Remembering Grandfather Sibelius

She is wielding a scythe. Satu Jalas, Sibelius’s granddaughter by his second youngest daughter Margareta, cuts through the grass on the grounds of Ainola as she leads us to the area known as “The Temple” . Trudging through the summer grass behind her with me is UK Sibelius scholar Andrew Barnett. Following a remark I made earlier about locating this rather sacred spot, Andrew revealed that he himself has never visited the location and would love to – so he asked Satu if she knew…


It is August 29, 2014, and I am back in Finland for the second time. It is my great honour and privilege to be brought to Ainola on my first day – right after landing in Vantaa airport at 6.35am – to witness a recording session later in the evening with Mdm Satu Jalas and Folke Gräsbeck, pianist and friend. It will happen after public visiting hours and go late into the night. For all this and more, I am eternally grateful to Andrew.

But right now,  it’s about 4pm and Satu has just arrived at Ainola. She still treats it like a home, describes Andrew – she would regularly open up cupboards to show us various things, and sit on the couches and arrange things.  “This should not be here,” she says, pointing to an object or two inside Ainola, before moving it to where it would have been when she was a child. And indeed she should treat it like a home, for she did come here as the granddaughter of Jean and Aino Sibelius.

And this granddaughter is now wielding a 4-foot scythe, which she procured from the shed, and is cutting through the grass in front of us, clearing our way to The Temple (see this pdf map from Ainola for its location). I feel a little awkward walking behind her, 30 years her junior and not doing it myself (I offered of course!). When we reach the spot, on the northern end of Ainola, I am a little disappointed to realize that Sibelius’s tree root chair is no longer there. What happened to it? I asked. No one knows, she says. It’s disappeared. It’s returned to nature, perhaps.

Sibelius in tree-root chair 1940s by Santeri Levas
Sibelius in his tree-root chair. Photo from the 1940s by Santeri Levas courtesy of the Finnish Museum of Photography

“He loved to pile up the pillows and have his grandchildren surround him.  He would ask us to tell him all our dreams.” Satu recounts with great fondness later that evening after the recordings are done. “Grandfather was a sweet nice man”, she states in his defence. “Not like the sour face in photos. He was never angry.” Her own face is filled with a frown of disappointment, trying to express a certain injustice in the way many of Jean Sibelius’s photos seem to show the composer as a severe, dour  figure, made even more unapproachable in black and white. But Satu’s face lights up as she describes how he loved giving his grandchildren great big hugs. She demonstrates this, opening her arms wide – very wide. Indeed it looked as if one were being embraced by a huge loving papa bear, massive and pure in its love.

Grandfather Sibelius once gave out chocolate to all his grandchildren. But that day, little Satu was not well and unable to eat the sweet treats. She describes how his face filled with great pity for her. He went away for “a long, long time” before coming back with some candies for her. But her Grandmother, Satu recounts with amusement, quietly warned her not to eat the candies as they are very old. “I took them anyway!” Satu laughs.

The following week, I met Mdm Satu again on the last day of the Lahti Sibelius Festival. As we left the hall at the end of the chamber recital featuring Sibelius’s music for violin and piano, I asked her, “What do you feel when you hear your grandfather’s music?” She paused ever so slightly and says, “I feel…. something inside.” Which would seem to the reader like an obvious sentiment. But what you cannot see is her facial expression. She is trying to describe a powerful nostalgia which you and I cannot fully comprehend. It is the music of her grandfather, that one Jean Sibelius, who is not just a famous composer, but family. Nothing more, nothing less. She seems to feel, if I may attempt an interpretation, something akin to pride but closer to love. It is a powerful connection, an almost overwhelming nostalgia.

“I want to keep all the memories and feelings of my grandfather.” Satu says as we walk under the Forest Hall at Sibeliustalo, underneath the constellations of 8 December 1865. She has unconsciously answered a different question, albeit just as personal. “When I was five years old, ” she continues with her flow of memories, “I understood immediately the Fourth Symphony. I was just five.” She recalls how on one trip to visit Ainola,  she had the Fourth Symphony playing in her head while on the train. She arrived at Ainola in tears. When Grandfather found out the reason, he was again filled with sympathy for her, and the result (of course) was another loving embrace.

“Finland must find its music and soul.” Satu now says, thinking of her grandfather’s fateful role in Finnish music. “We had to ‘push out’ the Russian, Slavic sound.” And Finland did. Jean Sibelius did, forever changing the meaning of Finnish music.

“Your grandfather has completely changed my life.” Now it is my turn to say to her, on that first day on 29th August. I tried to express in words just how much Jean Sibelius has influenced my life, the way I think,  my place in the world.  We stood reminiscing in the sunlight of the forest floor where the tree-root chair used to be. At these words, I saw a layer of formality and emotional distance instantly fall away from Satu, as she breaks into a warm smile and her own sympathetic “Awwwww…” for me. And then, suddenly, I am in her embrace. In The Temple at Ainola, in the arms of a Sibelius.

Satu Jalas and me.
Satu Jalas and me, at The Temple, Ainola.


[I’ve tried to reproduce as accurately as possible  Mdm Satu’s words but some paraphrasing may have taken place, which I hope the reader will forgive.]

More on Satu Jalas:


Darkness in Light – At the Singapore Symphony 6 December 2013

It was 6th December – Finland’s Independence Day. And I was attending a concert featuring some of Finland’s best: Osmo Vänskä , the composer Sebastian Fagerlund and violinst Pekka Kuusisto. The stars seemed to be all in the right places.

Mr Kuusisto was here in Singapore to perform Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund’s Violin Concerto, “Darkness in Light”. Considered one of Finland’s most interesting young composers, the music of Fagerlund (b.1972) has been described as an “appealing mix of pulsating rhythmic layers, expansive gestures and undulating extended chords. Sometimes these elements are separate, sometimes blended – but the texture is always intuitively compelling. Brimming with carefully crafted details and elegant transitions, Fagerlund’s music has one clear direction: forward.” (Finnish Music Quarterly

Photo by Sirpa RäihäI have never heard his music until now. To be frank, it is not easy to describe – but it is certainly very impressive. The opening of the concerto is ferocious as a fast-approaching storm, with skittering winds and wild energy. I pictured swirls of rain, torrents dancing. An exhilarating sense of flow and rhythm propels the first movement, “Energico”. The colours evoked by both orchestra and solo violin are spectacularly varied, with some truly alien sounds from the latter during cadenzas. An array – an aurora – of percussion, including piano with strings plucked directly by hand in the second movement, the “Lento intenso”, added to the post-post-modern soundscape of our century. The musical material warps through the orchestra with unstoppable energy in a multitude of hues, streaks and waves.

My words cannot do it justice, so I invite you to watch and listen to it yourself:

If you are interested in a recording, one is available on BIS with Pekka Kuusisto: Fagerlund: Darkness in Light

The sounds conjured by guest conductor Osmo Vänskä and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra ranged from ethereal otherworldly landscapes to mighty brass paeans reminiscent of one such occurrence heard in Sibelius’s Fifth – a work to come later in tonight’s programme.

