JEAN SIBELIUS (/sɪˈbeɪliəs, -jəs/ ; Swedish pronunciation
(help ·info )), born JOHAN JULIUS CHRISTIAN SIBELIUS (8 December
1865 – 20 September 1957), was a Finnish composer and violinist of
the late Romantic and early-modern periods. He is widely recognized as
his country's greatest composer and, through his music, is often
credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity
during its struggle for independence from Russia.
The core of his oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies which, like his
other major works, continue to be performed and recorded in his home
country and internationally. His other best-known compositions are
Finlandia , the
Karelia Suite , Valse triste , the Violin Concerto ,
the choral symphony
Kullervo , and
The Swan of Tuonela
The Swan of Tuonela (from the
Lemminkäinen Suite ). Other works include pieces inspired by the
Finnish national epic , the
Kalevala , over a hundred songs for voice
and piano, incidental music for numerous plays, the opera Jungfrun i
tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music , piano music ,
Masonic ritual music, and 21 publications of choral music .
Throughout his career, the composer found inspiration in nature and
Nordic mythology, especially the heroic legends of the national epic,
Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s, but after
completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music for The
Tempest (1926) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he failed to produce
any major works in his last thirty years, a stunning and perplexing
decline commonly referred to as "The Silence of
Järvenpää ", the
location of his home. Although he is reputed to have stopped
composing, he attempted to continue writing, including abortive
efforts on an eighth symphony . In later life, he wrote Masonic music
and re-edited some earlier works while retaining an active but not
always favourable interest in new developments in music.
The Finnish 100 mark note featured his image until 2002, when the
euro was adopted. Since 2011, Finland has celebrated a Flag Day on 8
December, the composer's birthday, also known as the "Day of Finnish
Music". In 2015, the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, a
number of special concerts and events were held, especially in the
city of Helsinki.
* 1 Life
* 1.1 Early years
* 1.2 Studies and early career
* 1.3 Marriage and rise to fame
* 1.4 Move to
* 1.5 Ups and downs
* 1.6 More pleasant times
First World War
First World War years
* 1.8 Revived fortunes
* 1.9 Last major contributions
* 1.10 Final years and death
* 2 Music
* 2.1 Symphonies
* 2.2 Tone poems
* 2.3 Other important works
* 4 Nature
* 5 Reception
* 6 Legacy
* 7 References
* 7.1 Sources
* 7.2 Further reading
* 8 External links
11-year-old Sibelius in 1876
Sibelius was born on 8 December 1865 in
Hämeenlinna in the Grand
Duchy of Finland , an autonomous part of the
Russian Empire . He was
the son of the Swedish-speaking medical doctor Christian Gustaf
Sibelius and Maria Charlotta Sibelius née Borg. The family name stems
from the Sibbe estate in
Eastern Uusimaa which was owned by his
paternal great-grandfather. Sibelius's father died of typhoid in July
1868, leaving substantial debts. As a result, his mother—who was
again pregnant—had to sell their property and move the family into
the home of Katarina Borg, her widowed mother, who also lived in
Hämeenlinna. Sibelius was therefore brought up in a decidedly female
environment, the only male influence coming from his uncle, Pehr
Ferdinand Sibelius, who was interested in music, especially the
violin. It was he who gave the boy a violin when he was ten years old
and later encouraged him to maintain his interest in composition.
For Sibelius, Uncle Pehr not only took the place of a father but acted
as a musical adviser.
From an early age, Sibelius showed a strong interest in nature,
frequently walking around the countryside when the family moved to
Loviisa on the coast for the summer months. In his own words: "For me,
Loviisa represented sun and happiness.
Hämeenlinna was where I went
Loviisa was freedom." It was in Hämeenlinna, when he was
seven, that his aunt Julia was brought in to give him piano lessons on
the family's upright instrument, rapping him on the knuckles whenever
he played a wrong note. He progressed by improvising on his own, but
still learned to read music. He later turned to the violin, which he
preferred. He participated in trios with his elder sister Linda on
piano, and his younger brother Christian on the cello. (Christian
Sibelius was to become an eminent psychiatrist , still remembered for
his contributions to modern psychiatry in Finland.) Furthermore,
Sibelius often played in quartets with neighboring families, adding to
his experience in chamber music. Fragments survive of his early
compositions of the period, a trio, a piano quartet and a Suite in D
Minor for violin and piano. Around 1881, he recorded on paper his
short pizzicato piece Vattendroppar (Water Drops) for violin and cello
although it might just have been a musical exercise. The first
reference he himself made to composing comes in a letter from August
1883 in which he reveals he had composed a trio and was working on
another: "They are rather poor, but it is nice to have something to do
on rainy days." In 1881, he started to take violin lessons from the
local bandmaster, Gustaf Levander, immediately developing a
particularly strong interest in the instrument. Setting his heart on
a career as a great violin virtuoso, he soon succeeded in becoming
quite an accomplished player, performing David 's Concerto in E minor
in 1886 and, the following year, the last two movements of
Mendelssohn\'s Violin Concerto in Helsinki. Despite such success as an
instrumentalist, he ultimately chose to become a composer.
Although his mother tongue was Swedish, in 1874 Sibelius attended
Lucina Hagman's Finnish-speaking preparatory school. In 1876, he was
then able to continue his education at the Finnish-language
Hämeenlinna Normal Lyceum where he proved to be a rather
absent-minded pupil, although he did quite well in mathematics and
botany. Despite having to repeat a year, he succeeded in passing the
school's final examination in 1885 which allowed him to enter a
university. As a boy he was known as
Janne , a colloquial form of
Johan. However, during his student years, he adopted the French form
Jean , inspired by the business card of his deceased seafaring uncle.
Thereafter he became known as Jean Sibelius.
