Jean Sibelius 1865-1957

1865 On 8th December Johan Julius Christian (Jean) Sibelius is born in Hämeenlinna, southern Finland. Other notable figures born in the same year were the Dane Carl Nielsen and the Russian Alexander Glazunov. Gustav Mahler was five years old, Tchaikovsky was 25, Brahms was 32, and Verdi and Wagner were 52.

Jean Sibelius’s parents were Christian Gustaf Sibelius, the town physician of Hämeenlinna, and Maria Charlotta (née Borg), daughter of a priest from Pyhäjoki. Jean was the second of three children; the eldest was Linda (1863–1932) and the youngest was Christian (1869–1922). They spoke Swedish at home, but Jean took his school-leaving exam at the Finnish-speaking grammar school in Hämeenlinna.

1868 Sibelius’s father dies of typhoid.

1875 Earliest compositions, including Water Drops for violin and cello.

1885 Jean Sibelius passes his school-leaving exam and begins studies in law, but he drops out a year later in order to focus his attention solely on music.

1889 String quartet in A minor. First study trip to Berlin.

1890 Engagement to Aino Järnefelt. Study trip to Vienna.

1891 First sketches for Kullervo.

1892 Marriage to Aino Järnefelt.

1893 Première of tone poem En saga (first version). Birth of his first daughter, Eva. Karelia tableau music.

1894-95 Lemminkäinen Suite (‘Four Legends from the Kalevala’, Op. 22: Lemminkäinen and The Maidens of the Island, The Swan of Tuonela, Lemminkäinen in Tuonela, Lemminkäinen’s Return. Birth of his daughter Ruth.

1898 Birth of his daughter Kirsti (died in 1900).

1899 First Symphony. Press Celebrations Music.

1900 Sibelius finds a lifelong friend and supporter in Axel Carpelan. Carpelan proposes the name Finlandia for the finale to the Press Celebrations Music.

1901 Journey to Rapallo with his family, and from there to Rome and Prague, where he meets Antonín Dvořák. Meeting in Heidelberg with Richard Strauss, who notes in his diary: ‘Sibelius is the only Nordic composer with any depth.’

1902 Première of the Second Symphony. The cantata The Origin of Fire inaugurates the new Finnish National Theatre building. Tone poem En saga (revised version).

1903 First version of the Violin Concerto. Birth of his daughter Katarina.

1904 Move to Ainola in Järvenpää. ‘In Helsinki all the song died within me’, says Sibelius.

1905 Revised version of the Violin Concerto. Visit to Berlin as a conductor (Second Symphony). Visit to Great Britain.

1907 Première of the Third Symphony. Gustav Mahler visits Helsinki.

1908 Second journey to Great Britain. Work begins on the String Quartet ‘Voces intimae’, which is completed the following year in London. Birth of his daughter Margareta.

1909 Acclaim in London (En saga and Finlandia). Meeting with Debussy. Trip to the Koli region in eastern Finland with Eero Järnefelt: ‘One of the greatest experiences of my life.’

1910 Axel Carpelan succeeds in rescuing Sibelius from financial ruin.

1911 Première of the Fourth Symphony. Birth of his daughter Heidi.

1913 Luonnotar.

1914 Journey to the USA. Honorary doctorate from Yale University. The Oceanides.

1915 First version of the Fifth Symphony. Premièred at a gala concert to mark Sibelius’s 50th birthday.

1917 Finland gains independence. The symbolic significance of the music of Sibelius grows still further.

1918 Finnish Civil War. Red forces take control of Järvenpää. Sibelius and his family move temporarily to Helsinki.

1919 Song of the Earth, a cantata to mark the inauguration of Åbo Akademi university. Celebrations and meetings of artists. Final version of the Fifth Symphony.

1921 Visits as a composer-conductor to Great Britain and Norway.

1923 Première of the Sixth Symphony. Visits to Stockholm, Berlin and Rome. Aino Sibelius accompanies her husband on the journey.

1924 Seventh Symphony. Sibelius conducts its première in Stockholm.

1925 Journey to Italy. Music for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

1926 Symphonic poem Tapiola.

1931–33 Rumours concerning the Eighth Symphony.

1957 While out walking in September Sibelius sees a flock of cranes flying south and remarks: ‘Here they come, the birds of my youth!’ On 20th September he has a stroke and dies in the evening. At the same time Malcolm Sargent is conducting the Fifth Symphony in the Great Hall of Helsinki University.

1957 Funeral service for Sibelius at Helsinki Cathedral on 30th September. He is buried in the garden of Ainola.

Read more about Jean Sibelius’s life and music at www.sibelius.fi.