberg (1888); The Language of the Birds, wedding march for A. Paul’s play Die Sprache der Vögel (1911); Scaramouche, op.71, “tragic pantomime” after the play by P. Knudsen and M. Bloch (1913; Copenhagen, May 12, 1922). ORCH.: Andantino and Menuetto for Clarinet, 2 Cornets, 2 Horns, and Baritone (1890–91); Overture in E major (1890–91); Scène de ballet (1891); En Saga, tone poem, op.9 (1891–92; Helsinki, Feb. 16, 1893; rev. 1901–02; Helsinki, Nov. 2, 1909); Menuetto (1894); Skogsrâet (The Wood Nymph), tone poem, op.15 (1894); Vârsâng (Spring Song), tone poem, op.16 (Vaasa, June 21, 1894); 4 Legends, op.22 (all first perf. in Helsinki, April 13, 1896, composer conducting): No. 1, Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island (1895; rev. 1897 and 1939), No. 2, The Swan of Tuonela (1893; rev. 1897 and 1900), No. 3, Lemminkäinen in Tuonela (1895; rev. 1897 and 1939), and No. 4, Lemminkäinen’s Homeward Journey (1895; rev. 1897 and 1900); King Kristian II, suite from the incidental music, op.27 (1898); Scènes historiques, op.25, 1 (1899; rev. 1911); Finlandia, tone poem, op.26 (1899; rev. 1900; Helsinki, July 2, 1900, Kajanus conducting); 7 syms.: No. 1, in E minor, op.39 (Helsinki, April 26, 1899, composer conducting), No. 2, in D major, op.43 (Helsinki, March 8, 1902, composer conducting), No. 3, in C major, op.52 (1904–07; Helsinki, Sept. 25, 1907, composer conducting), No. 4, in A minor, op.63 (1909–11; Helsinki, April 3, 1911, composer conducting), No. 5, in E-flat major, op.82 (Helsinki, Dec. 8, 1915, Kajanus conducting; rev. version, Helsinki, Dec. 14, 1916; rev. version, Helsinki, Nov. 24, 1919), No. 6, in D minor, op.104 (Helsinki, Feb. 19, 1923, composer conducting), and No. 7, in C major, op.105 (Stockholm, March 24, 1924, composer conducting); Björneborgarnas March (1900); Cortège (1901); Overture in A minor (Helsinki, March 3, 1902, composer conducting); Romance in C major for Strings, op.42 (1903; Turku, March 1904, composer conducting); Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orch., op.47 (1903–04; Helsinki, Feb. 8, 1904, Viktor Novâêek soloist, composer conducting; rev. version, Berlin, Oct. 19, 1905, Karl Halir soloist, R. Strauss conducting); Cassazione, op.6 (1904); Pelléas et Mélisande, suite from the incidental music, op.46 (1905); Pohjola’s Daughter, symphonic fantasia, op.49 (St. Petersburg, Dec. 29, 1906, composer conducting); Belshazzar’s Feast, suite from the incidental music, op.51 (1906; Helsinki, Sept. 25, 1907); Pan and Echo, dance intermezzo, op.53 (1906); Nightride and Sunrise, tone poem, op.55 (1907; St. Petersburg, Jan. 1909); Svanevhit (Swanwhite), suite from the incidental music, op.54 (1908); In Memoriam, funeral march, op.59 (1909; Helsinki, April 3, 1911); The Dryad, tone poem (1910), and Dance Intermezzo (1907), op.45; Rakastava (The Lover) for Strings and Percussion, op.14 (1911); Scènes historiques, op.66, II (1912); 2 serenades for Violin and Orch., op.69: No. 1, in D major (1912) and No. 2, in G minor (1913); The Bard, tone poem, op.64 (1913; rev. 1914); Aallottaret (Nymphs of the Ocean), tone poem, op.73 (1914; second version as The Oceanides, 1914; the latter first perf. at the Norfolk [Conn.] Festival, June 4, 1914, composer conducting); 2 pieces for Violin or Cello, and Orch., op.77 (1914); 2 Humor-esques for Violin and Orch., op.87 (1917); 4 Humoresques for Violin and Orch., op.89 (also numbered as 3–6 in continuation of the preceding; 1917); Promootiomarssi (Academic March) (1919); 3 pieces, op.96: No. 1, Valse lyrique (1920), No. 2, Autrefois, Scène pastorale for 2 Voices and Orch. (1919), and No. 3, Valse chevaleresque (1920); Suite mignonne for 2 Flutes and Strings, op.98a (1921); Suite champêtre for Strings, op.98b (1921); Suite caractéristique for Harp and Strings, op.100 (1922); The Tempest, concert version of the incidental music, op.109 (1925); Tapiola, tone poem, op.112 (N.Y., Dec. 26, 1926, W. Damrosch conducting); Andante festivo for Strings and Percussion (1930?; also for String Quartet, 1922); Suite for Violin and Strings, op.117 (n.d.; Lahti, Dec. 8. 