In Aino’s Garden

View of the house at Ainola from Aino's garden

View of the house at Ainola from Aino’s garden

Love is a strange thing.

—Jean Sibelius to Aino Sibelius, 1892
[Tawaststjerna v. 1, Loc 2314-2326]

For some time now, I’ve been wanting to tell a tale about our visit to Ainola, where the Sibeliuses lived from 1904 until the death of Jean (1957, age 91) and Aino (1969, age 98). I’ve been flummoxed, though, about where to start. The thing is, there isn’t a single, straight-line narrative to be had. The story of Ainola isn’t a one story, but many, and even perspectives on the same strand of story conflict and multiply without cease.

So which story should I tell? The one the eager young woman at the Helsinki TI office told us? We, dead weary and loaded down with bags of groceries, stopped in to get a map and to confirm the route. “I know something about this,” she said, with all the confidence such words imply. It turns out she didn’t know the best route to Ainola. She Googled to find it, but I stopped her. That, I’d already done. (The TI representatives were generally clueless on this point.) Her stories had nothing to do with Ainola, either. Rather, she expounded at considerable length about one of the Sibelius’s neighbors, the Finnish author Juhani Aho, with a focus neither on his considerable art nor that of his wife, Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, but upon his to-ing and fro-ing from the bed they shared to assignations with her sister.

We found our way on our own, in the end. Today, nearby houses impinge on the isolated woodland retreat Ainola once was, and a major roadway, under construction, disturbs the peace and severs Ainola from Jean Sibelius’s beloved Lake Tuusula. Even the lake view he cherished is gone, as the trees have grown too tall.

Just the same, upon entering its gate, before which Serge Koussevitzky once stood without venturing further, Ainola exudes a magic that’s almost impossible to describe. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 7034] The feeling is not of a museum, but of a home, animated by stories and memories palpable as one walks through. It’s not just the home of a “Great Man,” but of a family, and steeped in its time and place.

In the late 1890’s, artist-friends of the Sibeliuses began to collect along the shore of Lake Tuusula, the first of whom was Juhani Aho. Aho urged Jean Sibelius to join them, but Jean’s attempt to buy a property directly on the lake was foiled. Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s painting, Symposium, depicting a young Jean and artistic cohorts in drunken disarray, so scandalized the owner of the property that the owner refused to sell. [Ainola Guide, p. 6]

Aino Sibelius worried about the isolation of the property the family ultimately bought. She wrote to Saimi Järnefelt, her sister-in-law, “At first it seemed completely impossible for me even to think of such a lonely home, even the road is so far away.” [Ainola Guide, p. 6] Her worries weren’t unfounded. She felt that isolation particularly keenly when Jean Sibelius was abroad, as he often was. “I’m starting to understand why people say that it’s dull in the countryside,” she wrote to Jean. “This home is nothing without you.” [Ainola Guide, p. 13]

One solution was to find solace in her garden. “In the spring I also sow my sorrows; the plants rise from the soil, but my sorrows remain there.” [Ainola Guide, p. 13] She maintained an orchard with prize-winning apples [Ainola Guide, p. 18] and designed, among other things, Ainola’s sauna, where Jean Sibelius spent many a luxuriant hour. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 162]

The sauna at Ainola

The sauna at Ainola

While Aino harvested her plants, Jean not only composed music, but harvested the world around him, too. “I am harvesting sunshine and warmth,” he once wrote, “for use in the winter.” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 1973] As Sibelius biographer Erik Tawaststjerna observed, “Even by Nordic standards, Sibelius responded with exceptional intensity to the moods of nature and the changes in the seasons.” [Tawaststjerna v. 2, Loc 231] In a 1915 diary entry, Jean Sibelius wrote:

The swans are always in my thoughts and give life its lustre. It is curious that nothing in the whole world, be it art, literature or music, has anything like the same effect on me as these swans, cranes and wild geese. Their sound and their very being. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 1089]

Yet Jean Sibelius’s response to nature, as reflected in his music particularly, is often in danger of being overdetermined. Perhaps this image of him in his own natural state can serve as a corrective:

Juhani Aho and Sibelius must have presented a bizarre spectacle as they sat with their fishing rods in a rowing boat, Aho in a sou’wester, Sibelius in a fly-collar and white cuffs—he never appeared dressed in sports clothes or in an unpressed suit. [Tawaststjerna v. 2, Loc 2457]

Lake Tuusula (Photograph by J. Holford)

Lake Tuusula (Photograph by J. Holford)

Living with Jean Sibelius was no day at the beach. He was subject to great mood swings, he was perennially in debt, and he drank. The house was ruled to serve his creative needs, and Aino was enforcer-in-chief.