I came to this concert  because of Osmo Vänskä. He is, simply, a hero to me. The maestro has been instrumental in my education of Sibelius – he was simply revelatory with his work on BIS, bringing to me vast and precious treasure troves of rare Sibelius. His first visit to Singapore back in 2010 was to conduct Mahler, a matter I lamented slightly about. But on this night, Fagerlund’s concerto was an unexpectedly enjoyable bonus to the symphonic main course: Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. As one of the first conductors to record the original version of the Fifth, Vänskä is unique, and thus to me, this concert was a must to attend.

More bonuses heaped upon bonuses, as in a rather unusual arrangement, literally, maestro Vänskä began the concert by taking up the 1st clarinet in Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor, Op.44. Together, the ensemble of 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, cello and double bass evoked a beautiful atmosphere of quintessential Dvořák. Melodious, summery, nostalgic, “European”, their playing perfectly poised. And speaking of poise, one member of the ensemble pretty much stole the most of the show – Ng Pei Sian’s lively and poetic cello-playing was a thorough joy to watch.

Vänskä’s recordings of the Sibelius’s symphonies always have a special touch to them. When they are really good, they are an absolute revelation. Suffice to say, the performance tonight was simply the best “live” performance of the Fifth I’ve ever heard. Even the flubbing of the opening dawn calls by the horns, and some unsteady woodwind work in the beginning did not ultimately spoil my experience. The finale was taken very fast. The SSO strings kept up dutifully, unified and together, with impressive precision and energy – and the swan hymn was born out of that sweeping soundscape completely naturally and with grace and grandeur. The orchestra simply glowed. The E-flat gradually, and with a smoothness and logic rarely achieved “live” – evolved into the magnificent C major climax. My mouth was open with admiration. The triumphant brass paeans in the finale shimmered and blazed with confidence and life; the final life-affirming chords were perfectly forged, the intervals between the silences masterly timed by Vänskä, each chord reverberating in the Esplanade hall, booming with nature’s mysteries and answers. There I heard the silence that speaks, as Sibelius would’ve put it himself.

The date was 6 December – Finland’s Independence Day. Sitting at row E, I was not surprised to overhear snatches of conversation in Finnish. The man next to me had a Nokia phone. It reminded me, a little nostalgically, of the time I spent in Lahti and Helsinki last year. During the interval, Finns gathered at an embassy gathering, but I made my way to the queue for Pekka Kuusisto’s autograph.

“Mr Kuusisto, could you address this to ‘The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase’?” I gingerly asked. “It’s a nickname I used when I wrote about Sibelius in the past”.

“The Inkpot? That sounds familiar….. Oh it’s you!” To my delight, it seems he might have remembered the name. :)


After the concert, I was still wondering how I might be able to meet and shake Mr Vänskä’s hand. As I was waiting for the crowds to make their way out of the hall, I heard my name being called by a couple of friends.  One of them, let’s call him HP, said aloud that he had been wondering where “Mr Sibelius” had been all night, while the other, let’s call her SY, gave me directions to reach backstage. We paused at the door of the hall to shake the hand of Mr Fagerlund and I told him how much I enjoyed his concerto, and then I made my way backstage. Or rather, to the entrance. I hung around at the door, wondering if the maestro might exit this way. To be honest, I wasn’t hopeful. But as I inched closer to the door, I spotted a familiar face just inside. It was Dr Chang, the local pianophile and reviewer, and not to my surprise he was inspecting his latest autographed CD. :) Anyway, I asked him for help, and with the kind aid of one of the SSO bassists and the generosity of the security guard, I was led in.

Mr Vänskä stepped out of his guest room just as we arrived. I was so happy – it was almost the next best thing to meeting Sibelius himself, perhaps – a master conductor of his music, a powerful spiritual link back to the composer. I told Mr Vänskä about my love and work promoting Sibelius, got him to autograph the original BIS issue of the original version of the Fifth Symphony, and showed him, using my iPad, the Sibelius Facebook Page I run. “On behalf of Sibelius,” he said genially, “Thank you.”

I plan to see him again in 2015 – he confirmed he will be doing one concert in Lahti, for the Sibelius 150th anniversary celebrations.

The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase with conductor Osmo Vänskä
The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase with conductor Osmo Vänskä

Those few minutes on the porch: Sibelius and Eugene Ormandy

Eugene Ormandy meets Sibelius for the first time in 1951
Eugene Ormandy meets Sibelius for the first time in 1951

“Meeting Sibelius for the first time, I had the impression of being in the presence of someone almost superhuman.  Here was a being I had admired and looked up to all my life — and suddenly I was in his presence.  He was a towering man, a towering personality, with a magnificent head and powerful face.  His beautiful home was full of records, many of which we had sent him from America throughout the years.  Goddard Lieberson [President of Columbia Records, 1956-71, 1973-75] sent him many recordings from Columbia Records.  I remember that I once sent him a recording taken off the air of his Lemminkäinen suite, which we later recorded for Columbia.  He didn’t want it to be performed; that was one of the works he had a strong aversion to, and he wanted to keep the score from the public.  But I managed to get a copy from Helsinki, studied it thoroughly, liked it and performed it.  Then I sent a special recording to Sibelius.  I understand that he put it away for weeks before listening to it.  He was afraid because he was such an uncompromising critic of his own work.  But when he heard it he was pleased and sent me a cable followed by a kind and enthusiastic letter.  When we recorded the work officially, I sent him several copies and he was really touched.  I like to think that I was instrumental in getting Sibelius to appreciate one of his own works!

LP of Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E-Minor, Op. 39.  The Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy.  Columbia Masterworks MS-6395
LP of Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E-Minor, Op. 39. The Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy. Columbia Masterworks MS-6395

Sibelius’ First Symphony was the “first” for me in another sense — it was the first of the master’s symphonies I ever conducted.  This was in 1932, with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra — and we recorded it for RCA Victor in that year.  I think perhaps it was the first Sibelius symphony to be recorded outside of Scandinavia.  Of course the great Finnish conductor, Sibelius’ friend Kajanus, had broken ground for Sibelius years before, and so had Koussevitzky, Stokowski and Beecham.  I have played the First Symphony many times in the intervening thirty years, and it never loses its fascination for me.  Recordings have changed a great deal since 1932, and so have interpretations of his works to the end, and he always had admiration for the work of my colleagues Stokowski and Koussevitzky.  I will risk immodesty to add that he praised my readings too.  His enthusiasm is a source of great pride to me.

