Aino Sibelius 1871 - 1969
Aino Sibelius (née Järnefelt) was the seventh child of General Alexander Järnefelt and his wife Elisabeth (née Clodt von Jürgensburg). Three of her brothers had significant careers in Finnish cultural life: Arvid became a writer, Eero became a painter and Armas became a composer and conductor. One of their friends was also the young writer Juhani Aho (Brofeldt). The Järnefelt home was far from harmonious. Aino’s father was a strict disciplinarian to whom expressions of feeling were unseemly. Her mother, on the other hand, was a firm supporter of the ideals of Finnish nationhood and the Finnish language. She found a close friend in the young Juhani Aho. A certain Tolstoyism gradually took hold in the minds of Elisabeth and Arvid. The ideological and ethical influence of this way of thinking also fashioned the young Aino’s world view in no small measure.
In winter 1889 Armas Järnefelt brought his fellow student Janne, Jean Sibelius, to the family home. At about the same time Juhani Aho’s affections shifted from Elisabeth Järnefelt to her daughter Aino. However, Juhani Aho then left on a journey to Paris. When Aino failed to reciprocate his feelings, he wrote the revealing novel Yksin “Alone”. Although Aino received and read a copy of the manuscript, it did not change her feelings for the author. She became engaged to Jean Sibelius and they were married in summer 1892. For all his sternness, her father gave his blessing to the union, even though his new son-in-law had no secure income at that time, nor indeed any foreseeable future of consequence.
Jean Sibelius’ work and the peace that this demanded became the be all and end all of Aino’s existence. She understood the magnitude of her husband’s musical ideas and the unrest that accompanies creative work. Her poetic and graceful character also encompassed a good measure of firmness of resolve, integrity and high ideals. "Write symphonies!" she encouraged her husband, even at times of financial distress.
A second calling of Aino Sibelius was the upbringing of her five daughters. She often cared for her children at the utter limits of her own endurance. In her ethical firmness she shunned all worldly vanity and fought passionately against it. It has been observed that her rules of good conduct resembled the etiquette of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. On a trip to Rome in 1923 she wrote in concern to her youngest daughters Margareta and Heidi: “Take care, dear children. I may be exhausted when I get home from this expedition but I know that your daddy needs me now.”
Another consuming interest and object of attention of Aino Sibelius at home was her garden. She delighted not only in its floral splendour, but also in its practical significance, for the family never went short of vegetables and her apples even won prizes at exhibitions.
Aino was both concerned and depressed at her husband’s overindulgence in alcohol, especially when it re-emerged after a nine year break and began to increase in a disturbing manner just when the composer should have been focusing on the process of shaping his fifth and sixth symphonies. One may only imagine her distress and anguish when, in the 1940s, she could only stand by and watch as her husband committed his manuscript to the hearth flames at Ainola. As she later recounted: “I could not bear to watch this horrific thing, and I left the room.”
After her husband’s death Aino Sibelius continued to live at Ainola for nearly all of her remaining days. For this reason many of the details of the house, the flowers and drapes, continue to bear the sustained impression of her gentle and organised touch.
Photograph: Aino Sibelius, c. 1891-1892, from Atelier Nyblin, Helsinki.
Painting: Eero Järnefelt’s portrait of his sister, 1906.