Jean Sibelius

(8 December 1865, Hämeenlinna - 20 September 1957 Järvenpää)


Johan Julius Christian Sibelius was a Finnish composer of the late Romantic period and the most noted symphonic composer of Scandinavia. As a young boy he showed great talent on the violin and by the age of 9 he had already composed his first work for it, Rain Drops. Between 1876 and 1885 he attended the Hämeenlinna Normal-Lycee, a Finnish-speaking secondary school, but his first language was Swedish. After he graduated in 1885, he began to study law at the Imperial Alexander University in Finland (now the University of Helsinki).
Although intended for a legal career, he abandoned his law studies soon after and pursued a musical career. From 1885 to 1889 Sibelius studied music in the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy). One of his teachers there was the founder Martin Wegelius, under the guidance of which he composed much chamber and instrumental music. Sibelius continued his musical studies in Berlin, where he studied counterpoint with Albert Becker from 1889 to 1890 and in Vienna with Karl Goldmark and Robert Fuchs from 1890 to 1891. Around this time Sibelius realized that he had started training for a virtuoso career to late and abandoned his cherished violin playing aspiration.
On his return to Finland a performance of his first large-scale orchestral work, the Kullervo Symphony (1892, based on the Kalevala legends), created something of a sensation. This work, along with other like En Saga (1892), the Karelia music, and the Four Legends, established him as the leading composer of Finland. The same year he married Aino Järnefelt, daughter of General Alexander Järnefelt, head of one of the most influential families in Finland. The Lemminkäinen suite, begun in 1895 and premiered on April 13, 1896, has come to be regarded as the most important music by Sibelius up to that time.
The year 1899 saw the premiere of Sibelius' First Symphony, which was a tremendous success, to be sure, but not quite of the magnitude of that of Finlandia (1899; rev. 1900). Among Sibelius's influences, nature played an important role as he was in love with it. In the next decade his fame reached the European continent, thus becoming an international figure in the concert world. The pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni, whose friendship he had made in Helsinki as a student, conducted his Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1901) in Berlin, and the British composer Granville Bantock commissioned his Symphony No. 3 in C Major (1907). His only concerto, for violin, came in 1903.
After World War I he published his greatest works, his last 3 symphonies (No. 5 in E-flat Major, No. 6 in D Minor, and No. 7 in C Major). After his 7th Symphony he only produced a few major works in the rest of his life. The 2 most significant were The Tempest and the poem Tapiola. Rumors of an eighth symphony (promised for performance in the early 1930s) and even a ninth symphony were unfounded. No manuscripts survived his death.
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. For his last 30 years Sibelius lived a mostly quiet life. 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 music in Finland. The orchestras and their conductors also met the composer at his home; a series of memorable photographs were taken to commemorate the occasions.
His musical style, although intimately connected with the Scandinavian landscape, was deeply influenced by the music of Wagner. He studied the scores of Wagner's operas Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and Die Walküre intently. With this music in mind, Sibelius began work on an opera of his own, entitled Veneen luominen (The Building of the Boat). However, his appreciation for Wagner waned and Sibelius ultimately rejected Wagner's Leitmotif compositional technique, considering it to be too deliberate and calculated. Other influences include Ferruccio Busoni, Anton Brukner and Tchaikovsky. Hints of Tchaikovsky's music are particularly evident in works such as Sibelius' First Symphony (1899) and his Violin Concerto (1905). Similarities to Bruckner are most strongly felt in the 'unmixed' timbral palette and sombre brass chorales of Sibelius' orchestration, a fondness for pedal points, and in the underlying slow pace of the music.
Here  you can find a complete list of Jean Sibelius's compositions.