Strangely enough, Sibelius has never been popular in the Germanic countries — excepting, of course, Scandinavia. Germany and Austria never took him to their hearts the way the British and we did.  And yet he studied in Germany and the German masters influenced his musical development — I remember a dozen years ago when the State Department asked me to conduct some concerts in Berlin with the RIAS Orchestra.  I programmed the Sibelius Second Symphony and it didn’t take me much more than one measure to realize that the orchestra had never seen it before.  When we had played it through, the very Germanic concertmaster said to me, “This isn’t such a bad work after all,” and left it at that.  The work seemed to make even less of an impression on the critics — one of them began his review with the question, “Why Sibelius?”  Fortunately, there are still a few conductors around whose answer to that question would be, “Because Sibelius is among the giants.” The Fourth I love, the Fifth I love and the Seventh — all of them free, wild, beautiful things, more like elemental forms of nature than consciously shaped works of art. –>

It is difficult for me to choose a favorite among the seven symphonies of Sibelius.  The first is still under the influence of Tchaikovsky, but it is a healthy thing for a first symphony to recall the past, and Sibelius does so gloriously.  The Second Symphony shows the composer struggling heroically to free himself from this influence, but not fully succeeding; the very tensions created by this struggle give the work its power.  Like the First, it is filled with passages that only Sibelius could have conceived.  The Third I don’t understand, frankly.  The Third and Sixth remain enigmas, as far as I am concerned.  The Fourth I love, the Fifth I love and the Seventh — all of them free, wild, beautiful things, more like elemental forms of nature than consciously shaped works of art.  And I wish I could say that I love the Eighth, too, but alas, like everyone else I have never heard it and don’t know if it exists or ever existed.

Sibelius and Ormandy 1951
Eugene Ormandy speaks to Sibelius, with Nils-Eric Ringbom in the background, 1951.

The Eighth Symphony is a mysterious subject.  Everytime I saw Sibelius — and I saw him four or five times, perhaps more — in his home about twenty-seven miles away from the city of Helsinki, I asked him about it, sometimes very tactfully, sometimes quite directly.  And his response was always the same:  he became very upset and nervous and quickly changed the subject.  He seemed to be disturbed that anyone should bring up the subject of the Eighth Symphony.  His son-in-law, Jussi Jalas, a very fine conductor and a good friend of mine, had told me that he was convinced that there was an Eighth Symphony.  On the other hand, Sibelius’ oldest daughter assured me that there was no such symphony.  If there was one, he destroyed it.  Sibelius is reputed to have said to intimate friends, “If I cannot write a better symphony than my Seventh, then it shall be my last.”  Apparently he was not satisfied — if he wrote an Eighth Symphony — with what he had done.  At any rate, he seems to have enjoyed the mystery surrounding the existence of the work.

Naturally, I always told him that if and when his Eighth Symphony was ready for performance I hoped he would give me the opportunity to give it its world premiere.  There was never any response:  his fine, nervous hands would begin to tremble even more and he would look away with a troubled expression.  Out of my admiration and respect I would never press the matter, although I felt puzzled and disappointed.  Twice I went to his house with Olin Downes, who was one of his greatest admirers and had written a book about him.  Mr. Downes promised me that he would bring up the subject, because I told him I didn’t dare to anymore.  But he got the same reply, or rather non-reply:  a strange twist in Sibelius’ face, a nervous intensity in his eyes, and the trembling hands.  I said in an aside to Mr. Downes, “We’d better drop the subject.”  We did.  It shall always remain a tantalizing mystery for me.

Photo © Argenta Images
Sibelius waving at the crowd, 1955. Photo © Argenta Images

As wonderful as it was to meet Sibelius for the first time, it was even more wonderful to have been able to introduce him, some years later, to the members of The Philadelphia Orchestra.  That occurred in June 1955, and there is a rather touching story connected with the meeting.  For some months previous I had been in correspondence with Dr. [Nils-Eric] Ringbom (See bio in Finnish), the director of the Helsinki Philharmonic, in order to arrange for the orchestra to meet the master while we were in Finland on tour.  Sibelius was very ill at the time, very old and fragile and tormented by ear trouble.  The day we were to go to his secluded villa at Järvenpää arrived, and though it was cold and raw and raining, the men were as excited and eager as children.  And I was as excited as any of them.  Imagine my disappointment when Dr. Ringbom called to confess that when he had written to me in Philadelphia to say that everything was arranged he had not mentioned that Sibelius himself knew nothing about the projected visit.  He had only spoken to Mrs. Sibelius, who had agreed at the time but now flatly said no, her husband was too ill to receive us.

There we were, in Helsinki, thousands of miles from home and within twenty-seven miles of Sibelius.  “Dr. Ringbom,” I said, “you must not disappoint us.  Please call up Mrs. Sibelius and explain to her that this orchestra, from the very earliest days with Stokowski, has done as much to spread Sibelius’ fame as any orchestra in the world.  All they ask in return is to see him.”  It worked.

My wife and I were having tea with him, and the orchestra came in two buses.  Even then he hadn’t been told that they were coming.  He was so sensitive — perhaps the most sensitive, shy man I ever met in my life — that the knowledge that he was to meet 110 musicians would probably have incapacitated him if he were given  too much time to think about it.  And those poor colleagues of mine were standing out in the cold rain with thin raincoats on, waiting!  Finally I took the bull by the horns and said, “Mr. Sibelius, do you know that the entire Philadelphia Orchestra, the orchestra that played your music when nobody else did, is waiting outside, hoping to meet you?  Would you just go out on the balcony and say hello to them?”

“But I cannot speak English well enough,” he protested.  “They will not understand me.”

“Speak German, they’ll understand you.  Just look at them, don’t say anything.”

And so he got his heavy winter coat and hat — there are pictures of that visit — and came out with me.  “Gentlemen,” I said, “Mr. Sibelius needs no introduction.”  They applauded him and bravoed him until I had to tell them, “Gentlemen, Mr. Sibelius is not well, but he wanted to come out and say a few words to you.”  And then he told them, with the beautiful simplicity of his few English words, how grateful he was to them for playing his music so nobly.  At last his oldest daughter pulled him back, saying, “Daddy you’re going to catch cold.”  Fortunately, he didn’t catch cold, but we were worried that he might, for it was bitter that day.

He died two years later, in 1957.  And I think today we perform his music better for the memory of those few minutes when he came out on his porch and spoke to us.  It was an experience that none of us will ever forget.”

Eugene Ormandy (1899 - 1985)

EUGENE ORMANDY (1899 – 1985)

– Essay from Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E-Minor, Op. 39. 
The Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy.  Columbia Masterworks MS-6395.

If you are on Facebook, please join fellow Sibelians at the Jean Sibelius – Page.

The main bulk of this article, comprising of Eugene Ormandy’s long reminiscence of Sibelius from the Columbia Masterworks LP, is republished from

Photo of Sibelius waving, (c) Argenta Images. Photo of Eugene Ormandy in dim light by Romy the Cat (Source)

A special voice that nobody can silence: Sir Colin Davis’ Sibelius

In 2005, Finnish composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä (b.1964) and Sir Colin Davis (1927 – 2013) visited Ainola. In a 56-minute interview filmed by YLE, the Finnish public service television station, Räihälä and the late conductor discuss Sibelius. After the passing of Sir Colin in April 2013, the interview was made available to watch again on the YLE website, for a month (20 May – 20 June 2013). I took the opportunity to transcribe the entire interview. I’ve transcribed as accurately as I can hear, and only took select liberties with some sentences either for clarity or smoothness.

Räihälä: Jean Sibelius was a great observer of nature, and most certainly he wasn’t unique in it. But do you think there is some special side that doesn’t appear in other composers’ music?