STUDIES AND EARLY CAREER
Martin Wegelius , Sibelius's teacher in Finland
After graduating from high school in 1885, Sibelius began to study
law at the Imperial Alexander University in Finland but, showing far
more interest in music, soon moved to the Helsinki Music Institute
Sibelius Academy ) where he studied from 1885 to 1889. One of
his teachers was its founder, Martin Wegelius, who did much to support
the development of education in Finland. It was he who gave the
self-taught Sibelius his first formal lessons in composition. Another
important influence was his teacher
Ferruccio Busoni , a
pianist-composer with whom he enjoyed a lifelong friendship. His
close circle of friends included the pianist and writer
Adolf Paul and
Armas Järnefelt , (who introduced him to his
influential family including his sister Aino who would become
Sibelius's wife). The most remarkable of his works during this period
was the Violin Sonata in F, rather reminiscent of
Sibelius continued his studies in Berlin (from 1889 to 1890) with
Albert Becker , and in Vienna (from 1890 to 1891) with Robert Fuchs
Karl Goldmark . In Berlin, he had the opportunity
to widen his musical experience by going to a variety of concerts and
operas, including the premiere of
Richard Strauss 's Don Juan . He
also heard the Finnish composer
Robert Kajanus conducting the Berlin
Philharmonic in a program which included his symphonic poem Aino, a
patriotic piece which may well have triggered Sibelius's later
interest in using the epic poem
Kalevala as a basis for his own
compositions. While in Vienna, he became particularly interested in
the music of
Anton Bruckner whom, for a time, he regarded as "the
greatest living composer", although he continued to show interest in
the established works of
Wagner . He enjoyed his year in
Vienna, frequently partying and gambling with his new friends. It was
also in Vienna that he turned to orchestral composition, working on an
Overture in E major and a Scène de Ballet. While embarking on
Kullervo, an orchestral work inspired by the Kalevala, he fell ill but
was restored to good health after gallstone- excision surgery.
Shortly after returning to Helsinki, Sibelius thoroughly enjoyed
conducting his Overture and the Scène de Ballet at a popular concert.
He was also able to continue working on Kullervo, now that he was
increasingly developing an interest in all things Finnish. Premiered
in Helsinki on 28 April 1892, the work was an enormous success.
Sibelius in 1891
It was around this time that Sibelius finally abandoned his cherished
aspirations as a violinist:
My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any
price. Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning
to night. I hated pen and ink — unfortunately I preferred an elegant
violin bow. My love for the violin lasted quite long and it was a very
painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for
the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.
In addition to the long periods he spent studying in Vienna and
Berlin (1889–91), in 1900 he travelled to Italy where he spent a
year with his family. He composed, conducted and socialized actively
in the Scandinavian countries, the UK, France and Germany and later
travelled to the United States.
MARRIAGE AND RISE TO FAME
While Sibelius was studying music in Helsinki in the autumn of 1888,
Armas Järnefelt, a friend from the Music Institute, invited him to
the family home. There he met and immediately fell in love with Aino ,
the 17-year-old daughter of General
Alexander Järnefelt , the
Vaasa , and Elisabeth Clodt von Jürgensburg , a Baltic
aristocrat. The wedding was held on 10 June 1892 at
Maxmo . They
spent their honeymoon in
Karelia , the home of the Kalevala. It served
as an inspiration for Sibelius's tone poem En saga, the Lemminkäinen
legends and the
Karelia Suite. Their home,
Ainola , was completed on
Lake Tuusula , Järvenpää, in 1903. Over their years in Ainola, they
had six daughters: Eva, Ruth, Kirsti (who died very young from
typhoid), Katarina, Margareta and Heidi. Eva married an industrial
heir, Arvi Paloheimo, and later became the CEO of the Paloheimo
Corporation. Ruth Snellman was a prominent actress, Katarina Ilves
married a banker and Heidi Blomstedt was a designer, wife of architect
Aulis Blomstedt . Margareta married conductor
Jussi Jalas , Aulis
In 1892, the
Kullervo inaugurated Sibelius's focus on orchestral
music. It was described by the composer Aksel Törnudd (fi) as "a
volcanic eruption" while Juho Ranta who sang in the choir stated, "It
was Finnish music." At the end of that year the composer's
grandmother, Katarina Borg died. Sibelius went to her funeral,
Hämeenlinna home one last time before the house was
sold. On 16 February 1893, the first (extended) version of
En saga was
presented in Helsinki although it was not too well received, the
critics suggesting that superfluous sections should be eliminated (as
they were in Sibelius's 1902 version). Even less successful were three
more performances of
Kullervo in March, which one critic found was
incomprehensible and lacking in vitality. Following the birth of
Sibelius's first child Eva, in April the premiere of his choral work
Väinämöinen's Boat Ride was a considerable success, receiving the
support of the press.
On 13 November 1893, the full version of
Karelia was premiered at a
student association gala at the Seurahuone in Viipuri with the
collaboration of the artist Axel Gallén and the sculptor Emil
Wikström who had been brought in to design the stage sets. While the
first performance was difficult to appreciate over the background
noise of the talkative audience, a second performance on 18 November
was more successful. Furthermore, on the 19th and 23rd Sibelius
presented an extended suite of the work in Helsinki, conducting the
orchestra of the Philharmonic Society. Sibelius's music was
increasingly presented in Helsinki's concert halls. In the 1894–95
season, works such as En saga,
Karelia and Vårsång (composed in
1894) were included in at least 16 concerts in the capital, not to
mention those in
Turku . When performed in a revised version on 17
April 1895, the composer
Oskar Merikanto welcomed Vårsång (Spring
Song) as "the fairest flower among Sibelius's orchestral pieces".
Sibelius (right) socializing with
Akseli Gallen-Kallela (the artist,
Oskar Merikanto and
For a considerable period, Sibelius worked on an opera, Veneen
luominen (The Building of the Boat), again based on the Kalevala. To
some extent he had come under the influence of Wagner, but
subsequently turned instead to
Liszt 's tone poems as a source of
compositional inspiration. Adapted from material for the opera which
was never completed, his
Lemminkäinen Suite consisted of four legends
in the form of tone poems. They were premiered in Helsinki on 13
April 1896 to a full house. In contrast to Merikanto's enthusiasm for
the Finnish quality of the work, the critic Karl Flodin found the cor
anglais solo in
The Swan of Tuonela
The Swan of Tuonela "stupendously long and boring",
although he considered the first legend, Lemminkäinen and the Maidens
of the Island, as representing the peak of Sibelius's achievement to
To pay his way, from 1892 Sibelius had taken on teaching assignments
at the Music Institute and at Kajanus's conducting school but this
left him insufficient time for composing. The situation improved
considerably when in 1898 he was awarded a substantial annual grant,
initially for ten years and later extended for life. He was able to
complete the music for Adolf Paul's play King Christian II. Performed
on 24 February 1898, its catchy tunes appealed to the public. The
scores of four popular pieces from the play were published in Germany
and sold well in Finland. When the orchestral suite was successfully
performed in Helsinki in November 1898, Sibelius commented: "The music
sounded excellent and the tempi seem to be right. I think this is the
first time that I have managed to make something complete." The work
was also performed in Stockholm and Leipzig.
