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Jean Sibelius

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Jean Sibelius spent most of his life in a large villa in rural Tuusala, about 40 km from Helsinki. The Sibelius family moved into the new house 24 Sep 1904, named Villa Ainola in honor of his wife. This century-old building is now one of Finland’s most important home museums.

Johan Julius Christian Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna on 8 Dec 1865 to a Swedish-speaking family. His father, a doctor and amateur musician, died when Johan was two years old. His mother, a member of the musical Borg family, was left in dire financial straits with her children. Young Sibelius learned Finnish at high school in his hometown, planning to study law. But the power of music emerged in the form of schoolboy compositions. The path of art was to be his destiny, leading to classics such as Finlandia (1899) and Valse triste (1903).

Sibelius took on his artistic name of Jean after seeing it among the effects left by his uncle Johan who was a sea captain. He had printed this international form of the name on his calling card, which pleased his nephew. Matters of formality in general were of importance to Jean Sibelius throughout his life. No matter what he was doing, he was always dressed as befit his gentlemanly image, complete with starched collar.

Moving to Ainola from Helsinki was crucial for Sibelius. The family already had three daughters — eventually there would be six — and they needed space, not to mention peaceful working conditions for Jean. Aino, his wife, was a member of the artistic Järnefelt family, and was in charge of the household so he could compose undisturbed. She also home-schooled the girls.

For Sibelius, Ainola was a place of balance and a profound connection to nature. He was enthralled by watching the birds. The nightingales sang in E minor, while he considered swans and cranes to be "his birds" ever since his youth. He also saw the details of the house as metaphors for musical keys. The home was designed in the Jugendstil or National Romantic style by the noted architect Lars Sonck.

Walking, swimming and skiing were his pastimes as well as reading a newspaper while smoking a good cigar in the easy chair in his library. Meanwhile alcohol was always an unfortunate problem for Sibelius. In any case, he was known as an enchanted lover of life and a sociable person. He stressed that his music came from the heart rather than just being contrived.

When the Sibelius family moved to Ainola, there were no amenities such as electricity, which was not hooked up until 1919. Until then the only sources of light were oil lamps and candles. Wood heating and carrying water from the well required a lot of energy. The horse carriage and sleigh were replaced by a rented car in the 1920s. A telephone was installed in 1914, with the simple number Järvenpää 22. To this day, Ainola’s phone number ends in "22".

The largest room at first was the composer’s workroom on the ground floor, but when the house was added onto, he moved upstairs to work. The second floor also included the parents’ bedroom and the guest room. This left room downstairs for the dining room and parlor. The home museum has been maintained by the Ainola Foundation, almost unchanged since Sibelius’ day. Only the dining room and library have been refurbished.

The hand of Aino Sibelius can be seen in the design of objects and the restored garden. The house, originally made of logs with a shingled roof underwent significant improvement over the decades. Outer siding and a tile roof have given the impression of an English country house. The composer was well suited to the unpretentiousness of his home. He preferred the environment rather than the other way around.

As a gift for his 50th birthday, Sibelius received a grand piano, his most important furnishing. Later he was commemorated with postage stamps, currency, competitions. During his lifetime he was honored with a Fazer confectionary, created for his 60th birthday in 1925. Now there is even a Sibelius cigar, brought out in honor of Ainola’s centenary.

He died on 20 September 1957. Two days earlier he had admired the cranes flying overhead. One of the flock had split off from the others, flying back toward him and Ainola, as if to honor the composer. Jean and Aino Sibelius are buried on Ainola’s south slope, where birds still congregate.

Suomen Silta, #3-04 Irmeli Tanttu

June Pelo


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