The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius has been everywhere this concert season, as December marks the 150th anniversary of his birth. Given the Seattle area's strong Nordic ties, there have been plenty of Sibelius tributes to choose from, including Philharmonia Northwest's season opener
, the Lake Union Civic Orchestra's February concert
, and the month-long extravaganza
at the Seattle Symphony, happening now at Benaroya Hall. (If you're a world traveler, check out this comprehensive international list
But before you go see the SSO's tribute, titled Luminous Landscapes
, you might want to brush up on your Finn facts. Below, we offer a few tidbits about the composer who's known for his groundbreaking symphonic writing.
1. He faced rejection.
Mozart may have been labeled a prodigy well before most of us could even hold a pen, but not all famous composers had it so easy. It took Sibelius a while to discover his passion: in his first years at Imperial Alexander University, he studied law before he quit to take up violin studies. Even then, things didn't come easily to him: after an unsuccessful audition at the Vienna Philharmonic, Sibelius finally admitted to himself that he'd never achieve his dream of becoming a violin virtuoso. "It was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late," he once wrote. Whoever said "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" must have had Sibelius in mind.
The Finnish landscape.
2. He loved nature.
The Finns experience such short winter days that they've learned how to take full advantage of their stunning surroundings in the few hours of daylight. Sibelius would spend hours scanning the skies for geese, looking out for spring blossoms, and reveling in the long summer days when they arrived. Given that Finland is home to the Northern Lights and stunning vistas year-round, it's hardly surprising to note that Sibelius found musical inspiration in his surroundings.
3. His music met mixed reception.
Many English composers, including Arnold Bax and Ralph Vaughan Williams, venerated Sibelius' music and paid tribute to it in their own compositions. In his region, Sibelius was always popular, often lauded as a genius. Americans grew to like him, too, when Eugene Ormany and Leopold Stokowski began to program his music in their symphony halls. But a handful of influential critics believed him to be reactionary and unoriginal. Washington Post critic Tim Page once famously said, "There are two things to be said straightaway about Sibelius. First, he is terribly uneven...Second, at his very best, he is often weird." Sibelius paid no mind to these comments, positive or negative. He once said, "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic."
Finnish currency pays tribute to Jean Sibelius.
4. In Finland, Sibelius can do no wrong.
The Finnish are extraordinarily proud to call Sibelius their own...so much so that his face has appeared on national currency and stamps, the national Flag Day is also known as the Day of Finnish Music and occurs each year on Sibelius's birthday, and...well, look at this list of concerts
honoring his 150th anniversary.
5. A health scare influenced his music.
Sibelius had his fair share of cocktails and cigars, and as a result, he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1907, at age 42. At the turn of the century, the mortality rate for those diagnosed with cancer was nearly 80 percent, but the Finnish composer beat the odds and survived a serious surgical operation. Sibelius claims the scare heavily influenced more than a few moments of musical brilliance, including his Fourth Symphony and the tone poem Luonnotar
A Sibelius memorial in Helsinki.
To hear the extraordinary music of Sibelius this month, visit the Seattle Symphony's website
for concert information, or check out a few of these tributes over the weekend:
Port Angeles Symphony: Symphony Concert No. 4: SIBELIUS’ VIOLIN CONCERTO
Hear the original, masterly, and exhilarating Violin Concerto of Sibelius, featuring violinist Monique Mead. The piece is performed alongside Haydn’s Symphony No. 102 and Elgar’s moving Enigma Variations. Everyone 16 and under is admitted free when accompanied by an adult.
Saturday, March 14 at 7:30pm, Port Angeles High School Auditorium
Vancouver Symphony: Tea & Trumpets: Sibelius at 150
Celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of great composer Jean Sibelius, with selections from many of his best-known works: Finlandia
, Karelia Suite, The Swan of Tuonela, and the Violin Concerto.
Thursday, March 12 at 2pm, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver BC
From Finland with Love: Songs of My Great Grandfather
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, two Finnish musicians, cellist Jussi Makkonen (YOO-see MAH-koh-nen
) and pianist Ruusamari Teppo (ROO-sah-mah-ree TEH-poh
), will perform an all-Sibelius concert. Teppo is a great-great-granddaughter of Sibelius.
Sunday, March 15 at 6pm, Brechemin Auditorium, UW campus, Seattle