In January 1899, Sibelius embarked on his First Symphony at a time
when his patriotic feelings were being enhanced by the Russian emperor
Nicholas II 's attempt to restrict the powers of the Grand Duchy of
Finland . The symphony was well received by all when it was premiered
in Helsinki on 26 April 1899. But the program also premiered the even
more compelling, blatantly patriotic Song of the Athenians for boys'
and men's choirs. The song immediately brought Sibelius the status of
a national hero. Another patriotic work followed on 4 November in
the form of eight tableaux depicting episodes from Finnish history
known as the Press Celebration Music. It had been written in support
of the staff of the Päivälehti newspaper which had been suspended
for a period after editorially criticizing Russian rule. The last
tableau, Finland Awakens, was particularly popular; after minor
revisions, it became the well-known Finlandia. Sibelius: sketch
Albert Engström (1904)
In February 1900, Sibelius and his wife were deeply saddened by the
death of their youngest daughter. Nevertheless, in the spring Sibelius
went on an international tour with Kajanus and his orchestra,
presenting his recent works (including a revised version of his First
Symphony) in thirteen cities including Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg,
Berlin and Paris. The critics were highly favorable, bringing the
composer international recognition with their enthusiastic reports in
Berliner Börsen-Courier , the Berliner Fremdenblatt and the
Berliner Lokal Anzeiger.
During a trip with his family to
Rapallo , Italy in 1901, Sibelius
began to write his Second Symphony , partly inspired by the fate of
Don Juan in Mozart's
Don Giovanni . It was completed in early 1902
with its premiere in Helsinki on 8 March. The work was received with
tremendous enthusiasm by the Finns. Merikanto felt it exceeded "even
the boldest expectations," while Evert Katila qualified it as "an
absolute masterpiece". Flodin, too, wrote of a symphonic composition
"the likes of which we have never had occasion to listen to before".
Sibelius spent the summer in Tvärminne near
Hanko , where he worked
on the song Var det en dröm (Was it a Dream) as well as on a new
version of En saga. When it was performed in Berlin with the Berlin
Philharmonic in November 1902, it served to firmly establish the
composer's reputation in Germany, leading shortly afterwards to the
publication of his First Symphony.
In 1903, Sibelius spent much of his time in Helsinki where he
indulged excessively in wining and dining, running up considerable
bills in the restaurants. But he continued to compose, one of his
major successes being Valse triste, one of six pieces of incidental
music he composed for his brother-in-law
Arvid Järnefelt 's play
Kuolema (Death). Short of money, he sold the piece at a low price but
it quickly gained considerable popularity not only in Finland but
internationally. During his long stays in Helsinki, Sibelius's wife
Aino frequently wrote to him, imploring him to return home but to no
avail. Even after their fourth daughter, Katarina, was born, he
continued to work away from home. Early in 1904, he finished his
Violin Concerto but its first public performance on 8 February was not
a success. It led to a revised, condensed version which was performed
in Berlin the following year.
MOVE TO AINOLA
Ainola, photographed in 1915
In November 1903, Sibelius began to build his new home
Lake Tuusula some 45 km (30 miles) north of Helsinki. To
cover the construction costs, he gave concerts in Helsinki,
Vaasa in early 1904 as well as in Tallinn, Estonia, and in Latvia
during the summer. The family were finally able to move into the new
property on 24 September 1904, making friends with the local artistic
community, including the painters
Eero Järnefelt and Pekka Halonen
and the novelist
Juhani Aho .
In January 1905, Sibelius returned to Berlin where he conducted his
Second Symphony. While the concert itself was successful, it received
mixed reviews, some very positive while those in the Allgemeine
Zeitung and the Berliner Tageblatt were less enthusiastic. Back in
Finland, he rewrote the increasingly popular Pelléas and Mélisande
as an orchestral suite. In November, visiting Britain for the first
time, he went to
Liverpool where he met
Henry Wood . On 2 December, he
conducted the First Symphony and Finlandia, writing to Aino that the
concert had been a great success and widely acclaimed.
In 1906, after a short, rather uneventful stay in Paris at the
beginning of the year, Sibelius spent several months composing in
Ainola, his major work of the period being Pohjola\'s Daughter , yet
another piece based on the Kalevala. Later in the year he composed
incidental music for Belshazzar\'s Feast , also adapting it as an
orchestral suite. He ended the year conducting a series of concerts,
the most successful being the first public performance of Pohjola's
Daughter at the
Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.
UPS AND DOWNS
From the beginning of 1907, Sibelius again indulged in excessive
wining and dining in Helsinki, spending exorbitant amounts on
champagne and lobster. His lifestyle had a disastrous effect on the
health of Aino who was driven to retire to a sanatorium, suffering
from exhaustion. While she was away, Sibelius resolved to give up
drinking, concentrating instead on composing his Third Symphony . He
completed the work for a performance in Helsinki on 25 September.
Although its more classical approach surprised the audience, Flodin
commented that it was "internally new and revolutionary".
Shortly afterwards Sibelius met
Gustav Mahler who was in Helsinki.
The two agreed that with each new symphony, they lost those who had
been attracted to their earlier works. This was demonstrated above all
in St Petersburg where the Third Symphony was performed in November
1907 to dismissive reviews. Its reception in Moscow was rather more
positive. Blue plaque, 15
Kensington , London,
his home in 1909
In 1907, Sibelius underwent a serious operation for suspected throat
cancer . Early in 1908, Sibelius had to spend a spell in hospital. His
smoking and drinking had now become life-threatening. Although he
cancelled concerts in Rome, Warsaw and Berlin, he maintained an
engagement in London but there too his Third Symphony failed to
attract the critics. In May 1908, Sibelius's health deteriorated
further. He travelled with his wife to Berlin to have a tumour removed
from his throat. After the operation, he vowed to give up smoking and
drinking once and for all. The impact of this brush with death has
been said to have inspired works that he composed in the following
years, including Luonnotar and the Fourth Symphony .
