Stravinsky and Sibelius: cold water, cocktails and respect

100 years ago on 29 May, 1913, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring collided with Paris concert-goers, its (in)famous audacious arrival greeted with shock.

They were two titans of the music world, but Sibelius and Stravinsky, two of the 20th century’s greatest composers, certainly had many things NOT in common. It is said that when the Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded Stravinsky the Sibelius Gold Medal in 1956, Sibelius was “appalled”. (It is further said that Stravinsky later sold the medal for charity!).

Stravinsky once said that Sibelius “can’t do much”, to which the latter replied sarcastically, “That, I believe, is the greatest compliment I have received in my entire life! Mr I.S. is always imitating someone. I like his ‘Oedipus’ best, in which he imitates Gluck. Musical talent is not something you learn in school with the rod. In that sense, Mr S(travinsky) is certainly almost at the top of his class. And I am almost at the bottom…” ( Jean Sibelius, Tomi Mäkelä, Boydell Press, 2011, p.248)

Despite their differences, Sibelius and Stravinsky probably bore each other a great deal of grudging respect. Both were artists of immense intellectual capacity. Not just that, but artists who possessed artistic integrity and a clear sense of self and musical direction. They knew within themselves what they are capable of. They knew that the other is a great composer – they simply differed in their musical beliefs. Sibelius presented the world “pure cold water”, while Stravinsky gave it “cocktails of every hue and description” – but what cocktails!

In 1963, Stravinsky was awarded the Wihuri-Sibelius Prize, and perhaps felt compelled to do something in return. He arranged Sibelius’s Canzonetta, Op.62a (from Kuolema) for 4 horns, clarinet, bass clarinet, harp and bass. Stravinsky had earlier visited Helsinki in 1961, and is quoted by his amanuensis Robert Craft as saying that he was fond of this Sibelius work – “The first half of it, anyway.  I like that kind of northern Italianate melodism —Tchaikovsky had it too — which was a part, and an attractive part, of St. Petersburg culture.”

Whatever else he was fond or not fond of in Sibelius, we today are left with this indelible image of Stravinsky laying a bouquet of flowers on the grave of Sibelius, in 1961. A master greets a master in a different rite of spring.

Stravinsky at Sibelius Grave

 

This story was also published on the
Jean Sibelius – Dust of Hue Facebook Page in a slightly shorter version.

Lahti Sibelius Festival 2013 Online Brochure

Cover of the Sibelius Festival 2013 Brochure
Cover of the Sibelius Festival 2013 Brochure

You can now have a look at the full brochure for the Lahti Sibelius Festival 2013, from the Festival webpage.

The direct link to the interactive brochure is at

http://multimagazine.fi/index.php?id=Sibelius-festivaaliesite.

And do have a look! It loads swiftly, looks beautiful and even has sounds for page turns.

Click for larger version
Click for larger version

The piano and chamber programme has also been revealed (see page 10 on the brochure). And oh my, what a rare treat. On 7th September, at the Kalevi Aho Hall in Lahti’s Music Institute, pianists Folke Gräsbeck and Peter Lönnqvist will be playing a 4-hand arrangement of Sibelius’s Symphony No.3, as well as excerpts from the theatre music for Jedermann and Scaramouche.

In addition to this, a tribute to Mrs Sibelius, in the form of the Adagio “Rakkaalle Ainolle” – To My Beloved Aino.

I shall regret having to miss the Symphony, a chance to hear Sibelius’s “most unfortunate child” in a version for piano.

For the Sunday programme on 8th September, “Sibelius on a Sunday Morning”, mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi will join the same pianists (with Lönnqvist also playing the harmonium) as well as violinist Jaakko Kuusisto and cellist Sanna Palas-Lassila in a programme of songs.

In all, a very fascinating programme for this year centred on the theme of theatre. At this moment, this Sibelius Nutcase still can’t afford to go this year. Ah well, life’s like that.

Sibelius Festival 2013 Brochure 3

Full Brochure:

http://multimagazine.fi/index.php?id=Sibelius-festivaaliesite

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.’

The Lahti Sibelius Festival 2013

Lahti Sibelius Festival 2013

“Legends, a Tempest and an Oriental Feast at the Sibelius Festival”

So goes the webpage of the 14th International Sibelius Festival of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which will run from 5 – 8 September 2013, at the Sibelius Hall in Lahti, Finland.

