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Jean Sibelius - Finland's Colorful Classical Composer

Updated on September 06, 2013

Jean Sibelius - Classical Composer and National Hero

Music is not what drew me to Finland's famous composer Jean Sibelius. It was his synesthesia. But in the end I became a big fan of this Finnish composer. I stumbled across his name on a list of famous people who were known synesthates. Intrigued I did some digging.

Synesthesia can be experienced in a variety of ways and Sibelius had what is known as colored-hearing. He described how he heard the sound of F major whenever he looked at his green fireplace. What a wonderful phenomena for a composer. He would also hear and see. So if he heard a violin playing a certain piece of music, he would see a corresponding color such as color of the sky at sunset in the summer. The color would be uniquely specific and tied to a particular sound. I can only imagine how profound an impact that would have had on his musical experience. It may account for the strong emotional pulse that permeates his compositions.

Words by and about Sibelius

Jean Sibelius - Critics and Synesthesia

"Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been erected to a critic."-Jean Sibelius

"Our conversation darted about like a hare in the undergrowth. Before we knew where we were, Sibelius was juggling colors and sounds like glass balls, making colors resound and sounds glow, so that A major became blue and C major red, F major green and D major yellow..." Karl Ekman about his friend composer Jean Sibelius

Composer Jean Sebelius reading notes
Composer Jean Sebelius reading notes

Sibelius' Symphony #2 Grows Out of a Trip to Italy

Hear the Mediterranean in his music

While much of the music composed by Sibelius has a heavier hand, his Symphony #2 is lighter and more optimistic. It grew in response to his visit to Italy and at times you can hear the Mediterranean influence in the rhythmic flow. Sibelius wrote of the experience to a friend:

"It is as though the Almighty had thrown the pieces of a mosaic down from the floor of heaven and told me to put them together."

I attended the Houston Symphony performance of this work and was quite taken by it. There is something in the way the music flows and even pauses that made me wonder how much his synesthesia played into its composition. It's as though there are moments left for the audience to breathe and experience the tone before moving on. It was a wonderful afternoon and solidified my appreciation for this composer.

Thirty Years of Silence

Many say Sibelius stopped writing music the last thirty years of his life. While it is true there are no major works, some small pieces survive from that time period. Still, it is sad that such a gifted composer shut down for so many years. One can only wonder what great musical adventures we would have today had he continued to work.

I am not a music major, a student of classical works, a person with any great musical knowledge but I know what I like, what I enjoy, what I want to share. My appreciation for Sibelius continues to grow and that is my reason for sharing Jean Sibelius with you. I hope you enjoy this page, take a few moments to experience the work of Finland's favorite son, and share what you know and think. Perhaps this will even open a new musical door.

Jean Sibelius Trivia - Fun Facts about Finland's Favorite Composer

  1. Sibelius never released his .Eighth Symphony. In 1945, he burned the manuscript, along with a basketful of personal papers.
  2. Sibelius' native tongue was actually Swedish,
  3. Sibelius studied law at the University of Helsinki before he realized his passion was music.
  4. The Finnish 100 mark bill featured Sibelius' image.
  5. Nationalist sentiments were aroused by his orchestral piece Finlandia (1899), considered his most famous work, which became an unofficial national anthem. This led to his becoming one of Finland's national hero.
  6. Sibelius stopped composing and conducting in 1929 and spent the rest of his life as a recluse.

Gain insight into the works of Jean Sibilius

Quick, what do you think of Sibelius?

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Share your stories, sightings, thoughts, rants, raves...

Shout Out For Jean Sibelius! - Surely you have something to say

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      Addy Bell 6 years ago

      I love that it was his synasthesia that got you interested in Sibelius. I don't know his work very well, but I should look into it.

    Jean Sibelius

    Jean Sibelius
    Jean Sibelius

    Sibelius in Print, Audio, and Video - Three ways to experience Sibelius!

    Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland
    Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland

    Comprehensive look at Finland's favorite composer and his music.