MORE PLEASANT TIMES
Finlandia (first edition)
In 1909, the successful throat operation resulted in renewed
happiness between Sibelius and Aino in the family home. In Britain
too, his condition was well received as he conducted En saga,
Finlandia, Valse Triste and Spring Song to enthusiastic audiences. A
Claude Debussy produced further support. After another
uneventful trip to Paris, he went to Berlin where he was relieved to
learn that his throat operation had been entirely successful.
Sibelius started work on his Fourth Symphony in early 1910 but his
dwindling funds also required him to write a number of smaller pieces
and songs. In October, he conducted concerts in Kristiania (now Oslo)
where The Dryad and In Memoriam were first performed. His Valse triste
and Second Symphony were particularly well received. He then travelled
to Berlin to continue work on his Fourth Symphony, writing the finale
after returning to Järvenpää.
Sibelius conducted his first concerts in Sweden in early 1911 when
even his Third Symphony was welcomed by the critics. He completed the
Fourth Symphony in April but, as he expected, with its introspective
style it was not very warmly received when first performed in Helsinki
with mixed reviews. Apart from a trip to Paris where he enjoyed a
performance of Richard Strauss's Salome , the rest of the year was
fairly uneventful. In 1912, he completed his short orchestral work
Scènes historiques II. It was first performed in March together with
the Fourth Symphony. The concert was repeated twice to enthusiastic
audiences and critics including Robert Kajanus. The Fourth Symphony
was also well received in
Birmingham in September. In March 1913, it
was performed in New York but a large section of the audience left the
hall between the movements while in October, after a concert conducted
Carl Muck , the Boston American labelled it "a sad failure".
Sibelius's first significant composition of 1913 was the tone poem
The Bard which he conducted in March to a respectful audience in
Helsinki. He went on to compose Luonnotar (Daughter of Nature) for
soprano and orchestra. With a text from the Kalevala, it was first
performed in Finnish in September 1913 by
Aino Ackté (to whom it had
been dedicated) at the music festival in
Gloucester , England. In
early 1914, Sibelius spent a month in Berlin where he was particularly
Arnold Schönberg . Back in Finland, he began work on The
Oceanides which had been commissioned by the American millionaire Carl
Stoeckel for the Norfolk Music Festival . After first composing the
work in D flat major, Sibelius undertook substantive revisions,
D major version in Norfolk which was well received, as
Finlandia and the Valse triste.
Henry Krehbiel considered The
Oceanides to be one of the most beautiful pieces of sea music ever
The New York Times
The New York Times commented that Sibelius's music was
the most notable contribution to the music festival. While in America,
Sibelius received an honorary doctorate from
Yale University and,
almost simultaneously, one from the
University of Helsinki
University of Helsinki where he
was represented by Aino.
FIRST WORLD WAR YEARS
While travelling back from the United States, Sibelius heard about
the events in
Sarajevo which led to the beginning of the First World
War . Although he was far away from the fighting, his royalties from
abroad were interrupted. To make ends meet, he was forced to compose
lots of smaller works for publication in Finland. In March 1915, he
was able to travel to Gothenburg in Sweden where his
The Oceanides was
really appreciated. While working on his Fifth Symphony in April, he
saw 16 swans flying by, inspiring him to write the finale. "One of the
great experiences of my life!" he commented. Although there was little
progress on the symphony during the summer, he was able to complete it
by his 50th birthday on 8 December.
On the evening of his birthday, Sibelius conducted the premiere of
the Fifth Symphony in the hall of the
Helsinki Stock Exchange .
Despite high praise from Kajanus, the composer was not satisfied with
his work and soon began to revise it. Around this time, Sibelius was
running ever deeper into debt. The grand piano he had received as a
present was about to be confiscated by the bailiffs when the singer
Ida Ekman paid off a large proportion of his debt after a successful
A year later, on 8 December 1916, Sibelius presented the revised
version of his Fifth Symphony in Turku, combining the first two
movements and simplifying the finale. When it was performed a week
later in Helsinki, Katila was very favourable but Wasenius frowned on
the changes, leading the composer to rewrite it once again.
From the beginning of 1917, Sibelius started drinking again,
triggering arguments with Aino. Their relationship improved with the
excitement resulting from the start of the
Russian Revolution . By the
end of the year, Sibelius had composed his
Jäger March . The piece
proved particularly popular after the Finnish parliament accepted the
Senate's declaration of independence from Russia in December 1917. The
Jäger March, first played on 19 January 1918, delighted the Helsinki
elite for a short time until the launch of the
Finnish Civil War
Finnish Civil War in 27
January. Sibelius naturally supported the Whites , but as a tolstoyan
Aino Sibelius had some sympathies for the Reds too.
In February, the house
Ainola was searched twice by the local Red
Guard looking for weapons. During the first weeks of the war, some of
his acquaintances were killed in the violence, and his brother, the
psychiatrist Christian Sibelius, was arrested as he refused to reserve
beds for the Red soldiers who had suffered shell shock at the front.
Sibelius' friends in Helsinki were now worried about his safety. The
Robert Kajanus had negotiations with the Red Guard
Eero Haapalainen , who guaranteed Sibelius a safe
Ainola to the capital. In 20 February, a group of Red
Guard fighters escorted the family to Helsinki. Finally, in 12–13
April, the German troops occupied the city and the Red period was
over. A week later, the
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra gave a homage
concert for the German commander
Rüdiger von der Goltz
Rüdiger von der Goltz , Sibelius
finished off the event by conducting the Jäger March.
Sibelius in 1923
In early 1919, Sibelius enthusiastically decided to change his image,
removing his thinning hair. In June, together with Aino, he visited
Copenhagen on his first trip outside Finland since 1915, successfully
presenting his Second Symphony. In November he conducted the final
version of his Fifth Symphony, receiving repeated ovations from the
audience. By the end of the year, he was already working on the Sixth.
