Juhana’s Memories of Ainola – Grandpa Sibelius, tired guardian angel

Sibelius with Juhana 1939
Jean Sibelius in a hammock with his grandson Juhana 1939.

I often visit that treasure trove of Sibelius information, sibelius.fi. I have never tried to read everything, so sometimes I would just click randomly to see what I might have missed. Gradually, I realized that some of the material in Finnish has apparently not been translated into English.

It was on this page regarding the Memories of Ainola – from his grandchildren, that I found this very curious photograph. A rather awkward photograph, I’ll say. A portly Sibelius looks somewhat uncomfortable – or is it comfortable, with the crossed legs?  – lounging on a hammock. With him is the then 2-year-old Juhana Blomstedt (1937 -2010), son of Finnish architect Aulis Blomstedt and Heidi Sibelius, who later became an important modernist artist (biography).

Now, one useful trick about sibelius.fi is that if you change the word “suomi” to “english” in the URL of page, it switches the language accordingly. I often do this when I’m looking for the Finnish version of an English text. However , for this page, there was no English version.

I remained curious about the story behind this photo, and sought help getting the Finnish translated. The deed was finally done by dear friend and leading UK Sibelius scholar Andrew Barnett. Thanks, Andrew!

The result is a smattering of various memories, some trivial, others serious, yet others of amusing anecdotes about the composer – but all of interest.

Artist Juhana Blomstedt (1937 - 2010)
Artist Juhana Blomstedt (1937 – 2010)

Jean Sibelius in a hammock with his grandson Juhana, 1939
Source: sibelius.fi

Juhana Blomstedt is Heidi Blomstedt’s eldest son, an artist and professor. ‘I was obviously pretty hard to look after, because my mother once told me that she had telephoned Ainola and had asked how Juhana was doing there. Grandfather had replied that Juhana was doing fine, but his guardian angel was very tired .

Of the bombing during the Continuation War, I remember that we were once sheltering in the sauna and saw the explosions, white in the night sky, a long way off towards Helsinki. Having lived in the city, I asked for the curtains to be drawn. Grandma said something approving.

The adults listened to the news on the radio, and in the evenings I sometimes sneaked onto the stairs to listen when large losses were reported on the radio. I thought that the losses referred to were the big buttons on the radio, and I was surprised by the adults’ serious faces.

Grandfather was otherwise very friendly, told us funny stories and liked to laugh. I would say that he was a happy person who achieved peace of mind through the significance of his life’s work. I remember how he listened to his own works on the radio. His forehead was wrinkled. He tended his works as if they were his own children.

There were strict rules concerning how we should behave. At the dinner table, for example, it was forbidden to speak unless spoken to.

I was still so young that I did not know how to swear. Siimes was a good friend of mine, he was the caretaker, though he didn’t live at Ainola but over in Järvenpää. I often went to their house nearby to listen to him playing the accordion. Once I asked him to teach me just one swear word. I immediately had to try it out at the meal table, and Grandfather immediately sent me to the kitchen to eat. It’s terrible to admit it, but I preferred to eat there, as I felt freer in there. In the dining room, at the dinner table we did not get to speak unless spoken to. They were horrified at my swearing, until Grandfather and Grandma realized that I had not understood what the word in question meant – it might have been ‘perkele’ or ‘saatana’.

Under the dining-room table was a foot-operated button that sent a message to the kitchen to say that the next course was due. It felt strange to push that button myself, with grandfather’s permission.

I also remember Grandfather’s long walks, by means of which he kept fit. And in the evenings grandma played patience, and together we did huge jigsaw puzzles.’

SO, they had jigsaw puzzles at Ainola! I’m guessing one of them is a mosaic from heaven.

 

There they come, the birds of my youth

Cranes SibeliusSibelius was returning to his home, Ainola, from his customary morning walk in the woods. Exhilarated, he told his wife Aino that he had seen a flock of cranes approaching.

“There they come, the birds of my youth,” he exclaimed.

Suddenly, one of the birds broke away from the formation and circled once above Ainola. It came so close that he could see it clearly for the first time in years, despite his cataract-ridden eyes. The bird then rejoined the flock to continue its journey.

Jean Sibelius died two days later at home, on 20 September, 1957.

* * * * *

Photo of a flight of sandhill cranes by Mark Stevens (Flickr/thor_ mark), used under Creative Commons License.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/14723335@N05/9445039297/
 

Jean and Aino: In the very trees of Ainola

When Jean Sibelius and Aino Järnefelt first chanced upon each other, their eyes locked for so long that she faltered. He was visiting her family flat in Helsinki and was providing, with her brother Armas, musical accompaniment to a pantomime being put up by the ladies of the house. So intense was Jean’s blue-eyed gaze that Aino could not go on with her part. Thus began the relationship of “the prettiest girl in Finland” and her greatest composer. Continue reading Jean and Aino: In the very trees of Ainola

For the coming generations – the birth of a national composer

Siitäpä nyt tie menevi, ura uusi urkenevi.

“From here today the path is going, a bright new star the way is showing.”

Thus were these words written on a celebratory wreath presented to Sibelius by the eminent conductor and his close friend, Robert Kajanus, on the premiere of the Kullervo Symphony, in 1892.

