Be part of a Sibelius 150th Birthday Greeting Video

Thank you for everyone’s contributions!

I am embarking on a project. Success is not 100% guaranteed as I’ve never done something like this before, but I’m going to try it.  I would like to make a video collage of birthday greetings for Sibelius, on the occasion of his 150th birthday.

To do this, I will like to invite all Sibelius fans to send in a short video clip of yourself/ yourselves saying “Happy Birthday, Sibelius!” (all languages welcome) to me, and I will compile them in time for 8 December, 2015, his exact birthday. I already have a handful of clips captured at the recently concluded Lahti Sibelius Festival, such as……

Do you recognize any faces in there? :)

… but to succeed, the project will need more contributors.

If you are keen to contribute,

  1. Video Tool: Use any suitable camera. Any modern smartphone should be more than capable of this.
  2. Duration: The clip should be short, about 3 seconds and up to 5 seconds. I may accept longer clips if the content is justifiable. :)
  3. File Format: please try to send a commonly playable file such as .mp4, .mov or .avi. I am not an expert in this area and am willing to see if other formats work. Just send them in and I’ll let you know. Your file size should be less than 1mb (I reckon way less than that).
  4. Deadline: please send in your video clip by 15 November 2015.
  5. Video location: the plan now is to host the video on YouTube. It will also appear on the Jean Sibelius Facebook Page that I manage.
  6. Privacy Note: obviously, if you want to join in this celebration, you have to accept that you will appear in a public video, and that your contribution is provided free of any charge or licensing issues.
  7. This project has no commercial intent or purpose. It is purely our tribute to our favourite composer. I will be sharing this worldwide and with all Sibelius-related organizations where possible/appropriate.

Use your imagination regarding where to film yourselves – it could be with a Sibelius picture, statue, at a Sibelius concert, with your CD collection, etc. I realize I should’ve started this project earlier in order to have given fans more opportunities to get this done at locations like Ainola, the Sibelius Monument or the Lahti Festival. I apologize for this oversight. Still hoping this works out well.

This project is over, but if you have any queries about it, contact me at 

Deadline: 15 November 2015



Fantasia and the Swan of Tuonela

What has Jean Sibelius got to do with Walt Disney? It seems in December 1940, Disney approached Sibelius to propose featuring The Swan of Tuonela in the famous animated film Fantasia. Although by that time, Fantasia was already running in the theatres for a month, Disney already had plans to continually revise and improve the film – an approach that would surely have received more than a few approving nods from Sibelius!

Throughout 1941, story material was developed based on the addition or substition of new pieces of music, including Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries, Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee and Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Disney acting out a scene in The Sorcerer's Apprentice for Taylor and Stokowski.
Disney acting out a scene in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice for Taylor and Stokowski. Picture from wikipedia.

On 9 December, 1940, a day after the composer’s 75th birthday, a letter arrived from the Walt Disney production company, bearing the Fantasia title decorated with cartoon characters. The message it carried was from John C. Rosen of Disney, who described Walt Disney as being a long-time admirer of Sibelius’s music. Although The Swan of Tuonela is not under copyright protection the United States, he added, Mr Disney did not want to proceed with using it in the film without the composer’s blessings.

Swan of Tuonela by American painter, Lorena Bowser
Swan of Tuonela by American painter, Lorena Bowser (Fine Art Studio 111)

Rosen explained the film’s intention to depict the “awe and reverence” for the souls of the departed on its journey through Tuonela, accompanied by the beautiful and majestic Swan. He assured the composer that each scene in the film would be as faithful to to the spirit of Finnish mythology, and will be accompanied by corresponding verses from the Finnish national epic, Kalevala.

The letter was accompanied by a note of support from the Finnish Ambassador to the US, Hjalmar Procopé , who said the project would be of great significance to the promotion of Finnish culture.

Sibelius’s interest in the matter is only known from the fact that he contacted his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, about it. I say “only” because – alas, in the end, nothing came of it. Perhaps the composer’s interest was piqued because of the involvement of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadephia Orchestra in Fantasia – the very same musicians who made the first recording of The Swan of Tuonela in 1929.

In any case, the proposal did not come to fruition. Any correspondence between Breitkopf & Härtel and the composer regarding the project has not survived, and thus we do not know exactly why it was rejected or not taken up.

Could it have been indeed a copyright issue? Considering the potentially huge earnings a film of Disney’s stature could earn, did Breitkopf & Härtel desire a cut … which Sibelius might have felt too awkward to ask of the Americans? Did Sibelius perhaps feel that a “cartoon” was not befitting his “serious” music? I speculate.

I leave you with this animation-style YouTube video of The Swan of Tuonela, featuring the classic Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.If it had been featured in Fantasia, it might have looked something close to this.

This article is adapted from “Sibelius ja Hollywood” by Sibelius scholar Glenda Dawn Goss.

Andante festivo – New Year Greetings 2015

This has been a long time coming. I have always wanted to create a video of Sibelius’s Andante festivo, a piece so dear to my heart and I’m sure to many a Sibelian. For many years I’ve sat on the idea and done several other videos but this one I’ve put off because I want it to be really good. I also have a dilemma about whether to use the recording that first introduced me to the work, or to use Sibelius’s historic 1939 recording. The decision I made this morning – playing both versions loudly on my hifi after breakfast at home – is that ultimately I’ll do both. For now though, it will be the former – Neeme Järvi’s 1982 recording on BIS with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, a very beautiful and powerful account that still sounds fantastic to this day. The CD is 30 years old.

The photos used are from my 2014 trip to Finland, mostly of Suomenlinna and a few of Karelia. I plan to make a couple of videos this coming year for Karelia. In the meantime, Happy New Year to all! Happy 2015! Happy 150th Anniversary, Jean Sibelius!

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.

Lost King of Finland

On September 20, 1957 – only 53 years ago, Jean Sibelius passed away.  Sir Malcolm Sargent, who was in Finland to conduct the Fifth Symphony, said, “Finland has lost its king, and there is no successor.”

I found this quotation from a digitized newspaper article from 22 September 1957, that I found via NewspaperSG, which is a digital respository of Singapore newspapers. Have a look – it’s quite a piece of history.

Here again, is my Farewell video tribute to Jean Sibelius. Continue reading Lost King of Finland

Sibelius’ Farewell: Ossia – Prospero’s Epilogue from The Tempest

I’ve finally completed my second music video. Sibelius of course. Like my first little experiment, it deliberately highlights a lesser-known work, from the very end of Sibelius’ incidental music for The Tempest, Op.109. This little project has been in my head for more than half a year, and I’m relieved that it is done.

In Shakespeare’s final play The Tempest (1610-1611), the great magician Prospero steps out once more after the tale is done, to speak to the audience. His famous Epilogue is often interpreted as Shakespeare’s own farewell to the world of drama, The Tempest being his last play. Prospero beseeches the audience to set him free of his obligations, and allow him to retire his magic. If he clings on to the art, his ending would be despair. Think Spiderman, “With great power…”
Continue reading Sibelius’ Farewell: Ossia – Prospero’s Epilogue from The Tempest

Sometimes magnificence deserves a better name

In September 2009, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to make a video – make that music video – of one of my favourite unknown pieces of Sibelius, which up till then has never had any presence on Youtube.

Continue reading Sometimes magnificence deserves a better name