In 1920, despite a growing tremor in his hands, Sibelius composed the
Hymn of the Earth to a text by the poet
Eino Leino for the Suomen
Laulu Choir and orchestrated his Valse lyrique, helped along by
drinking wine. On his birthday in December 1920, Sibelius received a
donation of 63,000 marks, a substantial sum the tenor Wäinö Sola
(fi) had raised from Finnish businesses. Although he used some of the
money to reduce his debts, he also spent a week celebrating to excess
Sibelius enjoyed a highly successful trip to England in early 1921
conducting several concerts around the country which included the
Fourth and Fifth symphonies,
The Oceanides and the ever-popular
Finlandia and Valse triste. Immediately afterwards, he conducted the
Second Symphony and Valse triste in Norway. Although he was beginning
to suffer from exhaustion, the critics were still very positive. On
his return to Finland in April, he presented Lemminkäinen's Return
and the Fifth Symphony at the Nordic Music Days.
Early in 1922, after suffering from headaches Sibelius decided to
acquire spectacles although he never wore them for photographs. In
July, he was saddened by the death of his brother Christian. In
August, he joined the Finnish Freemasons and composed ritual music for
them. February 1923 saw the premiere of his Sixth Symphony which was
highly praised by Evert Katila who qualified it as "pure idyll".
Before the year was out he had also conducted concerts in Stockholm
and Rome, the first to considerable acclaim, the second to mixed
reviews. He then proceeded to Gothenburg where he enjoyed an ecstatic
reception despite arriving at the concert hall suffering from
over-indulgence in food and drink. Despite continuing to drink, to
Aino's dismay, Sibelius managed to complete his Seventh Symphony in
early 1924. In March, under the title of Fantasia sinfonica it
received its first public performance in Stockholm where it was a
success. It was even more highly appreciated at a series of concerts
in Copenhagen in late September. Sibelius was honoured with the Knight
Commander's Cross of the
Order of the Dannebrog
Order of the Dannebrog .
He spent most of the rest of the year resting as his recent spate of
activity was straining his heart and nerves. Composing a few small
pieces, he relied increasingly on alcohol. In May 1925, his Danish
publisher Wilhelm Hansen and the
Royal Danish Theatre
Royal Danish Theatre invited him to
compose incidental music for a production of Shakespeare 's The
Tempest . He completed the work well in advance of its premiere in
March 1926. It was well received in Copenhagen although Sibelius was
not there himself.
LAST MAJOR CONTRIBUTIONS
Sibelius and Aino in
Järvenpää (early 1940s)
The year 1926 saw a sharp and lasting decline in Sibelius's output:
after his Seventh Symphony, he produced only a few major works during
the rest of his life. Arguably the two most significant of these were
the incidental music for
The Tempest and the tone poem Tapiola. For
most of the last thirty years of his life, Sibelius even avoided
talking publicly about his music.
There is substantial evidence that Sibelius worked on an eighth
symphony. He promised the premiere of this symphony to Serge
Koussevitzky in 1931 and 1932, and a London performance in 1933 under
Basil Cameron was even advertised to the public. The only concrete
evidence of the symphony's existence on paper is a 1933 bill for a
fair copy of the first movement and short draft fragments first
published and played in 2011. Sibelius had always been quite
self-critical; he remarked to his close friends, "If I cannot write a
better symphony than my Seventh, then it shall be my last." Since no
manuscript survives, sources consider it likely that Sibelius
destroyed most traces of the score, probably in 1945, during which
year he certainly consigned a great many papers to the flames. His
wife Aino recalled,
In the 1940s there was a great auto da fé at Ainola. My husband
collected a number of the manuscripts in a laundry basket and burned
them on the open fire in the dining room. Parts of the
were destroyed – I later saw remains of the pages which had been
torn out – and many other things. I did not have the strength to be
present and left the room. I therefore do not know what he threw on to
the fire. But after this my husband became calmer and gradually
lighter in mood.
On 1 January 1939, Sibelius participated in an international radio
broadcast which included the composer conducting his
Andante Festivo .
The performance was preserved on transcription discs and later issued
on CD. This is probably the only surviving example of Sibelius
interpreting his own music.
FINAL YEARS AND DEATH
Sibelius in 1939
From 1903 and for many years thereafter Sibelius had lived in the
countryside. From 1939 he and Aino again had a home in Helsinki but
they moved back to
Ainola in 1941, only occasionally visiting the
city. After the war he returned to Helsinki only a couple of times.
The so-called "the Silence of Järvenpää" became something of a
myth, as in addition to countless official visitors and colleagues,
his grandchildren and great grandchildren also spent their holidays in
Sibelius avoided public statements about other composers, but Erik W.
Tawaststjerna and Sibelius's secretary
Santeri Levas have documented
his private conversations in which he admired
Richard Strauss and
Béla Bartók and
Dmitri Shostakovich the most talented
composers of the younger generation. In the 1950s he promoted the
young Finnish composer
Einojuhani Rautavaara .
His 90th birthday, in 1955, was widely celebrated and both the
Philadelphia Orchestra under
Eugene Ormandy and the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra under Sir
Thomas Beecham gave special performances of his
Tawaststjerna also relates an anecdote in connection with Sibelius's
was returning from his customary morning walk. Exhilarated, he told
his wife Aino that he had seen a flock of cranes approaching. "There
they come, the birds of my youth," he exclaimed. Suddenly, one of the
birds broke away from the formation and circled once above Ainola. It
then rejoined the flock to continue its journey.
Two days later, on 20 September 1957, Sibelius died of a brain
haemorrhage at age 91 in Ainola. At the time of his death, his Fifth
Symphony, conducted by Sir
Malcolm Sargent , was being broadcast from
Helsinki. He is buried in the garden at Ainola. Another well-known
Heino Kaski , died the same day. Aino lived there
for the next 12 years until she died on 8 June 1969; she is buried
alongside her husband.
List of compositions by Jean Sibelius
Sibelius is widely known for his symphonies and his tone poems,
Finlandia and the
Karelia suite. His reputation in Finland
grew in the 1890s with the choral symphony Kullervo, which like many
subsequent pieces drew on the epic poem Kalevala. His First Symphony
was first performed to an enthusiastic audience in 1899 at a time when
Finnish nationalism was evolving. In addition to six more symphonies,
he gained popularity at home and abroad with incidental music and more
tone poems, especially En saga,
The Swan of Tuonela
The Swan of Tuonela and Valse triste.