The five Sibelius children, all girls, were under strict instructions not to disturb their father when he was composing. They weren’t even allowed to call out to one another from room to room. “Father’s work also restricted our family life,” recalled Margareta. “All of us daughters studied music – the piano – and I also studied the violin and the viola, but we were never allowed to practise when papa was present.” Yet, as Katarina recalled, “When father was at home, he filled the whole house. There was somehow a very safe and pleasant atmosphere. When he was away, we children were more free, we could play and sing. But there was an emptiness. His personality radiated everywhere and he gave a tremendous feeling of security.”

For Jean Sibelius, composing was no straight-line process, and it came at considerable cost. He admired composer Erkki Melartin’s “methodical way of working. How is it possible to keep up that nulla dies sine linea [no day without a line]?” [Tawaststjerna v. 2, Loc 2447] But this wasn’t a path he could follow. He didn’t proceed from form, either, but from his musical ideas, and he let “their development in my spirit fashion the formal shape of the piece.” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 460]

During the eight-year period of his gargantuan struggle with the Fifth Symphony, he also sketched ideas for the Sixth, and “ideas for the two symphonies freely wander[ed] back and forth.” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 550] “It is,” Jean Sibelius wrote, “as if God the Father had thrown down mosaic pieces from the floor of the heavens and asked me to put them back as they were.” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 460-471]

Richard Strauss observed of Jean Sibelius’s music, “Seine Musik hat die Frische einer fast Erschöpfenden Erfindung” [rough translation: his music has a freshness of almost exhaustive invention]. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 654] Yet Jean Sibelius’s genius did not lie in ideas alone. He took those glittering bits of glass, discarded some, retained and revised others, and by dint of his powerful creative intelligence, composed works as inevitable as they are transcendent.

The cost was high, and not only for Jean. Not for the first time, whisky was his constant companion as he composed the Seventh Symphony, his last. “When Aino came downstairs in the morning she would find him sitting at the dining-room table, slumped over a score with the bottle within easy reach.” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 5468]

Aino Sibelius had had enough. As Jean sat drinking his morning coffee, she delivered him a letter and left the room without a word. As Tawaststjerna described it, her words were unflinching:

He was a useless weakling who took refuge from problems in alcohol. In case he imagined that, thanks to [alcohol], he would be able to compose new masterpieces, he was grievously mistaken; she would not expose herself again to the indignity of seeing him conduct in an inebriated condition as he had been in Gothenburg and she therefore refused to accompany him to Stockholm [for the Seventh’s premiere]. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 5468]

But she did not leave him.

The grave at Ainola

The grave at Ainola

I don’t subscribe to the “Great Man” theory of history—for one, it leaves a good half of the population out of contention for that prize (if prize it be). When I approached the grave at Ainola, what struck me was not the bold J-E-A-N  S-I-B-E-L-I-U-S striding across the stone, but the cursive writing in its lower right corner. So in death, as it seemed to have been in life.

As I think about Aino and Jean Sibelius, I must remind myself not to judge their relationship by my own standards and predilections. As Glenda Dawn Goss wrote, “[Aino’s] role was how she seems to have wanted to play it. . . . “ [Glenda Dawn Goss, Sibelius: A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland, Loc 1655]

No Hadynesque mate here, rolling her hair in the creator’s manuscripts. Aino knew, with that deep soul knowing, that Jean Sibelius would fulfill Uncle Pehr’s prediction—he would be something great for the fatherland. It was she who encouraged him to compose symphonies, she who managed the home so that he could create, she who pulled them back again and again from the brink of economic disaster with her gardening, her faithful copying of his scores, her home schooling of the children, and her unshakable convictions . . . [Goss, Loc 1659]

In one of his many letters to Aino over time, Jean wrote, with clear-eyed wit: “You have chosen to share this composer-fate with me, who has returned you a good deal of pain, but who has never loved any but you, so we are both in need of help.”[Tawaststjerna v. 2, Loc 1999-2009] Aino, in reflecting on their life together, wrote to Jean:

