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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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…

Finland2014-08-29satu

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.]

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