Sir Colin: Oh most certainly. And I think I don’t know whether it is his attitude to nature that makes him so unique… but he doesn’t write nice comfortable tunes, for example like his lovely contemporary Dvořák. There’s always more mystery, more darkness, more unpredictability in Sibelius. Whether that was a reflection of himself or his relationship with nature around him – I can’t answer that.

Räihälä: He’s not just painting pictures of nature. His “nature” is a lot more, when you think , for example, about Tapiola. It describes mighty forests, and Tapio is a sylvan god, and it’s a dangerous forest. It’s not something sweet and peaceful.


Sir Colin: Yes, and the human heart is exactly the same. It’s a dangerous place. I’m not well acquainted with Finland, but I was here in a hot summer and stayed a few days in the forest. And it was quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And when the light is so fierce and the birch trees are so white, and then the thing begins to become indefinite and hazy. And you can well imagine that you could see things.  And that you will in fact subjectively people the forest with all kinds of spirits. You can say, “Well, that’s nonsense” – but it isn’t nonsense. Because I’m a human being and I experienced these things.

Räihälä: You can see things like wood nymphs [laughs].

Sir Colin: Well you probably need a bit of Vodka to go that far! [laughs]

Räihälä: Or whiskey as in Sibelius’ case!

Sir Colin: He provided whiskey?

Räihälä: Yes of course!

Sir Colin: Oh well, he was a civilized man.

Räihälä: Also at his time, he only could get blended whiskeys.

Sir Colin: Well I’m sorry he was deprived of the wonderful things we have now. But the effect is much the same. It’s that – and also when you’ve had a couple of drinks – your imagination sometimes bubbles up and produces the greatest effects. Although I got quite scared actually, when I was here, because there was no sound in the forest except [a] hawk [points up, at sky] and there was nobody there, and I was picking wild raspberries and at any moment some strange girl could have turned up. She might not really have been there but I could’ve imagined her. And I came home very fast [both laugh].

I don’t know whether that means anything to you, but all this is in the mystery and the flickering lights of a lot of Sibelius’ music, and human beings are as unpredictable as the storms that blow up in Sibelius’ music. Always, all over the place, there they are and they reflect something in us that a lot of other composers didn’t care to express or (maybe) they didn’t know about. But I don’t believe that – I think that they didn’t care to express them so directly. That’s why he is not greatly liked by the bourgeois countries. The French don’t like Sibelius, do they? Who was their favourite composer?

Räihälä: Well I would say either some French, like Debussy, but also composers like Stravinsky.

Sir Colin: I see, now I was thinking what did Saint-Saëns say? “There are good composers and there are bad composers, and there’s Massenet”.

And Debussy said that in every Frenchman’s heart there is a bit of Massenet. And if you think of Bizet and Gounod and Massenet, there is a kind of comfortable bourgeois taste to which to Sibelius must have been anathema because he is not “comfortable”. He is forever upsetting things. Take the beginning of the Fifth Symphony, wonderful morning and cocks are crowing and the sun is shining. But after five minutes whatever happens – we don’t know; but it’s as though the mists get up off that lake and unaccountable things are moving about in it.

Räihälä: The difference between the reception of Sibelius music in Germany and Britain must depend on the Germans having all these great symphony composers that the British didn’t, at the time when Sibelius popped up from the forests.

01a osmo

Sir Colin: No, they didn’t. Yes, but they had their forests. but Sibelius’ way of expressing himself didn’t fall into that kind of neat, classical formula. He wasn’t composing with antecedence or consequence – things of that kind.

Räihälä: For example, Brahms. He was very conventional, although he was [inventive] too. He was very conventional in the way he finished a symphony. From his style you can guess what is going to happen. And that doesn’t apply to Sibelius.

Sir Colin: Yes, and that, for the listener creates, probably…. instability. Because he couldn’t have expected that. Maybe another reason why he discomforts a lot of continental musicians. I would feel that Sibelius is actually out there [points outside, as if towards forest], not like Mahler who was in his study. You know when the birds irritated him, he got up and shot them [both laugh]. I hope that’s not true but I had been told it is what happened. So Mahler’s composing in his study, of course so is Sibelius but his spirit is actually out there. And it’s not irritating him that the birds sing, it is part of his thinking. I mean he was a contradiction, he spent so much of his time in the cities, enjoying the luxuries and the city life. And then he suddenly he couldn’t stand it any longer and then he disappeared again. And that appeals to me very much because a musician has to live in the city (there isn’t an orchestra out there in the woods), but after a bit I find that the emotional tension of being a musician too much. I have to get away to a house in the country where there really isn’t anything. But Sibelius actually lived, I mean he composed out of that. So when he was alone out here (in Ainola) and there was no sound except the sounds of the forest and so on, that must have made him in a great state of tension because it was from there that he took inspiration.

Räihälä: So it was really normal for Sibelius to have these two sides. The need for a peaceful place to live and composer, and at the same time he loved to socialize and “booze” with his friends and do things that all “wild” men like him do.

Sibelius on balcony of AinolaSir Colin: Yes. Extraordinary. But I am worse than him because when I go out to the country, I dress like a tramp. Absolutely unrecognizable! But he loved to dress up in the latest stuff. He had his shirts and his shoes, but he hadn’t got the money to pay for them! He was a perplexing human being simply because his talent was enormous, and all the time in his head were these themes flitting backwards and forwards, and he is kneading them, pushing them, trying to shove them around till they had the shape he wants. He’s just like Beethoven with his sketchbooks. Beethoven wrote down incomprehensible scrap – and a couple years later it’s a fantastic string quartet. I mean, how did he do it?

* * * * *

Räihälä: By the way, when did you first discover Sibelius?

Sir Colin: He imposed himself on me, I think. I came from a family of 7, and I was no. 5 so I was really isolated. But my brothers -my eldest brother was very interested in Sibelius, and he brought home a lot of gramophone records. It was an old-fashioned machine that you wound it up…. Brilliant, it was great.

And there, I made the acquaintance of the Third Symphony and I remember as a boy of 8 or 9 being absolutely fascinated with this thing. When I was left alone in the house, I didn’t know what I did – jigsaw puzzles or … and I had this symphony. Always. Why it fascinated me I can’t tell you. It has a hypnotic effect which comes from the second movement, because there is a reiteration of this melody, this lullaby, whatever it is… I’m told that Sibelius used to play it on the piano while his daughters danced about in nightdresses…. [smiles] but this is probably another one of those inventions that people inflict on great men.

And then there was the famous recording of the Third Symphony by Kajanus which is still spoken of.  And the other is the recording of the Seventh Symphony with Koussevitzky [YouTube] and I became more and more interested in this. Because it is so mysterious and it was so violent, and… so serene and… what on earth was going on? [Chuckles, then turns serious] When I look at the Seventh Symphony now, I don’t have the fear of the unknown which I had when I started all those years ago. I still think it’s a remarkable statement … I think it’s so remarkable because he compressed everything, more and more as he got older. When you think of Kullervo, it’s an hour and quarter – there’s some wonderful things in it. And he turned his back on that. And he tried to say as much as possible in the shortest possible time. And for that he should be praised. I think that’s another thing that disturbed some of the continental composers so used to big sprawling pieces.

