Sibelius’s daughters in the late 1940s. Left to right: Katarina Ilves, Eva Paloheimo, Heidi Blomstedt, Ruth Snellman and Margareta Jalas



Jean and Aino Sibelius had a total of six daughters: Eva, Ruth, Kirsti, Katarina, Margareta and Heidi. The third of them, Kirsti, died from typhus at the age of one-and-a-half.

Jean Sibelius’s profession had a profound effect on family life, the rhythm of which was largely arranged around his work. When ‘Pappa’ was composing, the house had to be silent. Paradoxically enough, this silence extended as far as the sisters’ own music practice. Because piano playing was not allowed to disturb their father’s work, the girls even went as far as practising in the cellar, wearing fur coats and their fingers blue with cold. The twelve-year-old Katarina wrote in her diary that she got up as early as necessary so that she could play at 10 o’clock, ‘because that was when Father and Mother went for a walk, whatever the weather’.

When the girls were young, they imagined Ainola as a sailing boat, sailing in isolation on the open sea, sailing towards the piano. Their father manned the sails and their mother was at the tiller. Around the boat nothing was certain: the family’s financial situation was often uncertain and, moreover, performances of their father’s music caused anxiety for the children as well, bad reviews being a source of misery for the entire family.

Whereas Jean Sibelius’s role in bringing up the children – on the rare occasions that his other activities and travels permitted him to get involved – had a uniquely personal slant, Aino’s approach was informal and practical. For instance her role in the girls’ early schooling was exceptionally important: they began their education under her guidance. Aino Sibelius was a strict teacher. The poet Eino Leino told of his astonishment, when visiting Ainola, at Aino Sibelius’s ‘ruthlessness’ when teaching them geography. After receiving private tuition from their mother, the girls became pupils first at a small private school in Tuusula and later at Helsingin Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu (the Helsinki Finnish Co-Educational School).

The second oldest of the daughters, Ruth, later recalled that the sisters’, indeed the entire family’s life centred to a large extent around the road visible from Ainola, which served as a meeting place for the young people. She also mentions that the children and young people of Tuusula often socialized at each other’s homes. ‘Everything bore the imprint of art, even if we were hardly able to recognize it at the time. It seemed self-evident. I loved the smell of paint and cigars – and I still do. This combination conjures up in my mind the image of a party at home.’

Whilst Aino devoted herself exclusively to her family, the lives of her daughters lent more in the direction of work and professional occupations. In the eyes of her sisters, Eva was resourceful and multi-talented. Even though she did not receive any professional training as such, she was able – alongside her duties in caring for the family – to work, for example for a design company in Helsinki. Ruth became an actress, thereby turning her childhood passion into a career. Katarina studied the piano in Stuttgart and later – after Ainola had become a museum – worked as one of the guides there. Margareta was the only one of the sisters to complete an academic degree, graduating with an M. Phil. and working for a long time as a clerk at the Sibelius Academy. Heidi studied design at the Ateneum in Helsinki and subsequently trained as a designer of ceramics.

Source: Taru Leppänen ‘Viiden tytön lapsuus Ainolassa’ (Ainola – Jean ja Aino Sibeliuksen koti, SKS 2004)