Sibelius also composed a series of works for violin and orchestra
including a Violin Concerto, the opera Jungfrun i tornet, many shorter
orchestral pieces, chamber music, works for piano and violin, choral
works and numerous songs.
In the mid-1920s, after his Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, he composed
the symphonic poem Tapiola and incidental music for The Tempest.
Thereafter, although he lived until 1957, he did not publish any
further works of note. For several years, he worked on an Eighth
Symphony which he later burned, leaving virtually no trace.
As for his musical style, hints of Tchaikovsky's music are
particularly evident in early works such as his First Symphony and his
Violin Concerto. For a period, he was nevertheless overwhelmed by
Wagner, particularly while composing his opera. More lasting
Ferruccio Busoni and Anton Bruckner. But for his
tone poems, he was above all inspired by
Liszt . The similarities to
Bruckner can be seen in the brass contributions to his orchestral
works and the generally slow tempo of his music.
Sibelius progressively stripped away formal markers of sonata form in
his work and, instead of contrasting multiple themes, focused on the
idea of continuously evolving cells and fragments culminating in a
grand statement. His later works are remarkable for their sense of
unbroken development, progressing by means of thematic permutations
and derivations. The completeness and organic feel of this synthesis
has prompted some to suggest that Sibelius began his works with a
finished statement and worked backwards, although analyses showing
these predominantly three- and four-note cells and melodic fragments
as they are developed and expanded into the larger "themes"
effectively prove the opposite. Portrait of Sibelius from 1892
by his brother-in-law
This self-contained structure stood in stark contrast to the
symphonic style of Gustav Mahler, Sibelius's primary rival in
symphonic composition. While thematic variation played a major role
in the works of both composers, Mahler's style made use of disjunct,
abruptly changing and contrasting themes, while Sibelius sought to
slowly transform thematic elements. In November 1907 Mahler undertook
a conducting tour of Finland, and the two composers were able to take
a lengthy walk together, leading Sibelius to comment:
I said that I admired severity of style and the profound logic that
created an inner connection between all the motifs ... Mahler's
opinion was just the reverse. "No, a symphony must be like the world.
It must embrace everything."
Sibelius started work on his Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39, in
1898 and completed it in early 1899, when he was 33. The work was
first performed on 26 April 1899 by the Helsinki Philharmonic
Orchestra, conducted by the composer, in an original, well received
version which has not survived. After the premiere, Sibelius made some
revisions, resulting in the version performed today. The revision was
completed in the spring and summer of 1900, and was first performed in
Berlin by the Helsinki Philharmonic, conducted by
Robert Kajanus on 18
July 1900. The symphony begins with a highly original, rather forlorn
clarinet solo backed by subdued timpani. Robert Kajanus, founder
and chief conductor of the
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra , who was a
notable interpreter of Sibelius's symphonies
His Second Symphony, the most popular and most frequently recorded of
his symphonies, was first performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic
Society on 8 March 1902, with the composer conducting. The opening
chords with their rising progression provide a motif for the whole
work. The heroic theme of the finale with the three-tone motif is
interpreted by the trumpets rather than the original woodwinds. During
a period of Russian oppression, it consolidated Sibelius's reputation
as a national hero. After the first performance, Sibelius made some
changes, leading to a revised version which was given its first
Armas Järnefelt on 10 November 1903 in Stockholm.
The Third Symphony is a good-natured, triumphal, and deceptively
simple-sounding piece. The symphony's first performance was given by
the Helsinki Philharmonic Society, conducted by the composer, on 25
September 1907. There are themes from Finnish folk music in the work's
early chords. Composed just after his move to Ainola, it contrasts
sharply with the first two symphonies, with its clear mode of
expression developing into the marching tones of the finale. His
Fourth Symphony was premiered in Helsinki on 3 April 1911 by the
Philharmonia Society, with Sibelius conducting. It was written while
Sibelius was undergoing a series of operations to remove a tumour from
his throat. Its grimness can perhaps be explained as a reaction from
his (temporary) decision to give up drinking. The opening bars, with
cellos, basses and bassoons, convey a new approach to timing. It then
develops into melancholic sketches based on the composer's setting of
Poe's The Raven. The waning finale is perhaps a premonition of the
silence Sibelius would experience twenty years later. In contrast to
the usual assertive finales of the times, the work ends simply with a
Symphony No. 5 was premiered in Helsinki to great acclaim by Sibelius
himself on 8 December 1915, his 50th birthday. The version most
commonly performed today is the final revision, consisting of three
movements, presented in 1919. The Fifth is Sibelius's only symphony in
a major key throughout. From its soft opening played by the horns, the
work develops into rotational repetitions of its various themes with
considerable transformations, building up to the trumpeted swan hymn
in the final movement. While the Fifth had already started to veer
away from the sonata form, the Sixth, conducted by the composer at its
premiere in February 1923, is even further removed from the
traditional norms. Tawaststjerna comments that "the structure follows
no familiar pattern". Composed in the
Dorian mode , it draws on some
of the themes developed while Sibelius was working on the Fifth as
well as from material intended for a lyrical violin concerto. Now
taking a purified approach, Sibelius sought to offer "spring water"
rather than cocktails making use of lighter flutes and strings rather
than the heavy brass of the Fifth.
Symphony No. 7 in C major was his last published symphony. Completed
in 1924, it is notable for having only one movement. It has been
described as "completely original in form, subtle in its handling of
tempi , individual in its treatment of key and wholly organic in
growth". It has also been called "Sibelius's most remarkable
compositional achievement". Initially titled Fantasia sinfonica, it
was first performed in Stockholm in March 1924, conducted by Sibelius.
It was based on an adagio movement which he had sketched down almost
ten years earlier. While the strings dominate, there is also a
distinctive trombone theme.
After the seven symphonies and the violin concerto, Sibelius's
thirteen symphonic poems are his most important works for orchestra
and, along with the tone poems of Richard Strauss, represent some of
the most important contributions to the genre since Franz Liszt. As a
group, the symphonic poems span the entirety of Sibelius's artistic
career (the first was composed in 1892, while the last appeared in
1925), display the composer's fascination with nature and Finnish
mythology (particularly the Kalevala), and provide a comprehensive
portrait of his stylistic maturation over time.
