Sibelius – perhaps the most well-known composer from Finland

Over the past few weeks, we have been learning about different classical music composers in our music theory classes. Sometimes we can be so focussed on playing the music that we forget about the forces behind the creation of such wonderful pieces!

This past week we learnt about Sibelius, perhaps the all time greatest Finn in the realm of classical music. Having been born in Finland and spending the first 18 years of my life there, it feels appropriate to share some knowledge of this great composer – in particular since Finland has always been considered to be a relatively small country in the back burner even if many brilliant things came from there such as Nokia and Kimi Raikkonen, not to forget the amazing education system that always tops any leader boards on education outcomes!

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Jean Sibelius, 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, are regularly 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 (from the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other works include pieces inspired by nature, Nordic mythology, and 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.

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 stopped producing 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.

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