Loviisa was my sun and joy.
Hämeenlinna was my school town, Loviisa was freedom.
The young woman arrived at our table and exclaimed, “I love the summer.” It seemed to me as if she sang each sound as she spoke it. I thought how lucky we were to be in Finland in July, with its long sunlit days and temperate weather.
Then I recalled the airport security man’s sardonic smile: “To see the real Finland, you need to come in winter.” I recalled, too, the taxi driver who ruefully shook his head: “The summer is so short.” I thought back to our winter just past, how cold and colorless it had been with its never-ending white.
“Winters can be heavy,” the young woman said. “It’s really dark if there’s no snow.” That took me aback at first. “I look forward to the snow’s brightness,” she explained, and I remembered how snow in our patch of forest made the world shapely with patterns, how ice-blue shadows unfurled along the snow’s moonlit glow.
“Ah, but summer!” She told us about the path along a nearby ridge where she picked berries and about a small café tucked in a side street, its name, Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila, too long for us to remember, let alone to grasp. “In English, it’s something like Café of a Thousand Headaches.” She smiled at the thought.
Each evening, we ambled along Loviisa’s quiet lanes, through the old town to the park that opens out onto the Laivasilta Harbor. In the old town, wooden houses sat flush against the street, their windows bedecked in sunlit reflections and small treasures displayed on their sills. I was conscious, as we walked, that we saw only the public face of these homes. We knew nothing of the people who lived in them or how they spent their days.
I thought again of Loviisa’s wooden houses as I read, in Väinö Linna’s novel, about tenant-farmer Jussi Koskela setting about to build his family’s home.
. . . the building would be sixteen meters long and seven meters wide. . . . At one end would be the main room, at the other end the bake-room, and in between the hallway and another room. Thus the house conformed completely to the established pattern. The majority of Finnish people were housed, lived, and died in such homes. [Väinö Linna, Under the North Star, v.1, p. 11]
Did at least some of Loviisa’s houses conform to the same pattern? I suspect so, but it’s hard for me to know.
One wooden building, though not in Loviisa’s old town proper, once belonged to Sibelius’s father’s parents. It’s there that Sibelius’s family spent the childhood summers he remembered so fondly, and there where he composed much of Kullervo under the supportive auspices of his music-loving aunt. To his wife, Aino, he wrote: “Today, just now in fact, I have finished the first movement. I have drunk your health in my imagination and in reality drunk toasts with Aunt Evelina.” [Erik Tawaststjerna, Sibelius Vol 1: 1865-1905, Loc 2187]
Until you stand right next to Sibeliuksenkatu 10 and see the plaque, there’s nothing that marks the house. The old postcard in the town museum provides a clue, and of course the street name, Sibeliuksenkatu, provides another. The house is now either part of, or next door to, the offices of the Loviisan Sanomat, the town newspaper, though that wasn’t clear to me at the time and isn’t still.
As only makes sense, Loviisa seems to have absorbed the “Great Man” into its midst and continues about its business. A busy street runs in front of the house; the grand edifice of the Church of Loviisa stands across the street. A bust of Sibelius sits on a pedestal in a nearby park and stares stone-faced at the church. I wonder what Sibelius would have thought.
Busts and statues are odd structures; they often hide more than they reveal. I think of the statue of Lajos Kossuth I often see on my way to New York City’s Riverside Park. If Upper West Side denizens know him at all, it’s likely as a 19th century Hungarian reformer and not much else. Simon Winder, in his book Danubia, tells the story from a different slant. After the failure of the 1848 revolution, “Kossuth [became] a celebrated exile and global voice of liberalism, even though his decisions had provoked disaster at every turn.” [Simon Winder, Danubia, p. 336]
Not far from the bust of Sibelius is a memorial stone commemorating Finland’s Civil War. I didn’t see it, and I haven’t been able to discover what it says, but I suspect it’s likely to reflect the perspective of the victorious White Finns, rather than the defeated Reds.