En saga (meaning a fairy tale) was first presented in February 1893
with Sibelius conducting. The single-movement tone poem was possibly
inspired by the Icelandic mythological work Edda although Sibelius
simply described it as "an expression of state of mind". Beginning
with a dreamy theme from the strings, it evolves into the tones of the
woodwinds, then the horns and the violas, demonstrating Sibelius's
ability to handle an orchestra. The composer's first significant
orchestral piece, it was revised in 1902 when
Ferruccio Busoni invited
Sibelius to conduct his work in Berlin. Its successful reception
encouraged him to write to Aino: "I have been acknowledged as an
The Wood Nymph , a single-movement tone poem for orchestra, was
written in 1894. Premiered in April 1895 in Helsinki with Sibelius
conducting, it is inspired by the Swedish poet
Viktor Rydberg 's work
of the same name. Organizationally, it consists of four informal
sections, each corresponding to one of the poem's four stanzas and
evoking the mood of a particular episode: first, heroic vigour;
second, frenetic activity; third, sensual love; and fourth,
inconsolable grief. Despite the music's beauty, many critics have
faulted Sibelius for his "over-reliance" on the source material's
Lemminkäinen Suite was composed in the early 1890s. Originally
conceived as a mythological opera,
Veneen luominen (The Building of
the Boat), on a scale matching those by Richard
Wagner , Sibelius
later changed his musical goals and the work became an orchestral
piece in four movements. The suite is based on the character
Lemminkäinen from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. It can
also be considered a collection of symphonic poems . The second/third
section, The Swan of Tuonela, is often heard separately.
Finlandia, probably the best known of all Sibelius's works, is a
highly patriotic piece which was first performed in November 1899 as
one of the tableaux for the Finnish Press Celebrations. It had its
public premiere in revised form in July 1900. The current title only
emerged later, first for the piano version, then in 1901 when Kajanus
conducted the orchestral version under the name Finlandia. Although
Sibelius insisted it was primarily an orchestral piece, it became a
world favourite for choirs too, especially for the hymn episode.
Finally the composer consented and in 1937 and 1940 agreed to words
for the hymn, first for the Free Masons and later for more general
The Oceanides is a single-movement tone poem for orchestra written in
1913–14. The piece, which refers to the nymphs in Greek mythology
who inhabited the
Mediterranean Sea , premiered on 4 June 1914 at the
Norfolk Music Festival in Connecticut with Sibelius himself
conducting. The work (in
D major ), praised upon its premiere as "the
finest evocation of the sea ever produced in music", consists of two
subjects Sibelius gradually develops in three informal stages: first,
a placid ocean; second, a gathering storm; and third, a thunderous
wave-crash climax. As the tempest subsides, a final chord sounds,
symbolizing the mighty power and limitless expanse of the sea.
Tapiola, Sibelius's last major orchestral work, was commissioned by
Walter Damrosch for the
New York Philharmonic
New York Philharmonic Society where it was
premiered on 26 December 1926. It is inspired by Tapio , a forest
spirit from the Kalevala. To quote the American critic Alex Ross , it
"turned out to be Sibelius's most severe and concentrated musical
statement". Even more emphatically, the composer and biographer Cecil
Gray asserts: "Even if Sibelius had written nothing else, this one
work would entitle him to a place among the greatest masters of all
OTHER IMPORTANT WORKS
Karelia Music, one of the composer's earlier works, written for
the Vyborg Students' Association, was first performed on 13 November
1893 to a noisy audience. The "Suite" emerged from a concert on 23
November consisting of the overture and the three movements which were
published as Op. 11, the
Karelia Suite. It continues to be one of
Sibelius's most popular pieces.
Valse triste is a short orchestral work which was originally part of
the incidental music Sibelius composed for his brother-in-law Arvid
Järnefelt's 1903 play Kuolema. It is now far better known as a
separate concert piece. Sibelius wrote six pieces for the 2 December
1903 production of
Kuolema (meaning death). The waltz accompanied a
sequence in which a woman rises from her deathbed to dance with
ghosts. In 1904, Sibelius revised the piece for a performance in
Helsinki on 25 April where it was presented as Valse triste. An
instant success, it took on a life of its own, and remains one of
Sibelius's signature pieces.
The Violin Concerto in D minor was first performed on 8 February 1904
with Victor Nováček as soloist. As Sibelius had barely completed the
piece in time for the premiere, Nováček had insufficient time to
prepare with the result that the performance was a disaster. After
substantial revisions, a new version was premiered on 19 October 1905
Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Court Orchestra . With
Karel Halíř , the orchestra's leader, as soloist it was a tremendous
success. The piece has become increasingly popular and is now the
most frequently recorded of all the violin concertos composed in the
Kullervo, one of Sibelius's early works, is sometimes referred to as
a choral symphony but is better described as a suite of five symphonic
movements resembling tone poems. Based on the character
the Kalevala, it was premiered on 28 April 1892 with
Emmy Achté and
Abraham Ojanperä as soloists and Sibelius conducting the chorus and
orchestra of the recently founded Helsinki Orchestra Society. Although
the work was only performed five times during the composer's lifetime,
since the 1990s it has become increasingly popular both for live
performances and recordings.
Freemasonry was revived in Finland, having been forbidden during
the Russian sovereignty, Sibelius was one of the founding members of
Suomi Lodge No. 1 in 1922 and later became the Grand Organist of the
Grand Lodge of Finland. He composed the ritual music used in Finland
(Op. 113) in 1927 and added two new pieces composed in 1946. The new
revision of the ritual music of 1948 is one of his last works.
Sibelius loved nature, and the Finnish landscape often served as
material for his music. He once said of his Sixth Symphony, " always
reminds me of the scent of the first snow." The forests surrounding
Ainola are often said to have inspired his composition of Tapiola. On
the subject of Sibelius's ties to nature, his biographer,
Even by Nordic standards, Sibelius responded with exceptional
intensity to the moods of nature and the changes in the seasons: he
scanned the skies with his binoculars for the geese flying over the
lake ice, listened to the screech of the cranes, and heard the cries
of the curlew echo over the marshy grounds just below Ainola. He
savoured the spring blossoms every bit as much as he did autumnal
scents and colours.