Without further ado, here is the programme:

Thursday, 5 September
Musik zu einer Scène
Pelléas et Mélisande, concert suite
Scène de Ballet
King Christian II, concert suite
Cortège

Friday, 6 September
Kuolema (Death), original score
The Tempest, original score

Saturday, 7 September
Karelia Overture
Wedding March from Die Sprache der Vögel (The Language of the Birds)
Belshazzar’s Feast, concert suite
Lemminkäinen Suite

The chamber/ensemble programme for Saturday and Sunday are not yet confirmed. The above info comes courtesy of Andrew Barnett of the United Kingdom Sibelius Society, authority 100% certified.

It is a very very colourful programme, featuring Sibelius from almost every known angle. Regrettably, I probably will not be able to attend this year. Limited finances is cause, period.

What shall I most miss? Without doubt, it will be the complete score of The Tempest, which contain some truly wonderful music. Music that is pleasantly sylvan, pastoral elegance, as well as fearsome orchestral storms and some of Sibelius’ advanced sounds. Among these, I am most emotionally attached to the absolute final piece in the Tempest music, the Ossia – Epilogue.  As I have written before in my post called Sibelius’ Farewell – Thoughts on Sibelius’ Silence and Dilemma, Prospero’s Art, and Shakespeare’s Final Play – at 1 minute, 20 seconds long, its resonant nostalgia is utterly heartbreaking, and breathtakingly brief.

If you don’t already own this (note that it is NOT part of The Tempest SUITES) in one form or another, allow me to show you this old YouTube contribution of mine:

 

For these 80 seconds of melancholia alone would I go for this year’s festival.

Please visit http://www.sinfonialahti.fi/sibelius/en_GB/sibelius for information on ticketing for the Lahti Sibelius Festival and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

 

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.’

Programme
– 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)

Date/Time
Thursday 21st February 2013 at 8.30 p.m. 

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

Tickets
£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

Yours and My Sibelius – an exhibition at the Sibelius Museum

As some of you might have noticed, I run a particular board on Pinterest. Amidst the visual feastful of amazing food, fashion and nature’s scenery, I think mine is quite possibly the platform’s only Jean Sibelius board.

I try not to just pin ANY image of Sibelius, as that would probably result in a whole hoard of black-and-white photos of the man, looking meditative or slightly uncomfortable and invariably either heavily moustached or bald of head. I try to pin pictures of him in colour, in particular new paintings of the composer. This, I think, makes the pins much more unique, my finds much more interesting. But more importantly, new depictions of Sibelius represent a continuing tradition, each artist depicting his or her perspective on the composer, and each one becoming a part of his musical legacy.

Recent paintings of Sibelius are surprisingly forthcoming – every now and then, I’d find a new one, such as this very aristocratic take by Tim Binger, this evocatively indirect depiction of “Sibelius Amongst the Saplings” (2011) by Billy Childish or this 2009 portrait (based on the famous photo) of the young Sibelius by Lorena Bowser, that is closely related to this blog. Follow me on Pinterest as I continue to find them.

Back in December 2012, much to my surprise I received an email from none other than the Sibelius Museum in Turku, Finland.  It came from their educationalist, Ms Toropainen, and she said that she’d found my blog and Pinterest board and asked if it would be ok if they could feature some of the material in an upcoming little exhibition at the museum.

My only regret is that I cannot be in Turku! I tried to plan it in my September 2012 trip to Finland, but alas, could not fit it in my schedule. So, oddly enough, this blog of mine has now gone there in my place.

Yours and My Sibelius – an exhibition at the Sibelius Museum (15 Jan - 30 Apr 2013)

“YOUR AND MY SIBELIUS” – the exhibition opened on 15 January 2013 and will run until 30th April. The intention of the exhibition is to showcase the composer  in a different dimension(s). Not specifically through the man or his music, but through a “variety of phenomena to which Sibelius has been the source of inspiration, [such as] in photographs, drawings, texts and other objects.”

The museum had decided to use this blog, Dust of Hue, in one of the showcases. They are picking out some text and pictures to be put in a slideshow, I am told. It is a small contribution I make, but a huge honour.

In addition, the pupils of Grade 6E of Puolala School (Puolalan Koulu) in Turku – the sponsor class of the Sibelius Museum – have contributed drawings on the topic “Your and my Sibelius”.

Pupils of Grade 6E of Puolala School (Puolalan Koulu) in Turku – the sponsor class of the Sibelius Museum – have contributed drawings on the topic “Your and my Sibelius”.
All pictures courtesy of the Sibelius Museum.

