I love Sibelius, in fact I probably listen to more of his incredibly visual music when I write than any other classical composer. I spent yesterday afternoon streaming a wonderful piece by ABC Classic FM about the great man in celebration of his 150th Anniversary of his birth and his later years at his house Ainola. If you aren’t familiar with his work he drew much of his inspiration from the Kalevala epic and the forests and lakes of Finland.
Apart from anecdotes like Churchill sending him cigars for his birthday and Hitler sending him a medal and personal note there was also other things that really resonated with me like the fact he worked on his 8th Symphony for thirty years and then tossed it into the fireplace because he felt it would diminish his earlier works, he just didn’t think it was good enough. That is…rough. As an artist I get it. I don’t think I know one writer who hasn’t wanted to burn it all at some point.
Sibelius’ music has a way of twisting into your heart and pulling roughly on the emotional strings. If you’re eyes don’t well once while you really sit there and listen then I would be very surprised (King Christian II Incidental Op.27 I. Nocturne gets me EVERY time). He’s a composer, yes, but he’s also a story teller. He paints images and stories in your mind with notes, so it didn’t surprise me to learn he used to associate different musical notes with colors. I’m sure if he had wanted to he could’ve written a song based on the colours used on any painting of his good friend, the great Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. They both loved the Kalevala and drew heavily from it, they understood the power of story telling.
When I was in Helsinki last I went to his beautiful monument (it actually features in Rise of the Firebird aswell) and could really SEE his music as I travelled through the country. To my mind he captured the heart and beauty and something inherently Finnish in his music. He never compromised his art, never wrote in a style because he thought it would be popular and make him money, was unflinching focused on the music his heart wanted to create. There’s a lesson for everyone there.
If you like classical, take the time. You won’t be disappointed.