Finnish composer. His works include nationalistic symphonic poems such as En saga (1893) and Finlandia (1900), a violin concerto (1904), and seven symphonies. In 1940 he suddenly ceased composing and spent the rest of his life as a recluse. Restoration of many works to their original state has helped to remove his conservative image and reveal unexpectedly revolutionary features.
Sibelius was the son of a surgeon; he had a classical education, and entered Helsinki University intending to pursue a career in law. He learned piano and violin as a child and tried composing long before he had any instruction. While studying law he took a special course under Martin Wegelius at the conservatory, and in 1885 gave up law altogether to attend the conservatory. He left in 1889 and had a string quartet and a suite for string orchestra performed in public. With a government grant he went to study counterpoint with Albert Becker in Berlin and later orchestration with Robert Fuchs in Vienna, where he also consulted Carl Goldmark. When he returned home he became a passionate nationalist, studying the Kalevala (the Finnish national epic poem) and other Finnish literature for subjects for his works, the first being Kullervo, performed at Helsinki in 1892. Sibelius had a great success with the work, capturing a popular feeling of protest against foreign, particularly Russian, oppression. Further nationalist sentiments were aroused by the tone-poem Finlandia in 1899, which became an unofficial national anthem. An annual grant was voted to Sibelius by the Finnish government in 1897 and increased in 1926, and he was thus able to devote himself entirely to composition without having to fill any official or administrative post.
The first symphony, influenced by Tchaikovsky, was premiered in 1899. The second symphony followed in 1902 and is a wholly individual work. Sibelius gradually made his way abroad, but not in every country. Much of his work was published in Germany, but it was not widely performed there. In Britain he became much better known after the performance of the fourth symphony at the Birmingham Festival in 1912. Composed the previous year, it seems to symbolize the view expressed by Sibelius to Gustav Mahler in 1907 that a symphony's justification is the ‘profound logic creating a connection between all the motifs’. The heavily revised fifth symphony of 1915–19 further develops this ideal.
Sibelius conducted the first performance of The Oceanides at Norfolk, Connecticut, USA, in 1914, when Yale University conferred a doctoral degree on him. During the Russian Revolution and after World War I there was much unrest in Finland, and Sibelius's country home at Järvenpää was invaded. He spent most of his life there quietly, however, completely devoted to composition. The seventh symphony of 1924, generally considered to be his greatest and most concentrated work, summed up the composer's career, beyond which it was difficult to develop. The conventional four movements are linked thematically into a single unit, lasting 20 minutes, creating an awe-inspiring structure as each idea unfolds and develops over the entire work.
WorksStage opera Jungfrun i Tornet/The Maiden in the Tower, 1896); incidental music to Adolf Paul's King Christian (1898), Arvid Järnefelt's Kuolema (including Valse triste, 1903), Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande (1905), Hjalmar Procopé's Belshazzar's Feast (1906), August Strindberg's Svanevit, Paul Knudsen's Scaramouche, Hofmannsthal's version of Everyman, Shakespeare's Tempest.
Orchestral seven symphonies, no. 1 in E minor (1899), no. 2 in D (1902), no. 3 in C (1904–7), no. 4 in A minor (1911), no. 5 in E♭ (1915–19), no. 6 in D minor (1923), no. 7 in C (1924); Kullervo, with solo voices and chorus (1892), symphonic poem En Saga (1892), Rakastava for strings and timpani, Four Legends: Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari), The Swan of Tuonela/Lemminkäinen in Tuonela, Lemminkäinen's Return (1895), tone-poem Finlandia (1899), violin concerto (1903), symphonic fantasy Pohjola's Daughter (1906), tone-poem Night-Ride and Sunrise (1907), tone-poem The Bard (1913); symphonic poems The Oceanides (1914), Tapiola (1926), a number of smaller orchestral pieces.
Chamber string quartet Voces intimae (1909), sonatina and many smaller pieces for violin and piano; Malinconia (1901) and two Serious Pieces for cello and piano; 18 Op. nos. of piano works, including sonata in F major, Pensées lyriques (1914), Kyllikki, three sonatinas; two organ pieces.
VocalLuonnotar for soprano and orchestra (1910–13); 85 songs.
Sibelius, Jean Julius Christian
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