Sibelius was born in a Finland that had yet to fully call itself a nation. At that time, it was part of the Russian empire. His coming was timely, for the yearning for independence would soon need a voice, the hand of a great composer and the song that would awaken Finland.

The fact is, the Finnish people have never had a lack of tradition nor culture – at that time it was, perhaps, simply not given the chance to shine. A few decades before Sibelius’ birth, Elias Lönnrot had compiled the Kalevala, the single greatest collection of Finnish ancient literature – a gathering of epic poetry from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology, which has played an enormous role in the rebirth of Finnish national identity.

When Sibelius met Kajanus in Berlin, he heard the premiere of the latter’s Aino Symphony, also based on the Kalevala. Elliot Arnold eloquently describes Sibelius’ reaction in his book “Finlandia: The Story of Sibelius”:

“It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience for Sibelius. He sat in the great music hall and something awakened in his soul. He was in Berlin, yes, but listening to that music he was again tramping in the forest lands of his beautiful Finland, was again standing at the edge of a lake seeing the setting sun redden the water.

The music stirred him like nothing else he had ever heard. It seemed as though the very roots of his being were being summoned to life, as though everything that had gone into him, in his blood and his body and his heart and his brain, were awakened from a slumber.”

Finland awakes.

“No music had ever done this to him. Nothing had ever before touched the racial stream that now tore through his veins. He wanted to scream. His skin tingled. Tears filled his eyes. This was Finland and this was music.

He met Kajanus and breathed his appreciation. He tried to explain this new excitement, this home-love, this patriotism he had never known before. He knew he was a Finn. He knew he had to say things that only a Finn could say. He felt a wild love for Finland which was built on something infinitely more vast than love of landscape.”

Kullervo Goes to War, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Kullervo Goes to War, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1901)

Kullervo caused a stir. Granted, not everyone in the audience was impressed nor understood what this new work was doing. It was big, it was brazen and it was loud. It had a choir, a male chorus singing about snow and blue socks, seduction and shame, abject tragedy, the grim disdain of a sword and ultimately, heart-rending death. Above all though, it had the sounds and rhythms of Finnish runes. Whether the audience realized or admitted it, there was a latent sense of familiarity. When Kajanus presented the wreath to Sibelius, the audience seemed to realize…

This is their sound.

A Japanese composer once said, “I wish to evoke the melodies not yet sung but which dwells in us, the Japanese people. ” By adopting rhythms and modes from Japanese poetry and  music, “I intend to reveal our collective unconscious as a nation.” (Akira Ifukube)

The audience cheered. Over the course of the next 30 years or so after Kullervo, that was what Sibelius did for the Finnish musical psyche. With the poetry of the Kalevala compiled, words from the landscape, Finland now had a new musical champion who would go on to evoke melodies not yet sung as a nation.

While musicians like Kajanus had already begun writing such melodies, Sibelius went deeper. Cultural identity goes even further than words, runes and heroes. One universal quality of any cultural mythology is a connection to the natural universe. From creation myths to magic blessings, nature is a vital force of power, inspiration and conviction. As I have written about concerning Tapiola – Sibelius’ music is not so much about man’s perception of, or his feelings about nature, but man’s place within the vastness of nature. We are but tiny tiny beings within her great inexplicable beauty.

It is a nature that would inspire Sibelius throughout life, from the time he tried to match piano tones to the colours of the stripes under his mother’s square piano, to transcribing the smell of drying hemp and flax into music; he distilled Finland’s snow and lakes into symphonies, cast the text of the Kalevala into song, and bade orchestras intone the voice of forest gods. It seems Sibelius did not so much see the world as a painting, with eyes; but he saw the world as a symphony, with his ears.  Finland became his orchestra and stage, and the world began to listen to her.

One hundred and forty-six years ago today on December 8, 1865,  Jean Sibelius was born. Along with Lönnrot, Kajanus and many others, their birth would shape the rebirth of Finland. On December 6, 1917, Finland declared independence.

Sibelius Monument
Sibelius Monument - photo by Daniel Aragay (proteusbcn, Flickr)

….Be not thus, my worthy people,
Blame me not for singing badly,
Unpretending as a minstrel.
I have never had the teaching,
Never lived with ancient heroes,
Never learned the tongues of strangers,
Never claimed to know much wisdom.
Others have had language-masters,
Nature was my only teacher,
Woods and waters my instructors.
Homeless, friendless, lone and needy,
Save in childhood with my mother,
When beneath her painted rafters,
Where she twirled the flying spindle,
By the work-bench of my sister,
In the cabin of my father,
In my early days of childhood.

Be this as it may, my people,
This may point the way to others,
To the singers better gifted,
For the good of future ages,
For the coming generations,
For the rising folk of Suomi*.

The Kalevala – Epilogue (trans. John Martin Crawford)

*Suomi is Finnish for Finland

 

The Piano in Art

I was looking for eye candy for this retro-published review of Håvard Gimse’s second volume of Sibelius’ Piano music recorded by Naxos, when I came across this blog post at The Collaborative Piano Blog.

The post directs the reader to an eclectic collection of paintings featuring pianos and pianists, compiled by Bruno Dillen, on Art in the Picture. Continue reading The Piano in Art