1990). CHAMBER: Vattendroppar (Water Drops) for Violin and Cello (1875–76); Menuetto in F major for 2 Violins and Piano (1883); Trio in G major for 2 Violins and Piano (1883); Andantino in C major for Cello and Piano (1884?); 2 quartets for 2 Violins, Cello, and Piano: D minor (1884) and C minor (1891); 4 piano trios: A minor (1884?), A minor (1886), D major, Korpo (1887), and C major, Lovisa (1888); 2 violin sonatas: A minor (1884) and F major (1889); Andante grazioso for Violin and Piano (1884–85); 4 string quartets: E-flat major (1885), A minor (1889), B-flat major, op.4 (1890), and D minor, op.56, Voces intimae (1909); Allegro in D major for Piano Trio (1886); Andante cantabile for Violin and Piano (1887); Andante molto in F minor for Cello and Piano (1887?); Fantasia for Cello and Piano (1887?); Quartet in G minor for Violin, Cello, Harmonium, and Piano (1887?); Scherzo for Violin, Cello, and Piano, 4-Hands (1887?); Tempo di valse in G minor for Cello and Piano (1887?); Theme and Variations in D minor for Cello (1887?); Andantino in G minor for Piano Trio (1887–88); Allegretto in C major for Violin and Piano (1888?); Allegretto in E-flat major for Violin and Piano (1888?); Andante-Allegro in A major for Piano Quintet (1888?); Moderato maestoso for Violin and Piano (1888?); Romance and Epilogue for Violin and Cello, op.2 (1888; rev. 1911); Suite (Sonata) in D minor for Violin and Piano (1888?); Theme and Variations in C-sharp minor for String Quartet (1888); Theme and Variations in G minor for String Quartet (1888–89); Suite (Trio) in A major for String Trio (1889); Tempo di valse in F-sharp minor for Cello and Piano, Lulu Waltz (1889); Quintet in G minor for Piano and Strings (1890); Rondo for Viola and Piano (1893); Malinconia for Cello and Piano, op.20 (1900); 2 pieces for Violin or Cello and Piano, op.77: No. 1, Laetare anima mea. Cantique (1914–15) and No. 2, Devotion (1900); 2 pieces for Violin or Cello and Piano, op.78: No. 1, Impromptu (1915), No. 2, Romance (1915), No. 3, Religioso (1917), and No. 4, Rigaudon (1915); 6 pieces for Violin and Piano, op.79: No. 1, Souvenir (1915?), No. 2, Tempo di menuetto (1915), No. 3, Danse caractéristique (1916), No. 4, Sérénade (1916), No. 5, Danse Idyll (1917), and No. 6, Berceuse (1917); Violin Sonata in E major, op.80 (1915); 5 pieces for Violin and Piano, op.81: No. 1, Mazurka (1915), No. 2, Rondino (1917), No. 3, Valse (1917), No. 4, Aubade (1918), and No. 5, Menuetto (1918); Novelette for Violin and Piano, op.102 (1922); Andante festivo for String Quartet (1922; also for Strings and Percussion, 1930?); 5 Danses champêtres for Violin and Piano, op.106 (1925); 4 pieces for Violin and Piano, op.115 (1929): No. 1, On the Heath, No. 2, Ballade, No. 3, Humoresque, and No. 4, The Bells; 3 pieces for Violin and Piano, op.115 (1929): No. 1, Onthe He ath, No. 2, Danse caractéristique, and No. 3, Rondeau romantique. keyboard: Piano: More than 150 pieces (1890–1929). Organ : 2 pieces, op.lll: No. 1, Intrada (1925) and No. 2, Sorg-musik Surusoitto (Funeral Music; 1931). VOCAL: Kullervo, symphonic poem for Soprano, Baritone, Men’s Chorus, and Orch., op.7 (Helsinki, April 28, 1892); Rakastava (The Lover) for Men’s Chorus, op.14 (1893; Helsinki, April 28, 1894); Laulu Lemminkäiselle (A Song for Lemminkäinen) for Men’s Chorus and Orch., op.31, No. 1 (1896); Har du mod? (Have You Courage?) for Men’s Chorus and Orch., op.31, No. 2 (1904); Atenarnes sang (The Song of the Athenians) for Men’s Voices, Winds, and Percussion, op.31, No. 3 (Helsinki, April 26, 1899); Tulen synty (The Origin of Fire) for Baritone, Men’s Chorus, and Orch., op.32 (Helsinki, April 9, 1902, composer conducting; rev. 1910); Vapautettu kuningatar (The Liberated Queen), cantata for Chorus and Orch., op.48 (Helsinki, May 12, 1906); Luonnotar (Spirit of Nature), tone poem for Soprano and Orch., op.70 (1910; Gloucester, Sept. 10, 1913); Oma maa (Our Native Land), cantata for Chorus and Orch., op.92 (1918); jordens sång (Song of the Earth), cantata for Chorus and Orch., op.93 (1919); Maan virsi (Hymn of the Earth), cantata for Chorus and Orch., op.95 (Helsinki, June 1920, composer conducting); Väinön virsi (Väinö’s Song) for Chorus and Orch., op.110 (Helsinki, June 28, 1926, Kajanus conducting); Masonic Ritual Music for Men’s Voices, Piano, and Organ, op.113 (1927–46; rev. 1948); also numerous other choral works, and more than 100 songs composed between 1891 and 1918.


