Jean Sibelius Biography

Jean Sibelius was a great Finnish music composer who had composed several great compositions which are still admired by music aspirants all over the world. Read this biography to learn about the profile, childhood, life and time line of this famous m

Jean Sibelius

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 08 December 1865
Died: 20 September 1957
Nationality: Russian
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Spouse/Ex-: Aino Sibelius
Siblings: Christian Sibelius
Children: Ruth Snellman, Heidi Blomstedt, Katarina Ilves
Education: Sibelius Academy, University of Helsinki
Awards: Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland, Wihuri Sibelius Prize, Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal

Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, popularly known as Jean Sibelius, is a Finnish composer whose music had played a considerable role in creating Finnish Identity. He, just like Beethoven, learnt from each of his work and tried to deliver his best every time. He was greatly influenced by Ferruccio Busoni and Peter Tchaikovsky which is evident in his work Kullervo, a choral symphony. He was a great self-critic and his compositions were often so complete. Most of his works are melodies with powerful modal implications, and that are depicted with a number of notes. His compositions are marked with simple harmonization with pedals which are long sustained note underneath produced by a pedal instrument. He stated that ‘music often loses its way without a pedal and his music is sometimes considered insufficiently complex. He was immensely respected by his peers, including Gustav Mahler, great Austrian composer. He was noted for his special way of playing a melody with a slow pace, thus transforming it over the course of complete work. He experimented with advanced harmonies and was open to learning. His works are still performed in the concert hall and are often recorded. Know more about this music maestro from his biography.

Early Life

Jean Sibelius was born on 8th December 1865 in Hämeenlinna which was in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland as son of Sibelius and Maria Charlotta Sibelius, in a Swedish family. He was known by the pet name "Janne” among his family. He used the French version of this name, Jean, during student years. He lost his father at the age of two and his family was heavily indebted that they moved to his maternal grandmother’s house. Janne’s sister, Linda and younger brother Christian the cello, also played piano, and three of them formed a piano trio.
The philosophy of Hegel led to the rise of Romantic nationalism in Europe and this had deeply influenced the educational system in Europe. Thus the importance of Latin language declined and there were more opportunities to learn native languages. The native languages were Finnish or Swedish languages and Sibelius’s is family decided to send him to an important Finnish language school Hämeenlinnan normaalilyseo, though he belonged to a Swedish-speaking family. He joined there in 1876 and remained till 1885. Romantic Nationalism became vital element in his artistic output and political leanings. Sibelius became famous as a violin virtuoso at an age of 15 and started giving public performances.
Sibelius graduated in 1885 and joined law at Imperial Alexander University of Finland (now known as the University of Helsinki). He quit studies to pursue his interests in music. He joined Helsinki music school (now known as the Sibelius Academy) in 1885 and continued there till 1889. Martin Wegelius was his teacher there. He was acquainted with, Ferruccio Busoni another teacher of him, and this friendship lasted till Busoni's death in 1924.Sibelius continued pursuing music in Berlin during 1889-1890 with Albert Becker and in Vienna during 1890 to 1891. He abandoned his aspirations with violin during this period.

Personal Life And Career

Jean Sibelius married Aino Järnefelt on 10th June 1892 at Maxmo. They lived in his home, called Ainola, at Lake Tuusula, Järvenpää. The couple had six daughters - Eva, Ruth, Kirsti, Katarina, Margareta and Heidi. Kristi died at a younger age. Margareta got married to famous conductor Jussi Jalas. Sibelius was suspected to have throat cancer in 1908 and got operated as a curative measure. This incident inspired his later works like Luonnotar and the Fourth Symphony.
Sibelius adored nature, especially Finnish landscapes and composed many pieces inspired by nature’s beauty. His love for nature is evident in his remark about his sixth symphony “always reminds me of the scent of the first snow." His work Tapiola is believed to be inspired by the forest surrounding Ainola. There was a sharp decline in his work in the year 1926 and he composed only a few works after his seventh symphony. The significant work after seventh symphony was the incidental music for Shakespeare's ‘The Tempest’. Surprisingly, Sibelius even avoided talking about music during the last thirty years of his life. Sibelius was planning to compose his eighth symphony but it didn’t happen because, he was highly self-critical and had said that he is not able to compose a symphony better than the seventh one, then it is better to leave the seventh one as his last work. According to his wife, he destroyed a large number of manuscripts of his work during 1940s, probably in 1945. She said that he came to a lighter mood after that. Sibelius took part in an international broadcast in 1939. His performance there was recorded and later released as CD and this is apparently the only surviving illustration of his self-interpretation.
Sibelius’s 90th birthday was widely celebrated with grand music performances by both the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham. Both these orchestras along with their conductors paid a visit to the great musician at his home and a series of photographs were taken to commemorate this memorable occasion. These pictures were released by both orchestras along with albums of his works. Finnish government honored Sir Thomas Beecham for his efforts to promote Sibelius’s work both in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

Death

Once, while returning home after his routine morning walk he told his wife that he had seen a flock of cranes. He said that "There they come, the birds of my youth,” Two days after this, on 20th September 1957, Sibelius died at his house Ainola, of cerebral hemorrhage. He was 91 years old when he died. Thousands of mourners gathered along the sides of the road to give the last salute to the music maestro. Candles were burnt at the windows in respect to him. Sibelius was buried in his beloved house, Ainola. By coincidence, another popular Finnish composer, Heino Kaski, also died the same day. His house Ainola is now a museum (opened in 1974), run by the Ministry of Education and the Sibelius Society of Finland.

Major Works

Finlandia, 1899
Viisi joululaulua, 1895-1913
Jääkärimarssi, 1915
Karelia suite, 1893
Kullervo, 1892
Lemminkäinen suite, 1893
Porilaisten marssi, 1900
Violin Concerto, 1904
Symphony no. 1 1899
Symphony no. 2 1902
Symphony no. 3 1906
Symphony no. 4 1911
Symphony no. 5 1915, revised in 1916 and 1919
Symphony no. 6 1923
Symphony no. 7 1924
Symphony no. 8 1929,completed but he destroyed the manuscripts
Voces intimae, string quartet, 1909

Timeline

1865: Jean Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna
1876: Sibelius joined a Finnish language school Hämeenlinnan normaalilyseo, though he belonged to a Swedish speaking family.
1885: Sibelius left the school as he completed schooling.
1885: Sibelius joined law at Imperial Alexander University of Finland (now known as the University of Helsinki but abandoned it to pursue music.
1885: Sibelius joined Helsinki music school (now known as the Sibelius Academy) and continued there till 1889.
1899: Sibelius continued pursuing music in Berlin during 1889-1890 with Albert Becker.
1890: Sibelius learned music in Vienna during 1890 to 1891.
1892: Jean Sibelius got married Aino Järnefelt on 10th June at Maxmo.
1926: This year marked the starting of the phase of decline of his composition works and he gradually moved out of composition.
1945: around 1940s, probably by 1945, he destroyed a large number of manuscripts of his work.
1957: Sibelius died of cerebral Hemorrhage on 20th September at his house Ainola.

Citation Information

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Jean Sibelius Biography

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Last Updated

June 07, 2019

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