Jean Sibelius

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sibelius, Jean


Born Dec. 8, 1865, in Hämeenlinna (Tavas-tehus); died Sept. 20, 1957, in Järvenpää, near Helsinki. Finnish composer.

A pupil of M. Wegelius in Helsinki, Sibelius completed his studies with A. Becker in Berlin and R. Fuchs and C. Goldmark in Vienna. His most important creations were his major orchestral works (seven symphonies and 14 symphonic poems, 1892–1929). Sibelius embodied the distinctive northern color of Finnish folk music in his works, using its characteristic harmonic and rhythmic turns. The poetic images of the national epic, the Kalevala, inspired the Kullervo Symphony and the symphonic poems, including the Lemminkäinen Suite (four poems, of which The Swan of Tuonela won Sibelius renown), Pohjola’s Daughter, and Tapiola. Many of Sibelius’ works are imbued with patriotism (the first and second symphonies, the symphonic poem Finlandia, and the choral works, including the heroic cantata Our Native Land). Impressionistic overtones are characteristic of his program music, which is pervaded by images of nature (the symphonic poems A Saga, Spring Song, Night Ride and Sunrise, The Dryads, The Oceanides, and Tapiola, as well as the Symphony No. 4).

The form of some of the works from Sibelius’ early and middle creative periods (the second, fourth, and fifth symphonies) deviates from the classical scheme. The music is noted for diverse moods, an orchestral palette rich in original sound images, a rhythm characterized by breaks, and a poignant, sharp harmonic language. In his later works Sibelius turned to classical clarity of form and simplicity of expressive means.

Among Sibelius’ most popular works are the concerto for violin and orchestra, which is distinguished by deep emotions and by originality in the musical embodiment of images; the lyric art songs “Black Roses,” “Driftwood,” and especially “The Tryst”; and music for dramatic performances, rearranged for concert performance, including “Valse Triste” and the orchestral suite from the music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Sibelius Week festival has been held in Finland in June since 1950.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.