Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Jean Sibelius

The very first Finnish composer is Jean (or Jan) Sibelius. It is he who placed Finland at last upon the musical map. Being nationally affiliated with the Russian race, the Finns share many characteristics with the Russian people; but their climatic conditions, farther north, force upon them greater ruggedness, and their temperament and life are more rigorous and harsh. This quality is stamped upon their music, and Sibelius is a true son of the soil. His music is robust, severe, often harsh and uncompromising, for his outstanding quality is sincerity; and he loves Nature---his whole being is absorbed by this primitive passion. He said: "The voices of nature are the voices of God, and if an artist can give a mere echo of them in his creations, he is rewarded for all his efforts." Thus, his melodies exhibit familiar Russian traits, but in more stark, rugged form that they derive from the bleak Finnish existence. Again he says: "I have never used actual folk-melodies, but always freshly conceived motives"---precisely the thought expressed by Dvorak about the melodies in his New World Symphony.

Jan Sibelius was born in Finland, December 8, 1865. The following biographic sketch is from his own pen (quoted from Musical America of January 14, 1914): "It is true, I am a dreamer and poet of Nature. I love the mysterious sounds of the fields and forests, water and mountains. My father was a surgeon of the rank of Major in the Finnish army. I was educated by my grandmother, who insisted on my studying particularly Greek and Latin. I was graduated from the University of Helsingfors, and studied law, but I did not care to be a lawyer or judge. I determined to become a musician, and began to take lessons on the violin. I had already studied music systematically from my fourteenth year, and even composed simple pieces of chamber music. . . . My first composition to be performed was Variations for String-quartet, played in Helsingfors in 1887 . . . . In 1889 I left Finland to study in Berlin. Prof. Albert Becker instructed me there in composition, and there I started my larger orchestral works. In 1891 I went to Vienna and continued my studies with Karl Goldmark. I also studied awhile with Albert Fuchs. These are in brief the principal facts of my musical career. It pleases me greatly to be called an artist of nature, for nature has been the book of books for me."

Sibelius visited America in 1914, and while there received the degree of Doctor of Music from Yale University.


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