08 osmo it doesn't exist2Räihälä: Already in the Third Symphony he had only three movements, and in the Seventh he only had one. So what was logical was that the Eighth Symphony had no movements at all. :)

Sir Colin: In that case it doesn’t exist! [laughs]

Räihälä: Does it? [laughs]

Sir Colin: I don’t know! People say he did write the Eighth Symphony and that he destroyed it. And I think we should trust him. If it had been what he had hoped it would have been, surely he wouldn’t have burnt it. He must have felt somewhere that it wasn’t up to the other ones. And I believe him. I mean, he’s written seven pretty unique pieces and he wasn’t one of those people who kept writing the same symphony. I have been some of those. Beethoven wasn’t one. Mozart wasn’t one. But there’re others who’ve tried but found it difficult to escape, like Bruckner.

But his are…. you could never guess after the Third symphony, he would have the Fourth Symphony, like not like that. And then you wouldn’t guess the Fifth would again be what it is. Again a wonderful act of compression. And you wouldn’t believe that a man could hear a symphony that he’d written and be unsatisfied – dissatisfied – and go home and over the years, turn it into a masterpiece. That doesn’t happen very often!

Räihälä: No (indeed). The trouble that Sibelius was prepared to meet in remolding the Fifth Symphony only goes to show that he was really looking for something that only he could see but he couldn’t just find it straightaway.

Sir Colin: Yes. And that’s part of his greatness, I think. That he was prepared to do that. The remarkable thing is that he had the intellectual tenacity to pursue what it was that he was looking for. And having found it, he knew how to organize it. It’s the same with Beethoven really, that it would take him a long time to find the basic shape of what he wanted to do, and having done that, it then all followed. But Sibelius discovered that he’d left something half done, and he had the wit to recognize it – that’s what I think is extraordinary. There’re plenty of composers who didn’t have the wit to know that what they’d done was only half-finished. But he did and he was prepared to tackle to it, because he must have believed that he had found some precious corner of his own soul and that he was going to express that. But he wasn’t going to have a mis-shapened version.

That’s where I think he’s so wonderful. He worked and worked at it until it was what he wanted it to be. He was like a smith, like Ilmarinen. I’m glad that his wife wasn’t like Ilmarinen’s wife [laughs]. No, I think we’re really at the nerve of why he’s such a great man. He didn’t always do that, he wrote a lot of pieces just for fun or for money – but who didn’t? So did Mozart, he had to write minuets for the wretched balls of the court; Beethoven wrote all kinds of stuff which we don’t bother with and I don’t see why that should be held against Sibelius at all. Elgar did the same. They had to make money somehow.

Räihälä: They had family.

Sir Colin: Yes. what were they to do? They had to slog at that, but I don’t think it cost him too much to write superficial pieces. His tragedy was of course that he wrote Finlandia and Valse triste and made no money out of either of them. He should have made his fortune. But then that’s luck. Or perhaps it was also good, because it meant that he had to go on.


Räihälä: What is really interesting is that Sibelius didn’t want to save his better ideas or stronger themes [for] these large works only. He [had] fantastic themes/music in these small pieces too.

Sir Colin: Well I think Richard Strauss said he had an enviable gift for melody, which indeed he had. But if you look at Sixth Symphony or Seventh Symphony, there aren’t any “great” melodies. That isn’t what he was trying to do.

Räihälä: It’s not about the melodies, it’s more about masterful forging of music.

Sir Colin: Yes the symphonies are about that but some of the lighter pieces are not dependent on that.

Räihälä: But at some point while still working on the Eighth Symphony he must have realized that – although he was going deeper and deeper and trying to find that something that only he can see – that it doesn’t exist. So he gave up. That must have been a horrible moment for him.

Sir Colin: Yes, and it’s very difficult to understand how he could have spent the last 30 years of his life without composing anything. Because obviously from the time he was a young man his head was full of music. Wasn’t it full of music anymore? Or did he ban it from his mind? We don’t know. He doesn’t talk about it.

Räihälä: At the time when he moved here to Ainola, he wrote that while living in the city, all the song in him died. So moving here was something like being reborn and all these melodies, all this music started to flow again. I don’t know if it’s something he said to make it sound more romantic, but it happened at the crossroads of his style going from the more national romantic style to this more universal classic style. That was about the time of Pohjola’s Daughter. Which by the way, you have been doing quite recently.

Sir Colin: Yes I like that piece very much. And so much of it reminds me of some of the portraits of Sibelius himself. A man puts everything he has into something and of course it begins to sound like him. The weariness of the beginning and that snarling fanfare, which is supposedly Väinämöinen. It could very well be a portrait of Sibelius himself.

Räihälä: Pohjola’s Daughter is very interesting in Sibelius’ output because he gets so close to, for example, Richard Strauss of the time, because it [has] such colourful orchestration, when you compare it with other works that he had been doing or was going to do quite shortly. So it was kind of a crossroads.

Sir Colin: I never thought of Richard Strauss in the company of Pohjola’s Daughter, I must say…. because it’s so compressed, so tightly knit. All the material belongs to itself. Compared with Sibelius, Strauss is prolix – he takes his time [laughs].

Räihälä: Do you think he felt the pressure to get away from the style of Strauss because he was such a famous contemporary composer at his time?

Sir Colin: That’s possible. I don’t know. Didn’t he tell somebody that he wished to give the public “pure cold water” and not all these cocktails. Something like that. He wasn’t really in the business for entertaining the public with symphonic music.

Räihälä: He also had this flirting with impressionism, with the Oceanides. It’s a bit in the direction of Debussy.

Sir Colin: Yes but so are the fluttering creatures in the Sixth Symphony. As he’s chased through the woods there. Do you remember that? You know that chord at the beginning of the 6th. It’s called the seventh, it’s the Tristan Chord. He makes import out of that fluttering noise. It’s all pianissimo [Sir Colin sings]. Little nymphs are calling one another across the wood in the high summer, and there is this heat shimmer. Whatever you like to call it – that to me is impressionism. Much more than the Oceanides.

That is really – how many of them are there? See I think there are three. Two of them play the flute, and play in duets. The other one is really lovesick and is wailing like one of Wagner’s sirens in Tannhäuser. And it is she who conjures up that storm – one of the most terrifying storms there is. And what is so magical about it is [Sibelius] manages to find a colour and a harmony which to me reflects the horrible color the sky goes before there’s a storm. Everything is still and everything is anticipating disaster. So all the animals have long gone home and only the light is kind of all of purple and sick and yellow – and do you know it did that well? I think it’s amazing. If that’s impressionism, okay, but it’s not like the… “impressionism” we use for the great picture postcard revolution in French painting. That is not Sibelius! [laughs]

Räihälä: No, it isn’t! By the way, Sibelius was a great admirer of Wagner and went to Bayreuth – yet he never really tried his hand in opera.

Sir Colin: No, because the way I think of Sibelius – his music is never static, it’s always changing into something else. That wouldn’t do for trying to depict characters realistically on the stage. Simply wouldn’t. I mean they would be starting a conversation and then drifting away into themselves and not say anything. And where have they gone then? Or it would be like Harold Pinter where somebody starts a conversation and nobody answers or nobody says anything – then goes out. It’s not like that at all. It’s not a theatrical way of writing music. How could you do that? Because it’s an internal development in Sibelius, it’s not to do with “situations”.