R. Newmarch, J. S.: A Finnish Composer (Leipzig, 1906); E. Furuhjelm, J. S.: Hans tondikting och drag ur hans liv (Borgå, 1916); W. Niemann, J. S. (Leipzig, 1917); C. Gray, S. (London, 1931; second ed., 1945); K. Ekman, J. S.: En konstnärs liv och personlighet (Stockholm, 1935; Eng. tr., 1935, as J. S.: His Life and Personality; fourth Swedish ed., 1959); C. Gray, S.: The Symphonies (London, 1935); B. de Tome, S.: A Close-Up (London, 1937); R. Newmarch, /. S.: A Short History of a LongFriendship (Boston, 1939; second ed., 1945); B. Sandberg, /. S. (Helsinki, 1940); E. Arnold, Finlandia: The Story ofS.(N.Y., 1941; second ed., 1951); E. Roiha, Die Symphonien von J. S.: Eine formanalytische Studie (Jyväskylä, 1941); I. Krohn, Der Formenbau in den Symphonien von ]. S.(Helsinki, 1942); E. Tanzberger, Die symphonischen Dichtungen von J. S. (Ein inhalt sund formanalytische Studie) (Würzburg, 1943); S. Levas, J. S. ja hänen Ainolansa (Helsinki, 1945; second ed., 1955); M. Similä, Sibeliana (Helsinki, 1945); B. de Töme, S., i närbild och samtal (Helsinki, 1945; second ed., 1955); G. Abraham, ed., S.: A Symposium (London, 1947; second ed., 1952); I. Hannikainen, S. and the Development of Finnish Music (London, 1948); N.-E. Ringbom, S. (Stockholm, 1948; Eng. tr., Norman, Okia., 1954); V. Helasvuo, S. and the Music of Finland (Helsinki, 1952; second ed., 1957); O. Anderrson, J. S. i Amerika (Åbo, 1955); S. Parmet, S. symfonier (Helsinki, 1955; Eng. tr., 1959, as The Symphonies of S.: A Study in Musical Appreciation); L. Solanterä, The Works of}. S.(Helsinki, 1955); H. Johnson, J. S. (N.Y., 1959); E. Tanzberger, J. S.: Eine Monographie (Wiesbaden, 1962); F. Blum, J. S.: An International Bibliography on the Occasion of the Centennial Celebrations, 1965 (Detroit, 1965); R. Layton, S. (London, 1965; third ed., rev., 1983); E. Tawaststjerna, J. S. (5 vols., Helsinki, 1965–88; Eng. tr. by R. Layton, 1976 et seq.); R. Layton, The World of S.(London, 1970); B. James, The Music of]. S.(East Brunswick, N.J., London, and Mississauga, Ontario; 1983); E. Salmenhaara, /. S. (Helsinki, 1984); F. Dahlström, The Works of ]. S.(Helsinki, 1987); T. Howell, /. S.: Progressive Techniques in the Symphonies and Tone Poems (N.Y., 1989); K. Kilpeläinen, The J. S. Musical Manuscripts at Helsinki University Library: A Complete Catalogue (Wiesbaden, 1991); E. Tawaststerjna, /. S.: Aren 1865–1893 (Helsinki, 1992); J. Hepokoski, S.: Symphony No. 5 (Cambridge, 1993); V. Murtomäki, Symphonic Unity: The Development of Formal Thinking in the Symphonies of S.(Helsinki, 1993); G. Schlüter, The Harold E. Johnson J. S. Collection at Butler University: A Complete Catalogue (Indianapolis, 1993); G. Goss, /. S. and Olin Downes: Music, Friendship, Criticism (Boston, 1995); L. Luyken, “—aus dem Nichtigen eine Welt shcaffen—”: Studien zur Dramaturgie im symphonischen Spätwerk von}. S.(Kassel, 1995); E. Englund, Sibeliuksen varjossa: Katkelmia säveltäjän elämästä (Helsinki, 1996); G. Goss, ed., The S. Companion (Westport, Conn., 1996); E. Salmenhaara, J. S.: Violin Concerto (Wilhelmshaven, 1996); G. Goss, /. S.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1997); G. Rickards, J. S. (London, 1997); H. Williams, S. and His Masonic World: Sounds in “Silence” (Lewiston, N.Y., 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire