Daily life at Ainola revolved in all respects around the composing and other work of Jean Sibelius. Silence was an absolute necessity for this work, upon which Sibelius often focused at his writing desk. It was only at the finishing stages that he would take his manuscript to the piano.
Aino Sibelius took charge of everyday matters in the home, planning the meals and visits by guests. Her principal assistants were Aino Kari, a housemaid and nanny who remained with the Sibelius family for nearly 60 years, and Helmi Vainikainen, the cook.
Tending the garden both helped with the family finances and alleviated Aino’s peace of mind. In August 1920 Aino wrote to her mother: ‘Now the real work is at hand, and the day simply isn’t long enough. On top of everything we were astonished at how the mushrooms are springing up. I must hurry to the garden, but I go with trepidation, as it is early in the morning and I fear that Jack Frost has paid us a visit during the night. It would be such a calamity that I would be utterly at a loss. Everything would be ruined. I have so far cooked only one batch of peas, and have not yet even touched the beans.’
As well as the horse, Vilkku, there were domestic animals at Ainola. As well as garden produce a pig, a rooster and chickens provided a valuable supplement to Ainola’s provisions. Each new pig was always named Ottiilia.
The stableman and caretaker until the 1940s was Heikki ‘Hesa’ Sormunen, who had living accommodation in the cellar of the main house. After him Unto Siimes, who lived nearby, took care of the upkeep of Ainola for many years.
To reduce the family’s expenditure further, Aino also took it upon herself to educate their daughters. At precisely nine o’clock in the morning she would step solemnly into the nursery, which would then become a classroom. ‘Now I am no longer your mother, but your schoolmistress’, she would say. Under her guidance the Sibelius daughters studied through several years of education until they began school in Helsinki.
Piano practice was a source of problems at Ainola. When Katarina received permission to practice for a couple of hours at home, Jean Sibelius made a special note of this in his diary. Often the girls would go to a neighbour’s home to play, and Aino Sibelius played works for four hands with Maija Halonen. Juhani Aho’s wife Venny Soldan-Brofeldt is said to have taken pity on Aino’s hardship and given her translation and transcription work to do. It is not clear whether these assignments were a relief or an additional burden that the conscientious Aino felt she could not turn down.
Aino’s true goal in life was to ensure for her husband the best and most secure working conditions possible and to support him in every way. Jean Sibelius had assumed an almost aristocratic lifestyle: he needed many buckets of water to bathe and his wardrobe always had to be in tip-top condition. When he was in a good mood he enjoyed mixing the ingredients for the salad dressing.
Instead of there being open family altercations, the atmosphere about the home would be clouded at times of strain by Aino’s pessimism and her pained, stubborn silence. While travelling Jean Sibelius would sometimes forget the financial troubles at home or would encourage his wife from afar: ‘If they intimidate you with bills and such stuff, then throw them out. Tell them I’m not at home right now and will have none of their pettiness.’ Financial worries sometimes made Jean Sibelius feel that he had been caught like a fish in a net of middle class concerns.
In their declining years Aino and Jean Sibelius were pleased to receive visits from their children and grandchildren, and to entertain leading figures from the musical world at their home. Some old friends remained in regular contact through correspondence, and listening to the radio was an important pastime. Almost every day there was an opportunity to hear Sibelius’s music in various countries: ‘Right now they are playing his First Symphony in Switzerland. The radio reception isn’t always very good, but when a work is familiar I think you can ignore the interference and just focus on the music. Just now they are playing it so beautifully. You can only imagine how wonderful it feels to sit here at home in the midst of the forest and listen to the music that you hold most dear.’