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Jean Sibelius - Finland's Colorful Classical Composer

Updated on August 23, 2017

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...

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?

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.


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