Table Speech

Finland and Jean Sibelius

April 13, 2016

Mr. Kikuo Watanabe
Professor, Musashino Academia Musicae

 Today I will talk about Finland and its greatest composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Japanese people often associate Finland with Santa Claus, the Moomins and Nokia. For the Finns, Sibelius is probably the best-known figure. You find his statue everywhere and the Sibelius Park located in the heart of Helsinki will impress you with a huge monument of pipe organs

 My grandmother graduated from Helsinki Music Institute, which was renamed “Sibelius Academy” in 1939. “Ainola” meaning Aino’s House is a timber-built villa where Jean and his family resided over 50 years. The house, located 30 kilometers northward from Helsinki in a beautiful town Järvenpää, was named after Jean’s wife Aino and is now a museum open to the public.

 Finland is called “a country of forests and lakes.” You will be impressed by its “water-logged” landscape, as there are about 180,000 lakes formed by glacier melting. Lapland covers one-third of the total area of Finland and forests account for three-quarters of the country. Its capital Helsinki is at the southernmost point at 60 degrees north, making Finland one of the northernmost countries.

 Some scholars claim that the Finns appeared as early as 3,000 years ago. From around 1155, Finland became an integral part of the Swedish kingdom for 600 years. In 1809, Finland was then incorporated into the Russian Empire as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. Finland gained independence on December 6, 1917, and the country will celebrate its centenary anniversary next year.

 Sibelius composed many pieces of music based on a Finnish epic poetry Kalevala and other historical plays, of which a postlude entitled Awakening of Finland became immensely popular as a symbol of Finland’s struggle for independence. Sibelius revised it into a stand-alone piece entitled Finlandia and gained enormous popularity. Sibelius later added the lyrics written by a renowned Finnish poet V. A. Koskenniemi. His work came to be considered as the second national anthem.

 I often play the piano-version of Finlandia at the end of my recitals. While Sibelius is best-known for his seven symphonies, he also composed over 100 piano pieces that gained little recognition until quite recently. I think it is because his piano works are not as uplifting and gorgeous as works by Liszt or Chopin. Also, his works are relatively short so they are performed mainly at home or salons but rarely at concerts. As you listen to his piano pieces, you feel some national traits in his unique melody and chords that make a calm and somewhat melancholic atmosphere. You also feel enjoyment just like when you welcome the arrival of spring. I find his works soothing and comforting and hope you will also enjoy different types of his pieces.