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Aino around the time of her marriage (photo from c. 1891 / National Board of Antiquities Picture Archive)

Aino Sibelius (1871-1969)

Aino Sibelius was born on August 10th 1871 as the seventh child of Alexander and Elisabeth Järnefelt, née Clodt von Jürgensburg. Her family was an artistic noble family, from which three boys grew up to be famous artists: Arvid became a writer, Eero a painter, and Armas a composer and a conductor.  One of their friends was a writer Juhani Aho (Brofeldt). There were two very contradicting influences in Aino’s early life: her father was a strict parent who did not show emotion. Her mother, Elisabeth, was more liberal, and she also eagerly supported the Finnish culture and language. Juhani Aho also became her close friend. The ideas of Leo Tolstoi, such as the importance of altruism and simple lifestyle, were greatly valued by Elisabeth and her son Arvid. Its ideological and ethical influence also shaped Aino’s worldview.

In the winter of 1889, Armas Järnefelt brought home his fellow student Janne, who we know as Jean Sibelius. It was this day when Aino and Jean met each other for the very first time. Around the same time Juhani Aho’s feelings shifted from Elisabeth Järnefelt to her daughter Aino. When Aino did not respond to his feelings, he wrote a revealing novel called Yksin (Alone). Aino got it as a manuscript to read, but it did not affect her choice. She got engaged with Sibelius and they were married in summer 1892. Her strict father accepted his new son-in-law even though he did not at this time have any assurance of livelihood.

Sibelius’s work and work peace was everything to Aino. She understood the grandeur of his musical thoughts and the anxiety that was associated with composing. Aino’s poetic and delicate demeanor included strength and integrity and eminent idealism. “Write Symphonies!” She encouraged Sibelius in times of economic turmoil.

Raising five daughters was Aino’s second calling. She often cared for her children to the limits of her own endurance. In her strong ethicalness, she shunned the vanity of the world and fought passionately against it. It has been said that her rules of good behavior resembled the Winter Palace’s etiquette. On her trip to Rome in 1923, she wrote with concern to her youngest daughters Margareta and Heidi: “Be cautious now, dear children. Perhaps there are no limbs left when mother comes back from this getaway […] But I understand that father needs me now. ”

At home Aino enjoyed taking care of the garden. She was delighted with its beautiful flowering, but also the practical results: the vegetables provided food to the table and the apples were awarded at shows.

Sibelius’s alcohol use depressed and worried Aino, especially since after a nine-year break it began to threaten to grow right when the composer should have been focusing on the forging of the fifth and sixth symphony. One can only imagine her anguish when in the 1940s she had to follow how Sibelius burned his manuscripts in the fireplace of Ainola. She later said, “I had no strength to look at this horror, so I retired from the room.”

After the death of Jean Sibelius, Aino Sibelius lived the rest of her life in Ainola. In many details of Ainola, such as flowers and curtains, one can still easily see traces of her gentle and skillful handiwork.

Aino Sibelius in 1922 (Otava Picture Archive)