Jean and Aino Sibelius had a total of six daughters: Eva (Paloheimo, 1893-1978), Ruth (Snellman, 1894-1976), Kirsti (1898-1900), Katarina (Ilves, 1903-1984), Margareta (Jalas, 1908-1988) ja Heidi (Blomstedt, 1911-1982). Their third daughter, Kirsti, died from typhoid fever at the age of one-and-a-half.
Jean’s work had a significant impact on the daily life of the family and it determined the daily schedule. When ‘Pappa’ was composing, the house had to be silent. Paradoxically enough, this silence extended as far as to influence the daughters’ own music practice. Because playing the piano was not allowed to disturb their father’s work, the girls went as far as practicing in the cellar with fur coats while their fingers were turning blue with cold.
When the girls were young, they imagined Ainola as a sailing ship, sailing in isolation on the open sea, sailing towards the piano. Their father manned the sails and their mother steered the rudder. 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 more 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. A poet, Eino Leino, has mentioned being appalled by Aino Sibelius’s ‘ruthlessness’ when teaching her daughters geography, after his visit in Ainola. 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’, and indeed the entire family’s life, centered 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 youngsters of Tuusula often socialized at each other’s homes.
“Everything bore the imprint of art, even if we were hardly able to observe 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 also included work and 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.