That’s how it seems to me. What do you think? You’re a composer – you know more about it than I do!

Räihälä: Well I haven’t written an opera yet [both laugh]. I’m not a specialist!

* * * * *

Räihälä: You’ve been performing Kullervo lately.

Sir Colin: Yes, in London and New York.

Räihälä: It’s one of Sibelius’ earliest major works and something of …. it’s not a symphony or is it? What do you think?

Sir Colin: I don’t know. It’s full of wonderful things and it has a first movement like a symphony, a sonata piece and then it has a sort of rondo. I don’t know what it might be, the 2nd movement… and the third movement is an operatic number or it’s an oratorio number, it’s a scena. And then there’s a scherzo, so if you like, Lemminkäinen [sic] going to war. And then the last scene is left to the chorus and orchestra which is the death of a young man. You can say these are five movements strung along to the story of Kullervo. But that doesn’t make it a symphony.

Räihälä: He finished Kullervo just before he got married to Aino. That was sort of a graduation. He had to show the world that he is man enough before he could get married. But afterwards he didn’t allow a performance of Kullervo.

Sir Colin: Do you know why?

Räihälä: No, but he didn’t burn it.

Sir Colin: No, so he must have been secretly been rather proud of it. But as his ambitions changed, perhaps he didn’t want to have that forever thrown in his face as his successful nationalist piece. He really didn’t want to be a “narrow” nationalist composer.

Räihälä: No, he wanted to be a universal hero.

09 exactly

Sir Colin: Exactly, he had big ambitions. And he succeeded, I must say. But if he’d stayed with that kind of piece, in that genre, he would perhaps have never have escaped from it. And he was certainly, as we have already said, not the man who wanted to write the same symphony again. Already when he gets to the Lemminkäinen music, he’s changed. And I think the most remarkable piece in that – of course the Swan (of Tuonela) is wonderful – but Lemminkäinen in Tuonela is an absolutely one-off piece. I don’t know anything like that – do you?

[Räihälä shrugs with a smile.]

Sir Colin: Please, you’re the Finnish, not me!

Räihälä: Is it a nationalistic thing? That a Finn would know better.

Sir Colin: Well it’s often said that only the Finns understand Sibelius. Only the Finns can perform him.

Räihälä: But he’s our only real universal hero, I mean…

Sir Colin: That’s wonderful! But that doesn’t mean his music is only appreciated by Finns. That proves he’s universal. If only Finns could perform Sibelius, that would make him provincial. [laughs] I’m making all this up!


Räihälä: Do you think the First Symphony is in some way still “provincial”, or does it already belong to “Universal Sibelius”?

Sir Colin: Well, not quite – because it has so many echoes of other things. There’s a lot of the Flying Dutchman in the first, I always feel. The second movement is… “pathetic”… I don’t mean in the bad sense – a “pathétique” melody, which moves us. It does. The scherzo owes something to Beethoven and Bruckner; and the last, “quasi una fantasia”, is… well it opens with a very grand version of the lament (uttered by the clarinet in the beginning of the symphony) and then of course it is a furious movement with rhetorical gestures before we reach the important thing about the last movement which is that very grand tune. I must say, I’d love to have written that – wouldn’t you? [Räihälä nods]. I mean come on, you may say it’s not the greatest symphony, but he certainly had a ear for big melodies.

Räihälä: But isn’t it typical for a still youthful artist that – especially for a male composer – that in the early stages of his career, he wrote pieces that describe some kind of heroic things like the Second Symphony. It’s really a grand symphony. Then came the Violin Concerto. Of course Sibelius had wanted to be a great violinist himself. Then he gradually goes over to more peaceful things and tries to find more of the “inner” when in the early stages of his career, when things come more to the surface.

Sir Colin: And it’s certainly true, yes. The Second Symphony is as heroic as anything that ever ended.

Räihälä:  In the beginning of the 20th Century, the western world, at least Europe was going through huge changes and there were things that led to the first World War. But in my opinion, most art were at their most interesting during the turn of the 20th Century,. and Sibelius lived through that time and at the same time there happened things in Vienna like Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who had a  revolutionary effect on music in 1913. And the Fourth Symphony – do you think it was in some way Sibelius’ answer to all these big things going on around him?

Sir Colin: Well I think he saw that the – he must have seen – that what he was brought up to, what he knew as music was being destroyed.  And there is in the Fourth Symphony an extraordinary nostalgia for the triad, for the basis of classical music as he knew it. It’s a very …. distorted view of music…. but suddenly in the first music, the horns play [Sir Colin sings] and then there’s an echo.  And one wonders: what is that? Is it nostalgia for something that is forever gone? The slow movement is one of the most elusive, despairing pieces that have ever been penned. The last page of that is the loneliest music that has ever been written. And then in the scherzo, there’s the light and the beautiful day, the light-hearted oboe melody.. and all that goes wrong. And in the last movement, it’s as though if he’s set it up again, a lovely day and the sleigh ride and the bells… but two thirds of the way, something awful happens. The sled turns over, the inhabitants are killed, the dogs are all mangled… and he buries the lot of them. Under the grisly repeated chord of A minor. Smooths the grave over, and leaves. What is he talking about? The death of civilization? The death of music as he knew it? Or the struggle that already begun, that the heart writes music at all?  Please, you help me with that.

10 a-minor

Räihälä: Well only thing I can say is the Fourth Symphony is the dearest of his children.

Sir Colin: It’s almost as though he was protesting the time that he been born into. As Brahms always did but didn’t actually managed to express it. As Sibelius did. That’s why some people find this kind of music too bewildering, because what they want is confidence and resolution and what they get is a mirror of what was actually going on. And it’s not for nothing there are 11 of the 12 tones at the beginning of the Seventh Symphony. He knew what he was doing, I think. Maybe that’s why he was dissatisfied with his Eighth – because he had nothing more to say about what was going on around him. It was all too utterly bewildering. After Stravinsky, after Schoenberg turned to 12-tone music, which was something Sibelius couldn’t do. Couldn’t possibly have done… And there was the rise of the Serialists, which has come to nothing. No system has been devised which has replaced the old Classical system, which lasted for so long. And even now, composers – many of them are using Classical procedures and Classical harmony. Sometimes different keys simultaneously, in an effort to find a way of writing a musical sentence.

Now you are a composer. And maybe this is really what the trouble was. It wasn’t possible to write a sentence anymore, because without harmony there isn’t any syntax. So what are you going to do? Write a new language? But then whatever language you write, it’s got to have a subject a verb and an object. And that’s what music had lost.

Räihälä: Well, if every composer tried to speak his own dialect , no one’s going to understand each other.

Sir Colin: No they won’t! And they didn’t!