The drawings are a delightful mix of portraits (in varying levels of severity), musical instruments and symbols, everyday objects (presumably Sibelius-branded merchandise), and of course, The Moustache.

But my favourite one, winner by a far, far margin, is this subtle little piece:

Portrait of Sibelius by a pupil of Grade 6E of Puolala School, Turku, Finland

The austerity of the work, the singular purpose of the artist’s line, the organic manner in which the face is built, the rock-like monumental-ness, the perfectly Sibelian stern expression – I’m sure Sibelius himself would’ve smiled at it and Aino would probably have it framed. :)

Sibelius, 1939

“YOUR AND MY SIBELIUS” – An Exhibition
15 Jan – 30 Apr 2013

The Sibelius Museum is located at:
Biskopsgatan 17, FIN-20500 Åbo, Turku, Finland (Google+/Map)
Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday 11-16, Wednesdays also 18-20
Closed on Mondays.

A Beautiful Silence, this Silence of Järvenpää

The grave of Jean Sibelius is cold. It is monumental and simple, a great bronze square whose expanse bears nothing except his name and Aino’s. It exudes the grandeur of a hewn rock, as if nature’s forces had sculpted it, shaped it to represent the final resting place of one of her greatest musical avatars.

Yellow twigs, needles and leaves gently litter the bronze skin, now green with age. It lies amongst the trees, the centrepiece in a painting of quiescence. As I gently sweep my hand over the metal, it is the stark cold that I remember most. A beautiful cold, a metallic intensity, radiating quiet. This is the closest I will ever be to the master.

Four days before I flew from Singapore, I had begun a terrible descent into depression. I felt an immense pressure over me, the huge weight of some 15 years of championing Sibelius on my head. The anticipation was numbing. I could not sleep well. My family, whom I could not bring to Finland, had instead flown to Australia for a holiday. The loneliness of my house was deeply alienating, staggeringly heavy. Opening the door to emptiness was heart-breaking. It was unbearably silent.

Shouldn’t I have been happy? I felt as if I was going to change – as if I was going to die from reality and visit a longed-for place which, as if it was heaven, something that I only dreamed about. That in doing so, I would be transformed forever. It was an awe-ful feeling. Or maybe, it was because I wasn’t prepared for this journey that I wanted so much – I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how much to expect. I felt and knew this was something very big – and of course it is – but it didn’t seem right to feel I should loudly celebrate or even be excited about it. It was a strange uneasiness.

When the day came, my heart was heavy, my skin almost feverish with anticipation. The weight of it all continued to drown me in terrible emotions as I locked the door to my house and went on my way to the airport. The taxi ride and the flight was my Night Ride and Sunrise – my flight departed near midnight. Freezing and lonely, with the in-flight entertainment system down in my section (Finnair kindly sent a notice the day before), I went to sleep after a late supper, wrapped in a Zara jacket I bought purposely for this trip.

Finland2012-027 dawn

Perhaps the lack of the TV screen was a blessing. I woke up some hours later at 4am, and as we flew northwestwards towards the lands of the midnight sun, the sun chased the plane. It rose for three whole hours -the dawn-touched horizon speared with magical colours from crimson to vermillion to cobalt.

Finland2012-33 Vantaa
Dawn at Vantaa Airport, Helsinki

I arrived at the same time as the dawn. Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport was cool, tranquil and in blues and whites, like the Finnish flag. The first thing that struck me was the absence of a crowd. Spaces were empty, open, quiet and untouched by the chaos and bluster that is typical of where I come from. It was a complete breath of fresh air. I felt free. I sat down at a small empty cafe in the airport and had a Finnish sandwich and coffee.

Finland2012-002 Station I felt the usual lightness of arriving in a new land. After I located the Finnair Bus to the city, loaded up and sat down, I realized all the stress was gone. Everything was new, everything not yet experienced. And yet, 20 years of listening to Sibelius – and months spent perusing tourist guides to Finland – made everything feel faintly familiar. I know this realm. I smiled to myself as I spotted Helsinki Cathedral, the modern lines of the Finlandia Hall across the road, the stone guardians of the Helsinki Central Railway Station,or the vertical STOCKMANN sign of the famous department store.