Leevi Madetoja , Sibelius's most notable pupil and, as a critic,
a defender of his works
Sibelius exerted considerable influence on symphonic composers and
musical life, at least in English-speaking and Nordic countries. The
Leevi Madetoja was a pupil of Sibelius (for more on
their relationship, see Madetoja and Sibelius ). In Britain, Vaughan
Arnold Bax both dedicated their fifth symphonies to
Sibelius. Furthermore, Tapiola is prominently echoed in both Bax's
Sixth Symphony and Moeran's Symphony in G Minor . The influence of
Sibelius's compositional procedures is also strongly felt in the First
William Walton . When these and several other major
British symphonic essays were being written in and around the 1930s,
Sibelius's music was very much in vogue, with conductors like Beecham
and Barbirolli championing its cause both in the concert hall and on
record. Walton's composer friend
Constant Lambert even asserted that
Sibelius was "the first great composer since
Beethoven whose mind
thinks naturally in terms of symphonic form". Earlier, Granville
Bantock had championed Sibelius (the esteem was mutual: Sibelius
dedicated his Third Symphony to the English composer, and in 1946 he
became the first President of the Bantock Society). More recently,
Sibelius was also one of the composers championed by Robert Simpson .
Malcolm Arnold acknowledged his influence, and
Arthur Butterworth also
saw Sibelius's music as a source of inspiration in his work.
Eugene Ormandy and to a lesser extent, his predecessor with the
Leopold Stokowski , were instrumental in
bringing Sibelius's music to American audiences by frequently
programming his works; the former developed a friendly relationship
with Sibelius throughout his life. Later in life, Sibelius was
championed by the American critic
Olin Downes , who wrote a biography
of the composer.
Theodor Adorno wrote a critical essay, notoriously charging
that "If Sibelius is good, this invalidates the standards of musical
quality that have persisted from Bach to Schoenberg : the richness of
inter-connectedness, articulation, unity in diversity, the
'multi-faceted' in 'the one'." Adorno sent his essay to Virgil
Thomson , then music critic of the
New York Herald Tribune
New York Herald Tribune , who was
also critical of Sibelius; Thomson, while agreeing with the essay's
sentiment, declared to Adorno that "the tone of it more apt to create
antagonism toward than toward Sibelius". Later, the composer,
theorist and conductor
René Leibowitz went so far as to describe
Sibelius as "the worst composer in the world" in the title of a 1955
Perhaps one reason Sibelius has attracted both the praise and the ire
of critics is that in each of his seven symphonies he approached the
basic problems of form, tonality, and architecture in unique,
individual ways. On the one hand, his symphonic (and tonal) creativity
was novel, while others thought that music should be taking a
different route. Sibelius's response to criticism was dismissive:
"Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up
to a critic." Sibelius's birthplace in
In the latter decades of the twentieth century, Sibelius began to be
re-assessed more favourably:
Milan Kundera dubbed the composer's
approach to be that of "antimodern modernism", standing outside the
perpetual progression of the status quo. In 1990, the composer Thea
Musgrave was commissioned by the
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra to
write a piece in honour of the 125th anniversary of Sibelius's birth:
Song of the Enchanter was premiered on 14 February 1991. In 1984, the
American avant-garde composer
Morton Feldman gave a lecture in
Darmstadt , Germany, wherein he stated that "the people you think are
radicals might really be conservatives – the people you think are
conservatives might really be radical," whereupon he began to hum
Sibelius's Fifth Symphony.
Writing in 1996, the
Pulitzer Prize -winning music critic Tim Page
stated, "There are two things to be said straightaway about Sibelius.
First, he is terribly uneven (much of his chamber music, a lot of his
songs and most of his piano music might have been churned out by a
second-rate salon composer from the 19th century on an off afternoon).
Second, at his very best, he is often weird."
With 8 December 2015 being the 150th anniversary of Sibelius's birth,
the Helsinki Music Centre has planned an illustrated and narrated
"Sibelius Finland Experience Show" every day during the summer of
2015. The production is also planned to extend over 2016 and 2017. On
8 December itself, the
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by
John Storgårds has planned a commemorative concert featuring En Saga,
Luonnotar and the Seventh Symphony.
In 1972, Sibelius's surviving daughters sold
Ainola to the State of
Finland. The Ministry of Education and the Sibelius Society of Finland
opened it as a museum in 1974. The Finnish 100 mark bill featured his
image until 2002 when the euro was adopted. Since 2011, Finland has
celebrated a Flag Day on 8 December, the composer's birthday, also
known as the "Day of Finnish Music". The year 2015, the 150th
anniversary of the composer's birth, featured a number of special
concerts and events, especially in the city of Helsinki.
International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition ,
instituted in 1965, the Sibelius Monument , unveiled in 1967 in
Helsinki's Sibelius Park, the
Sibelius Museum , opened in
1968, and the
Sibelius Hall concert hall in Lahti, opened in 2000,
were all named in his honour, as was the asteroid
1405 Sibelius .
Sibelius kept a diary in 1909–1944, and his family allowed it to be
published unabridged in 2005. The diary was edited by Fabian
Dahlström and published in the Swedish language in 2005. To
celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer, the entire diary was
also published in the Finnish language in 2015. Several volumes of
Sibelius’ correspondence have also been edited and published in
Swedish, Finnish and English.
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* ^ Tawaststjerna (1997 , p. 15): only in the 1990s was it
discovered that Sibelius's original first names (at christening) were
JOHAN CHRISTIAN JULIUS; he himself used the order JOHAN JULIUS
CHRISTIAN, and that is present in most sources.
* ^ "Brother Sibelius". The Music of Freemasonry. Retrieved 16
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* ^ Goss 2009 , p. 19.
* ^ Goss 2009 , p. 53.
* ^ Lagrange 1994 , p. 905.
* ^ A B C D E F Murtomäki 2000 .
* ^ Barnett 2007 , p. 4.
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* ^ Grimley 2004 , p. 67.
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* ^ Ringbom 1950 , p. 14.
* ^ Ekman 1972 , p. 11.
* ^ Goss 2009 , p. 75.
* ^ A B Lagrange 1994 , p. 985.
* ^ Tawaststjerna 1976 , p. 62.
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Kalevala taiteessa – Musiikissa: Ensimmäiset
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* ^ Goss 2011 , p. 162.
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* ^ Lew 2010 , p. 134.
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