It’s all part of a complicated story. In Linna’s fictional Pentti’s Corners, “a monument to freedom was unveiled . . . . erected in memory of the Whites murdered in the parish.” [Linna, v. 3, pp. 86-87] The Reds killed in the war got no such treatment.
“For a time,” wrote Glenda Dawn Goss, “it was a crime for the living to honor the fallen Reds.” [Glenda Dawn Goss, Sibelius: A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland, Loc 4813]
Even though officially the government reversed this ruling as early as 1918, in practice people feared to honor their dead; flowers left on graves were destroyed by nightfall; memorial stones were removed. [Goss, Loc 4813]
The somber bust of Sibelius in Loviisa, while perhaps not freighted with ghosts of that Civil War, hardly reflects the Sibelius who visited Loviisa as a child and young man.
On the plane to Helsinki, we sat next to a young woman who was born and raised in Rakvere, Estonia, where Arvo Pärt lived as a boy. She told us about a statue in his honor in Rakvere’s town square. The statue is no dour bust on a pedestal, but rather a boy with his bicycle. When Pärt was a boy, he bicycled to the square to hear concert broadcasts. As he listened, he circled a post to which the loudspeaker was attached. For Sibelius in Loviisa, I imagine a statue of him as a boy, as well. Perhaps depicting a scene like this: As Aunt Evelina “went in search of rare French stones down by the wharf . . . her nephew launched wooden boats that he had made, watching them sail out of sight.” [Tawaststjerna, v. 1, Loc 420]
But perhaps the best testament of all to Sibelius’s time in Loviisa and what it meant to him is the town itself. Daytimes, after two days of forays to points east (here and here), we wandered the streets of Loviisa, a local guidebook in hand. We had lunch at the Loviisan Kappeli, where a trio of Sibelius family members, including Jean, used to play, and we strolled the verdant grounds. Evenings, after two fine meals in the Café Restaurant Saltbodan, we decided, the next two nights, to sit at a picnic table facing the harbor, where we ate hamburgers and fries and drank white wine.
We never did get to the ridge where the young woman said we might find wild berries, but we did, on our very last day, find the “thousand headaches” café. The menu was in Finnish, but the bare-footed proprietress helped us through. “Sweet or salty?” she asked. We thought to share a sandwich, and I ordered mint tea. With the grace of a dancer, the proprietress leaned into a nearby garden border to pick fresh mint. As we ate, we eyed the cakes brought out to other tables—two sorts—and from “salty,” we went directly to “sweet.”
The cobble-stoned and flower-strewn courtyard where we sat was bounded on two sides by a wooden building (or perhaps more than one). The feeling was not of entering a public space, but of being welcomed into a private home. The café’s website is all in Finnish, so we have only the primitive Google translate to go by, but this phrase seems right enough: “Despite the name, we offer small joys.”
Kullervo, Op. 7, third movement (1892, Kullervo was composed largely in Loviisa)
David Nice, in responding to a previous post, noted that “The third movement of Kullervo sets the Finnish language so memorably – 5/4, a lot of it, which goes to show that Finnish is like Russian in being ideal for that lovely metre.”
Adagio in D Minor, JS 12 (1890, composed in Loviisa)
String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 4 (1890, composed in Loviisa)
Aunt Evelina “declared that at her death her nephew should inherit the house and land at Lovisa where he had composed her favorite piece, the slow movement of the B flat String Quartet. But this was not to be: the heirs sold the property as had happened three years earlier at Turku when his uncle Pehr had died. In neither case did the property remain within the Sibelius family, for property, like money, ran through their fingers. [Tawaststjerna, v. 1, 2945]
Bonus Track: Voces intimae, in D minor, Op. 56 (string quartet, 1909, composed largely in London)
To read a review of the Tempera Quartet CD containing the above three works, click here.
String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 4 (1890, composed in Loviisa)
Voces intimae, in D minor, Op. 56 (string quartet, 1909, composed largely in London)
Credits: The quotations may be found at the links indicated at the post. The image of the statue honoring Arvo Pärt may be found here. The remaining photographs, unless otherwise indicated, are mine.