I’ve spent many years asking myself what makes Sibelius Finnish? But as a Sibelius nutcase in Helsinki, my automatic sense was to ask myself – what is so Sibelian about Helsinki? There is a certain old-time grace, which you might sense in the buildings. The streets have an unspoken neatness. Helsinki is clearly a modern city, people walking among buildings, trams and cars following its logical streets. She has a certain regal elegance, an unassuming nobility – it speaks for itself without having to make a loud noise. Things seem to just work without asking, things seem to be just in the right place. I was told my luggage case was too big to be kept at the bus ticket office, but perhaps I could try the cobbler just down the corridor. “I think they can take it.” And sure enough, they did. As a first-time visitor, I am not disappointed. Helsinki is full of little touches of graceful purpose and artistic surprise – flowers on a post, stark modernist architecture sitting amidst tradition, like a bronze square in a forest.

It was noon. I decided I had to do something Sibelian on my first day in Finland, so I took a walk to the Sibelius Monument. The sun was shining bright, and remarkably warm. Approaching from a distance, I discovered the monument wasn’t far from the main road. It was as if it was calling me. Or perhaps it was just the buzz of the throng of tourists around it. The road was filled with their coaches.

The Sibelius Monument in Helsinki
The Sibelius Monument in Helsinki

Many Finns are proud of Helsinki’s 24-ton monument to their greatest composer. But someone forgot to explain to the tourists why. Many tourist guides, books and the like, mark the Sibelius Monument as a must-see, citing its modernity and artistry. But you can’t explain Sibelius in two paragraphs, so the result is that the monument sees a lot of touristy galavanting around it, not just taking photos but hollering into the echoing pipes, rubbing the nose of the bust and general tomfoolery. It was noisy and it was rude, but I wasn’t surprised and I can’t blame them, but neither was I impressed. All I wanted was for someone to help me take a photo.

Two different men with DSLRs failed to take nice shots of me. I approached a Japanese group, and practised my rusty Japanese a bit with a lady. She apologetically said her husband is a better photographer but took the shot anyway, and it was not bad at all. Arigatou gozaimashita!

Finland2012-005 Sibelius MonumentFinally, I met Iker – an amiable young man from Pamplona, the historical capital city of Navarre, in Spain. We chatted for some time, and I explained to him the purpose of my trip. He showed interest instead of the usual confoundment when I spoke about Sibelius – what a relief. We helped each other take photos, and agreed to find one another online. We parted as my bus journey neared. It was a good meeting.

Usually when I have to explain to people about my favourite composer, the response is a polite unfamiliarity. It’s difficult to put it in words. But during this trip, I expected to and did meet people, fellow Sibelians and nutcases, for whom no words are necessary to explain.

We know. We know why he sounds like that. We know what he “means”. We know why he stopped after the Seventh. We know what is the dust of hue. We don’t have to explain. I suppose it is the same for many composers and their fans. But for Sibelius, the group of people on this Earth who share the understanding of his musical idiom is small but dedicated. We often find ourselves in spot, a little frustrated that it’s not possible to explain Sibelius to those who haven’t heard. We may even feel a little sympathy (for them and often for ourselves).

Finland2012-006 Sibeliustalo sign

It is especially wonderful then, to step into the quiet dining hall of my hotel in Lahti in the morning, and spot an elderly British couple already there. We would introduce ourselves and sit together to have toast, karjalanpiiraka, sausages, juice and talk Sibelius within 15 minutes of seeing each other for the first time. It feels as if we knew each other from symphonies past. Did humanity never notice the binding power of the arts?

My new friends, esteemed members of the United Kingdom Sibelius Society (UKSS), are best summed up in one word: jolly. Joining the group of seven (with one Australian), we made the journey to Ainola on the morning of September 6th, 2012. They do this every year, the society, but it was to be my first trip to Ainola, which is located in Järvenpää, 70 km south of Lahti.

Finland2012-010 Lahti

I was happy, obviously, to be finally on the way. And a little tense. The hour-long train journey from Lahti to Järvenpää was pleasantly full of sunlight, chatter with new friends, laughter and Sibelius. I sat opposite the magnificent and very funny John J. Davis, who looks exactly like Sibelius, but would otherwise be happy to be called King Kristian II (you can see his very Sibelian hairstyle in the photo above).

Finland2012-012 Janne flags
In the city of Järvenpää, flags bearing the symbol of a hat and walking stick are everywhere. They are simply called “Janne”, after Jean.

From Järvenpää, we take a 2.4 km walk to Ainola. Amidst fields and trees and lakes, the sky threatened to rain and indeed for a while, in the middle of the walk, it did. I was a little worried. But it was not to last. Walking through the carpark at Ainola which I’d seen on Google Streetview, the rain simply stopped. The sky shifted, painted itself blue and the sun came out. Looking at the nature around me, I felt welcome and privileged.