Räihälä: So it’s really isn’t possible to communicate with the audience or even with the musicians if a composer can’t get his or her message through. And that is a problem for composers, of course. So obviously, you think that Sibelius’ music will last longer than, for example…

Sir Colin: Stockhausen…

Räihälä: or Schoenberg…

Sir Colin: I certainly do. I mean Schoenberg imposed an intellectual solution on something which is not… won’t be subjected to that. You can’t say all 12 tones are equal and continue to write old-fashioned music which is what he did. It doesn’t work, because you got no point of beginning and no point of rest. And very few musicians have such acute hearing that they can pick up the 12 tones and versions of them going on and when they are all combined together.

* * * * *

Räihälä: I wonder why it was such a “drag” for Sibelius to write the concerto because he was a violinist… ?

Sir Colin: Well, that‘s probably one of the reasons why it was so difficult for him to do it. The opening is one of the most poetic moments in musical history, really. There’s just these oscillating fifths and one never really knows what’s going to happen and suddenly there’s this little voice comes out of nowhere. Extraordinary music.

Räihälä: It’s like hearing voices from outdoors that you don’t recognize. And the voices, by and by, they come closer and suddenly they are in front of you and indoors.

Sir Colin: That’s really beautifully put! Yes. I think that the most remarkable section of the Violin Concerto is the slow movement. It’s one of the final great tunes. It really is a grandiose arc of melody and that in itself is very moving. It’s very difficult to play. I think this is one of the reasons: the bow’s too short.

Räihälä: Although it’s a fantastic composition, in my opinion, there are some funny things that don’t really seem to belong. Maybe that is a result of him doing all these versions, trying to find the right solution, that things were left from elsewhere.

Sir Colin: I think that’s happening to the end of the first movement. For example there’s suddenly, it goes [sings]… and you think, “What the devil’s that doing here??”Because it’s quite extended in the earlier version, the first version. And then you know why it’s there. But the end of the first movement worries me, and the end of the last movement worries me. Difficult to bring it to a…. satisfactory ending.

Räihälä:I have a feeling he was in a hurry while he was finishing the concerto.

Sir Colin: Maybe he was. I mean he’s spent enough time on it.

Räihälä: Because the end comes so unexpectedly.

Sir Colin: Abruptly.

Räihälä: Yes. But obviously it has found its place in the repertoire quite well, because as far as I know it is the most often recorded violin concerto.

Sir Colin: Really?

Räihälä: Something that I read somewhere. And there was something funny written by a Finnish music critic a few years ago, who said that Sbielius’s Violin Concerto is such a fantastic work that a violinist should not be allowed to perform it more than once a year, so that the audience can enjoy it to the full effect! And that (the remark) was probably meant to be for fun, but I think it was pretty accurate.

Sir Colin: Well, you can probably think of all those wonderful classical pieces that shouldn’t be performed more than once a year!

Räihälä: But if there is one piece that will last forever… a work of music by Sibelius that you would take to a desert island, what would it be?

Sir Colin: Goodness me!….

Räihälä: And remember, you would have to listen to it more than once a year.

Sir Colin: Well I would take one gigantic symphony… which consists of numbers 1 to 7 [both laugh].

Räihälä: That is not an answer!

Sir Colin: I know it isn’t! [laughs] [Seriously] I haven’t. Any. Idea. How to answer that.

Räihälä: That’s your personal view but do you think there is some work that will survive even longer than…. our civilization is changing all the time and classical music gets more and more marginal…

Sir Colin: I’m not even sure that’s true. I hope it isn’t. I don’t think it’s true because there will always be people who are fascinated by it. And the lovers of classical music are always a minority. And they are certainly a minority now but that’s nothing new. The only thing that would destroy classical music is if there were no more children playing instruments. The fascination over classical music will remain, I’m quite sure.

Räihälä: What would be the Sibelius work that most appeals to people?

Sir Colin: I haven’t  the faintest idea… I can’t take one without the other. How can I take the Sixth without the Seventh? Or the Fourth without the Fifth? Or any of those four without the Third? You might do without 1 and 2 – you might. But you can’t go without the others. And then you have to figure in Tapiola as well. Then perhaps you could say, yes, I can go to this desert island. [laughs]

If you take that as a compliment, and I hope that you will – if you can – I think whatever happens, Sibelius’ place in the tradition of European music is unshakable. That’s a special voice that nobody can silence.

"Here in Ainola, the silence speaks." - Jean Sibelius
“Here in Ainola, the silence speaks.” – Jean Sibelius

For Sir Colin Davis
(25 September 1927 – 14 April 2013)
A Great Conductor.


Memories from the Woods – recollections of a Sibelius granddaughter

Janet Abbots and Andrew Barnett of the United Kingdom Sibelius Society bring us a glimpse of the recital at Brighton, where Sibelius’s granddaughter Satu Jalas recently performed. Like the composer’s music, the reflection is brief, but concentrated in intense memories.

It was a somewhat surreal experience to see Satu strolling though the streets of Brighton, with her grandfather’s violin strapped to her back.  On 21st February 2013, both violin and grandchild played his music, and in between the notes came many special memories. The image of a grandfatherly Sibelius is as charming as it is a contrast to the rugged, stately photographs of the elderly composer we are so used to seeing.

Sibelius would welcome his grandchildren when he returned from his forest walks, and they would run into his open arms. When the little ones themselves came back from the woods, he would ask them, “What did you see?”  His grandfatherly response turns out to be as wise as it is pure Sibelius (the answer later).

But when Sibelius realised that Satu was serious about playing the violin, he gave his own instrument to her, believed to have been made by the renowned Austrian instrument maker  Jacob Stainer (c. 1617 – 1683). Satu notes that while she is privileged to be the owner and player of this unique instrument, she does not want to underline her personal role among Sibelius’s 16 grandchildren.

Satu Jalas with autographed score
Satu Jalas is holding the sheet music for the F major Romance, Op. 78 No. 2, a copy bearing a handwritten dedication by Sibelius to his daughter Margareta (Satu’s mother). Picture courtesy of Kyllikki Barnett and shown with kind permission of Mdm Satu Jalas.

“A Winters Evening with Sibelius”, presented by the Finnish School of Brighton with Satu Jalas, the composer’s granddaughter playing his own violin, and world-renowned pianist and principal artist in the Complete Sibelius Edition on BIS records Folke Gräsbeck, performing a programme of music at St Pauls C. E. School in Brighton, must surely have raised a few eyebrows. There was considerable press coverage in Helsinki’s main newspaper Helsing Sanomat and also in Brighton. To include a world premiere of the Andantino for piano solo in D major was a massive coup, and a very reasonable audience of around 70 or so were in attendance.

Satu Jalas brought out the beauty of the revered instrument, relaying fascinating information about the violin and of her grandfather. She was really able to bring out the human side of Sibelius, not just in music but in memories. She recalls that her overriding impression of him was of his piercing blue eyes that absolutely radiated spirituality, an image that has stayed with her today still.  Sibelius was such an avid devotee of the sauna, he would smell her neck just to get a whiff of it. Grandfather Sibelius was a gentle and generous person, Satu recalled fondly.

Satu Jalas and Andrew Barnett
Sibelius’s scholar Andrew Barnett playing on Sibelius’s violin with Sibelius’s granddaughter Satu Jalas. Picture courtesy of the Barnetts (and their home).

