Jean Sibelius

1865 - 1957



The works of Jean Sibelius established a strong sense of national musical tradition in Finland - a tradition that has flourished ever since, especially at the Academy of Music in Helsinki which adopted his name in 1939.

He grew up at a time when Finland was fighting for independence from Russia, and the nationalist flavour of his early works was simultaneously appealing to the public and alarming to the authorities. 

Sibelius's music grew out of the Romantic tradition of Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Wagner. The core of his oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies and his symphonic poems. He developed a personal and cogent symphonic style: every symphony has its own individual distinction which culminates in the 7th symphony. This work is the pinnacle of his technique in which he condenses the entire symphonic form into one movement. 

His status as one a Finland’s most important artists comes from the fact that he was able to combine his original style with a profound national historical awareness and a strong connection with Finnish nature.
Critical Acclaim
...Sibelius's music, because it so readily evokes mental images, landscapes, and a sense of the organic (as opposed to the artificial or mechanical) was, from the start of the composer's career, extremely audience friendly - Leon Botstein, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra of the giants of musical imagery this century - Gerald Fenech, Classical Music on the Web


Jean Sibelius’ music plays a very considerable role in the formulation of the Finnish national identity. Even today, almost 60 years after his death, Sibelius is a national icon.

Sibelius’ seven symphonies form the backbone of his oeuvre. As with Beethoven, through the symphonies one can observe a continuous development of a personal style.

Alongside the seven symphonies, the Violin Concerto in D minor, a number of tone-poems based on the Finnish national epic the Kalevala, and the theatre music have a quite central position. How­ever, Sibelius was extremely industrious and in his production we also find an opera, chamber music, piano works, occasional compositions, 21 choral works and over a hundred solo songs.

Sibelius was active as a composer until the middle of the 1920s. After that the intervals between new works grew ever longer. Most of all, it seems as if Sibelius, confronted with the new music in both the inter-war and the post-war years, lost the heart to compose. After 1926 there are only a few works from Sibelius. He presumably finished an eighth symphony which he himself however later destroyed.

The Kalevala is a collection of old sagas, songs and myths from Finnish mythology assembled and retold by the Finnish philologist Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884). Lönnrot collected and published the material because he was concerned that the Russian supremacy in Finland would stamp out the native oral narrative tradition. Sibelius’ works based on the Kalevala are an extension of Lönnrot’s work. In the 1880s Finland was in the middle of a struggle for national independence. The combi­nation of myths and music, for example in the Lemminkäinen Suite or the choral symphony Kullervo, was meant to both articulate and unite the Finnish nation. The musical models were to a certain extent Beethoven and Wagner.

 Sibelius studied in both Vienna and Berlin and travelled frequently in the Scandinavian countries, England, Germany, France and the USA. After 1930 Sibelius did not travel abroad again, but instead assumed the role as the official representative of Finnish music in Finland.

Sibelius and Mahler stand as the two most striking and highly profiled symphonists at the beginning of the twentieth century. While Mahler to a great extent exploited sudden ideas and contrasting thematic material, Sibelius let his thematic and motivic material change slowly and gradually. Assessments of Sibelius’ music have varied greatly with time. The post-war avant-garde looked down at Sibelius, while a number of Nordic composers, for example – perhaps most strikingly the Danish Per Nørgård – were able to look beyond the fashionable aesthetic currents of the day, and acknowledged Sibelius as the profoundly original symphonist he is.

Hjarne Fessel 2014  



27th July 2022

Minehead Festival Orchestra
Regal Theatre, Minehead, United Kingdom

27th July 2022

Fenella Humphreys, violin; Joseph Tong, piano
Holy Trinity Church, Hereford, United Kingdom

14th August 2022

Goteborgsoperans Orkester
Tabita Berglund
GöteborgsOperan, Göteborg, Sweden

18th August 2022

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

24th August 2022

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Nicholas Collon
Tampere Hall, Tampere, Finland