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.’

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