Sibelius scholar Andrew Barnett quotes (at the Sibelius Forum) directly from Satu Jalas:

“As a child I spent with my brother and sister several periods in his home, called Ainola… usually every year some days at the end of August and also during the winter holidays, during the year some weekends and so on. I saw and remember his big blue eyes, and felt a very great spirituality, and there was something heavenly in his way of looking at us children; and this intuitive impression doesn’t go away from my mind.

He didn’t stay very much with us, but when he did it was really very special. For instance, as he usually got up late in the morning, and we had already played a long time in the garden, he called us every morning around his bed, where he sat with thousands of pillows, and asked us what everybody had dreamt of; and it had to be a very detailed description – it was his way to know us better inside, and it was not a stupid idea… When he came back from his long walks he met us in the garden with grandmother, and then he opened his arms and we ran to him…

He also told us a lot of nature’s secrets. Once, one of my cousins went to the woods and was coming back, then grandfather asked: ‘Have you been in the woods? What did you see?’ ‘Nothing special’, was the answer. Then my grandfather winked and said: ‘Go back and look more closely.’

In his grand-daughter’s dreams: A Winter Evening with Sibelius

Sibelius’ grand-daughter plays her grandfather’s violin; world premiere concert performance of the Andantino in D major (1889)

* * * * *

My wife and I once aspired to have six daughters. Yes we were still young then, of course. I was inspired by Sibelius and Aino, who had six (though one, Kirsti, died at a very young age). All girls.  Practicalities of modern life limited what we can have, but still, somehow along the way, I always wanted daughters. So we have two. Per tradition then, my name shall not pass on. I don’t really mind. But, once in a while, I always wonder, where are Sibelius’ daughters and grand-children today?  And sometimes people ask on the internet, too.

All of Sibelius’ daughters have passed on, the last being Margareta, who lived from 1908 to 1988. Sibelius’ descendants do exist, though they no longer, it seems, bear his name.

But one still bears his violin.

Satu Jalas, Sibelius' grand-daughterSatu Jalas (left, b.1943) is the daughter of Margareta. In other words, she is Sibelius’ grand-daughter. She began studying the violin at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and was a student of that regal Belgian violin master, Arthur Grumiaux. Mdm Jalas has performed as a soloist, in orchestras and chamber ensembles in many parts of Europe and the USA; and has been teaching the violin at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma, Italy for more than 30 years.

Her grandfather gave her his violin when she was 12. It is an unnamed instrument with no date, but is believed to have been made by the renowned Austrian instrument maker  Jacob Stainer (c. 1617 – 1683), who is ranked alongside Stradivarius as maker of the finest violins in all of musical history.Despite this illustrious background, the violin was purchased by Sibelius’ uncle Pehr Sibelius, at no more than a flea market in St Petersburg. Uncle Pehr eventually gave the violin to his nephew in the mid-1880s, when the latter was about 20 years of age.

If you’re anywhere near Brighton in the UK now – hang around. I assume you’re a Sibelius fan since you’re reading this blog – and you’ll want to be at the following concert on 21st February.

A Winter Evening with Sibelius
Mdm Satu Jalas will be performing a programme of music for violin and piano, selected from those Sibelius wrote around the period of the First World War. With her is eminent Sibelius pianist Folke Gräsbeck, of Sibelius Edition fame.In addition to the pieces for duo, the concert will host the world première performance, played by Mr Gräsbeck, of a newly discovered piano piece by Sibelius – a D major Andantino (1889) written for Emma Kristina Marie-Louise Berndtson (‘Lulu’), the newly born daughter of a close friend.

According to the press release, two Sibelius manuscripts, previously unknown to scholars, were found at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library at Harvard University in late 2012. Folke Gräsbeck comments:

‘They were not lost, only strangely neglected because of their “home” deep in the archives of Harvard University… The credit for “re-finding” these items goes to Pekka Helasvuo (editor of the string orchestra music in Breitkopf & Härtel’s JSW critical edition of Sibelius’s complete works)… The Andantino is strange in that it seems to have been planned to have a solo violin part, but not a single note is indicated on the line of the violin or soprano or whatever was meant. However, the “piano part”, as it now is written, sounds like completed piano music: the melodies are all there, i.e. this is not an accompaniment with a missing melody.’

– for violin & piano:
Romance in F major, Op. 78 No. 2 (1915)
Tanz-Idylle, Op. 79 No. 5 (1917)
On the Heath, Op. 115 No. 1 (1929)
Valse, Op. 81 No. 3 (1917)
– Talk by Satu Jalas discussing the violin and Sibelius (10–15 minutes).
– for piano solo:
Andantino in D major (1889) – world première concert performance – ‘Till Emma Kristina Marie-Louise Berndtson – Lulu’
Valse lyrique (1919; preliminary version of Op. 96a)
Sonatina in E major, Op. 80 (1915) for violin and piano
Three Humoresques (arranged for violin and piano by Karl Ekman):
Humoresque No. 1 in D minor, Op. 87 No. 1 (1917, rev. 1940)
Humoresque No. 4 in G minor, Op. 89b (1917)
Humoresque No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 89c (1917)

Thursday 21st February 2013 at 8.30 p.m. 

St Paul’s C.E. School, Brighton, BN1 3LP (Map)

£7 and available via the Finnish School of Brighton. (Link to Contact Details)

Sibelius in 1881

I remember my grandfather’s tender smile when he asked what I had dreamt in the night. I remember how he corrected my left hand when I played the violin with him. He gave his violin to me when I was twelve, and with this instrument I shall here play some of his violin compositions. My life has taken me away from Finland, but my soul is there forever.

– Satu Jalas

Kullervo – Once and Never Again

In 1892, when he was 26 years old, Jean Sibelius unleashed something on an unsuspecting Finnish audience. It was their very own sound. For the first time ever, they heard sounds coming from an orchestra and choir that they instantly recognized as “Finnish”. Unsatisfied with the composition, Sibelius pulled it from public in 1893 after four performances. The monumental work became the stuff of legends.

In this 4-minute interview with Finnish-born conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen speaks of how he is old enough to have lived through such a time, a time when the Kullervo Symphony was a work of legend.

Sibelius pulled it from public performance because he probably felt it was not exactly “him”. He wrote it, inspired by the Kalevala legend, but it was the utterance of a composer braving new soundscapes.

Salonen talks about how the manuscript (he once conducted from a photocopy of it) is perhaps “the most illegible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” One cannot but imagine the young Jean Sibelius, in his mid-20s, inspiration afire, searing, scribbling the score. “He was a spontaneous and volatile composer,” Salonen describes the image.

It is “Proto-Sibelius”, Kullervo. A music and a sound that struggled to be born. What it is trying to do – what Sibelius was trying to do – doesn’t quite always make it, says Salonen, but what was born was undeniably powerful.

A raw diamond, its power clear and obvious, but not refined enough for Sibelius to consider it mature, to be fit for keeps. It was a musical tremoring, a display of raw power that Sibelius unleashed once, and never again. It was a birth of a kind of sound, bloody and raw.

However, it was just the thing, this strange and primeval sound, that made it unique during its time. It was a soundscape that was not quite finished developing. But it was certainly and irrefutably – Finnish.