Finland’s finest, Mr Jean Sibelius, is the focus of our classical attention this week. He is so well loved by the people of Finland, that they even celebrate his birthday each year, also known as the “Day of Finnish Music”. Let’s find out what made Sibelius into the legend that he is…

Morning to Night

Sibelius was a composer and violinist of the late Romantic period, tipping into the early-modern days too. He was raised in a very female-dominated environment after his father had died young, but it was his uncle who became his father figure and musical advisor, after he ignited his passion for music and gave him his first instrument – the violin!

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As well as showing a strong love for nature as a child, it was clear that little Sibelius loved playing this instrument. He formed trios and quartets with all the children in his family and the wider neighbourhood – he was certainly getting the practise in. He was even quoted saying:

“Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning to night.”

So, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that he wanted to become a virtuoso on this instrument; one of the finest violin players around. He gave it a good go (and was pretty good!), but eventually decided that composition was where his heart resided.

A National Hero

For the coming years, Sibelius would travel all over the world composing. From Finland to Vienna to Berlin to London, he could always be found travelling between cities creating magic with his music (there’s a blue plaque which can be found on his London dwelling today – 15 Gloucester Walk, Kensington!).

It’s widely regarded that some of his best works are his seven symphonies, which are all still performed regularly in Finland and all over Europe. The first of these symphonies was written at a time when the Finnish people were struggling under the Russian emperors attempts to restrict them as a nation. Sibelius’s patriotic feelings were only enhanced by this, and so he included some pretty obviously patriotic music within the programme for this symphony’s performance. Overnight, he became a national hero! Jean Sibelius was a symbol for national identity during a battle for independence.

Another famous piece is his violin concerto which is absolutely stunning. Have a listen below!

Sibelius composed a lot less in the later part of his life. In fact, for the last 30 years his decline was noticeable, and became known as the “silence of Järvenpää”, the town where he lived. There is some significant evidence out there that he attempted an eighth symphony, though he was an extremely self-critical man, which potentially got in his way. He was quoted saying:

“If I cannot write a better symphony than my seventh, then it shall be my last.”

We felt that Sibelius was an essential figure to be included in the RSL Classical Violin syllabus, and so you may find a piece of his in the Grade 7 books… You heard it here first.

If you enjoyed getting a little snippet of what’s to come in RSL Classical Violin then there’s plenty more where that came from! We’ve discussed a few other composers who may or may not be featured, such as Clean Bandit, Vivaldi and Black Violin