     
    Sibelius: Early Years/Maturity & Silence
    Sibelius: Early Years/Maturity & Silence

    Riveting and exellent two-part documentary includes narrative, old photos, musical exerpts and highlights of Finland. Special addition is a performance conducted by Sibelius late in life of the Andante Festivolate.

     
    Sibelius: Finlandia / Tone Poems
    Sibelius: Finlandia / Tone Poems

    "Philharmonia Orchestra under the seasoned baton of Finland's Paavo Berglund," this is an excellent collection and at a bargain price.

     

    Who is your favorite composer? - Sibelius or Beethoven. You Choose

    Who is the best composer?

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    The many moods of Jean Sibelius

    Click thumbnail to view full-size
    A smiling SibeliusSibelius as a somber young student in FinlandSibelius honored by Finland on a postage stamp
    A smiling Sibelius
    A smiling Sibelius
    Sibelius as a somber young student in Finland
    Sibelius as a somber young student in Finland
    Sibelius honored by Finland on a postage stamp
    Sibelius honored by Finland on a postage stamp

    The Musical Moods of Jean Sibelius

    What do you think? Is his music too gloomy or just right?

    It's too gloomy for me.

    It's too gloomy for me.

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      • JulietJohnson 6 years ago

        For this total unsophisticate... it's not for me. Yet I can see how his music speaks to millions. Since I believe I lived in Mozart's time (a most odd experience of deja vus in his apartment when I visited), it's hardly any wonder that I peak at the Classical era!!

      I love it! Can't wait to listen again.

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        • kimmanleyort 6 years ago

          I liked what I heard.

        Birthplace of Jean Sibelius

        Birthplace of Jean Sibelius
        Birthplace of Jean Sibelius

        The Famed Sibelius Monument

        A Sensory Explosion.

        Portion of the Sibelius Monument designed by Eila Hiltunen.

        Portion of the Sibelius Monument designed by Eila Hiltunen.
        Portion of the Sibelius Monument designed by Eila Hiltunen.

        SQUID WHO On SQUIDOO FEATURE - Many thanks for your support

        Thanks to Waxing-Lyrical at Squid Who on Squidoo for posting about this page on Sibelius. It's an honor to have a page selected. Because I'm fond of this subject, I'm particularly happy to have the page chosen.

        Image Note: All photos of Jean Sibelius used in the creation of this page are in the public domain and come from either Wikimedia Commmons or Creative Commons.

        Share your thoughts, comments and questions - I love to hear from my readers.

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          • profile image

            Geeve 5 years ago

            I cannot move on from this terrific lens without leaving my sprinkling of Angeldust also, Blessed again :)

          • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

            Lisa Marie Gabriel 5 years ago from United Kingdom

            Sprinkled with Angeldust today :)

          • profile image

            NYThroughTheLens 5 years ago

            This is great! I have been fascinated by synaesthesia for a long time but reading through this lens and how it relates to Sibelius was eye-opening. Lovely lens.

          • profile image

            anonymous 6 years ago

            So fascinating! I had never heard his name, but discovered I had heard of one of his compositions: Finlandia.

            Even more intriguing to me is why you were interested in synesthesia. The story behind the story.

            I'm loving reading your lenses. I better go check more of them out.

          • JulietJohnson profile image

            JulietJohnson 6 years ago

            It's a super lens. Blessings from the new Neighborhood Angel!

          • Richard-H profile image

            Richard 6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

            Returning to leave a special Valentine's Day blessing :)

          • Addy Bell profile image

            Addy Bell 6 years ago

            I was a music major, and I even have some synasthesia myself ... but I don't know much about Sibelius' music (except for Finlandia). I should check it out.

          • profile image

            kimmanleyort 6 years ago

            I enjoyed learning about Jean Sibelius, especially his synesthesia. How fascinating and what a gift!

          • Richard-H profile image

            Richard 6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

            As classical music isn't my forte, it was interesting and entertaining to learn more about Sibelius.

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