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Classical 101

Jean Sibelius Born on This Day in 1865

A painting of Jean Sibelius at the bar with Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Oskar Merikanto, and Robert Kajanus.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Finland's greatest composer.  Jean Sibelius was born December 8, 1865 and lived until 1957.  He has long been one of my favorite composers for his unique musical voice and vision, creating a wonderfully mysterious sense of the world of nature of the far northern landscapes of Finland.

Even though Sibelius's music is often grand outward-looking, such as in the popular tone-poem Findandia, there is often a more introspective and isolated sensibility.  Unlike Sibelius's Danish contemporary Carl Nielsen, whose music is generally more outgoing in its mood and expression, Sibelius's Nordic landscapes seem mostly devoid of human presence; the world of nature with a capital "N."  The observer is silent in the immense surroundings. 

Sibelius resisted the modern trends of the early 20th century as represented by Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, going his own way but still ultimately grounded in classical forms from the past.  Some saw him as a Romantic reactionary, but the 7 symphonies trace a fascinating line of development from the Tchaikovsky-inspired First Symphony of 1899 to the more austere and concise single movement Seventh from 1924.

Here is a fine story from NPR's Deceptive Cadence acknowledging the accomplishments (particularly the 7 symphonies) of this great composer:   Finland's Finest: The Seven Symphonies of Jean Sibelius