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Sibelius 150 years


A composer famous worldwide, Sibelius created the Finnish national musical style. He has influenced many composers, but his style is so individual that he did not have any direct successors. Sibelius still has a strong presence in Finnish music and has inspired musicians around the globe.  This page celebrates his musical legacy by showcasing streamable concerts of his work. 

Lets start with Sibelius' probably most famous composition

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The Young Sibelius

Finland’s national composer Jean Sibelius was born in 1865 in Hämeenlinna, a small town about 100 kilometres north of Helsinki. He began serious studies of music as a teenager and, at the same time, taught himself to compose. He was accepted as a pupil at the Helsinki Music Institute, where the subjects he studied included violin playing and composition. As a schoolboy he had already written chamber music, but it was not until he went to study in Vienna that he composed his first orchestral works. These pieces were first performed in Helsinki in 1891.

Sibelius and the National Awakening

From 1809 until 1917 Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. At the end of the nineteenth century Russia tried to restrict Finland’s constitutional rights. In protest at this, a powerful patriotic movement gathered force in Finland. Sibelius became acquainted with nationalist tendencies when he went to study in Helsinki. The Finnish national epic poem, the Kalevala, published in the mid-nineteenth century, became an especially important nationalist symbol. In 1892 Sibelius composed his first major work on a Kalevala theme: Kullervo, which was a great success. The tone poem Finlandia, which became a symbol of national independence, was completed in 1899.

Sibelius the Symphonist

Sibelius composed seven symphonies – even though the Kalevala-themed symphonic poems Kullervo and Lemminkäinen were also symphonic in form and duration. With regard to his symphonies Sibelius took the firm stance that they do not depict anything specific but are examples of absolute music. The First and Second Symphonies display Romantic tone colours. The Third Symphony can be described as ‘Young Classical’, whilst the bleak Fourth can be regarded as Expressionist. The Fifth Symphony was, in Sibelius’s own words, a ‘struggle with God’. The Sixth Symphony is pastoral and the Seventh has the character of a single-movement fantasia.

Sibelius's Symphonic Poems

In 1894 Sibelius wrote to his wife Aino: ‘I believe that I am above all a tone painter and poet. Liszt’s view of music is the one to which I am closest.’ By the end of the nineteenth century the symphonic poem had become fashionable as a stylistic genre that aimed to replace the symphony. By using symphonic poem form, composers could depict various events and the associated states of mind more freely. Sibelius composed about a dozen symphonic poems, the longest of which are his first major work Kullervo (1892), the four Lemminkäinen pieces, The Wood-Nymph, En saga and Tapiola (1926, his last surviving symphonic composition).

Sibelius National Icon

Sibelius’s played a central role in Finland’s struggle for independence. He made his attitude to Finnishness apparent in numerous works. The Fool’s Song of the Spider from the music to King Christian II was seen as an allusion to the Russian Governor-General Bobrikov, whilst Sandels is about Finland’s desire to defend itself. Sibelius also composed Song of the Athenians, which became a symbol of the Finnish people’s will to fight. And so it went on: works such as Finlandia, the choral song To My Fatherland, Snöfrid and Har du mod?. Sibelius was a highly informed and committed composer who had a decisive influence on the creation of a Finnish identity and the attainment of national independence.

More than 80 hours of Music

Sibelius is known first and foremost on account of his orchestral music, but in other genres as well his œuvre was very extensive. The total duration of his entire output is around 80 hours. It includes dozens of piano pieces, theatre music, numerous choral works both large and small, and solo songs with orchestral or piano accompaniment. Most of his chamber music is written for various string ensembles, with and without piano.