The group headed to the Café Aulis first, which also acts as the ticketing booth. I could sit here everyday. The veranda looks out into a simple but resplendently sunlit garden. The interior was warm and inviting – pillows and chairs, tables with autumn leaf decor, cakes, pies, coffee and Sibelius. While I struggled to absorb as much as the cafe’s ambience as possible, the rest had already sat down with their cakes and coffees.

Finland2012-015 JanneleivosI like cakes, but I don’t usually have them. But this morning, I did not feel like having a healthy sandwich. I saw a muffin with a chocolate treble clef, named “janneleivos” and ordered one. As I put it on the table, Janet of the UKSS point out that this was Sibelius’ favourite muffin that Aino often made for him. I was more than a little quietly delighted. And Aino was at the cafe in more ways than one. Her personal embroidery lay in a small exhibition at the entrace. They were woven of home. A home of quiet, sunshine and a birthplace of music.

As I walked out of the Cafe back in to the sunshine, my shoes crunching in the gravel, I followed my companions as they turned right towards Ainola.

“It’s there, can you see it?” And suddenly, there it is, through the trees it appeared, a house. It must be one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, this house among the forests. All around it, morning light, sky-reaching trees and serenity. Every step I took along the gravel path carried something like a musical purpose. The tall tree trunks went by, each one revealing the house in greater and greater detail. We stopped by the house’s exterior for a while, our hearts filled with unspoken greetings. I looked and stared, trying to examine every single detail of roof, window and woodwork, before realizing my companions had gone on ahead. I hurried to catch up.

Finland2012-019 Ainola

Down again the gravel path, with the guardian trees watching, I see ahead my destination. I could not help but slow down. This point had been in my dreams for many years. It didn’t seem real, and I felt the lightheaded weight of surreality over me. I was kept on Earth only by a strange sadness, because I knew it was a grave I walked towards. Now, more than ever, every single step I put down held an immense weight of purpose. I stopped at the edge, where two stone walls parted and gave way to the grave. I took a deep breath, knowing that the next time I breathed, it would be a different me, one that had fulfilled a lifelong dream. There was a reverent hush around the grave. A stillness in the centre, like noteless bars in a music score, but surrounded by the rustle and whispers of nature.

Finland2012-30 Ainola

The grave, as I have described, is cold and beautifully so. Aino’s apple trees surround it, a wife’s quiet, living, lifelong support for her husband, still alive and growing fruit, even as her name lay inscribed in cursive in one corner of her husband’s grave.

I came to Ainola expecting to say a lot. I wanted to tell him things. I thought I would have a lot to share with my friends. Instead, the weight of emotions while I was there kept me quiet. No, it was not that I spent all my time there silent and emotional – in fact, I shared much cheer and wonder with my companions, who happily showed me everywhere around. We took photos in the back garden. While there, I was asked to listen – listen: if not for the faint hum and whoosh of cars on the nearby highway, the place would be completely silent.

Finland2012-026 Ainola

That silence, I think is what struck me the most. For the longest time since coming home, I could not express exactly what I wanted to say about this journey. It has been over four months since I returned home as I write this. Maybe like Sibelius, Ainola is a contrast. It is a place of silence and also a place of music. It is a home for the happy noises of family, and also a home for the quiet of rest and retirement. Sibelius demanded absolute silence when he was composing. He spun symphonies out of a certain cosmic nothing – though if you listened closely, you will realize something remarkable: that silence is filled with the chords of the universe.

In the very trees of Ainola, Sibelius’ search for a home came to an end. Within Ainola, his music reached its logical conclusion and his own journey as a composer ended. His symphonies soar in the concert halls, his home is all quiet. I found myself having nothing more to say, except to smile. My journey too, was done.

I knew that when I left Singapore, I wasn’t prepared for Ainola, spiritually. I did not know what to expect on a journey of such emotional weight, I could not know how to face my hero until I made the journey. And when I finally met Sibelius, and all the spirits in the sunlit forest, his birch trees, his wife Aino, his family, his favourite chair, his piano in the corner, the bed where he breathed his last, his hat and walking stick, his green fireplace; when I met his people, his land, his music, and when I laid my hand as close to him as possible at his home in Ainola – all he said to me was silence. And it is a beautiful silence, this Silence of Järvenpää.

Finland2012-26 Ainola

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.