In my mind, I have thought about our early days, our whole marriage, and the love just grows and rolls on ever larger. A wonderful treasure for me are your compositions, from which I always find what I am seeking. It is as if I were sinking into something great and wonderful, in the way that people in the past submitted to religion, with body and soul. No one can imagine what your compositions mean to me. [Ainola Guide, p. 15]

It was she, who, despite their troubled finances, told him to write his symphonies, not the moneymaking potboilers he so loathed. It was she who kept the garden, not only for her own solace, but to assure the family had enough to eat. And it was she who sent Koussevitzy apples from her garden: for Koussevitzky, at first a doubter who had come as far as Ainola’s gate but had not entered, returned, this time as a champion of Jean Sibelius’s work. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 7029]

In preparing his biography of Jean Sibelius, Erik Tawaststjerna met with Aino Sibelius many times.

She would receive me in the library of their villa, Ainola, and all the associations and moods conjured up by the atmosphere of the room, the murmuring of the forest outside, the sight of pictures and paintings, would unleash a flood of memories . . . . She would recall her elation in the early 1890s on seeing the first sketch of a theme from Kullervo . . . or down to those very last September days in 1957 . . . where he would ask her to sit up with him a little longer . . . . [Tawaststjerna, v. 1, Loc 69-79]

Among Aino Sibelius’s memories in her final years was this: Jean Sibelius “always approached her with open arms.” [Tawaststjerna v. 2, Loc 1723]

The stories of Aino and Jean Sibelius may be complicated, but they are nonetheless stories of an abiding love—and it is to both of them, and to their children, that we must give thanks for the gift of Jean Sibelius’s music. I am grateful to them all, and to Finland and the Ainola Foundation, for offering us this ongoing entry into their lives and Jean Sibelius’s art.

In Aino's garden

In Aino’s garden



Photographs are not generally permitted for visitors to the house, but David Nice, in conjunction with preparing an article on Jean Sibelius for BBC Music Magazine, was able to obtain a wonderful collection of interior views of the home. David’s posts about his visit to Ainola may be found at the links indicated: Sibelius at Home; Sibelius at Home II: Swan Songs; Sibelius at Home III: Tributes; Sibelius at Home IV: Portraits; and Sibelius at Home V: Instruments.


While we were abroad, the fine young conductor David Bloom was concluding his master’s degree in conducting at Bard’s Conservatory of Music. I’ll always remember talking with my friend Barbara after we’d seen David conduct Contemporaneous at Merkin Hall.  At the time, she exclaimed, “I know I shouldn’t compare him with Koussevitzky. But I WILL compare him with Koussevitzky!” She went on to describe all the ways in which Bloom’s conducting reminded her of Koussevitzky’s, which she’d had the privilege to witness live many times. So what do you suppose Bloom conducted for his master’s degree recital? Sibelius: the first movement of the Second Symphony. (Here’s Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Second.)  I think Barbara’s on to something. (Watch David Bloom conduct here.)

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Listening List

Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 in E flat major (1919)

On Spotify (three versions: Neeme Järvi/Gothenburg; Vladimir Ashkenazy/Philharmonia; Colin Davis/Boston Symphony Orchestra)

On YouTube (Jukka-Pekka Saraste & Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra)

Early reviews of the Fifth Symphony in the United States ranged from dire (“[a]lthough by no means wanting in melody, the most obvious themes are distinctly without charm” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 4890]) to rhapsodic. As to the latter, and I think with prescience, Henry T. Parker wrote, in The Boston Transcript:

He belongs to no school, like all and sundry in Paris, like the camps of Strauss and of Schoenberg in Germany and Austria . . . no one has quite plausibly traced his antecedents . . . . Out of the failure of these cataloguing devices has come the custom to define Sibelius by Finland. This or that in his music, we are told, reflects Finnish air and lights, Finnish lakes and forests. It is an easy critical device . . . Yet as a man thinks and feels in himself by himself for himself, so shall he make music . . . The secret of creation, the mainspring thereof, is individuality. [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 4911-4921]

Succinct and useful program notes for the Fifth Symphony may be found here.  Sibelius’s Love of Nature, an excellent discussion on BBC Radio 3 (for as long as it remains available), may be found here. The discussion occurred in the context of Proms 35, which included performances of The Swan of Tuonela and the Fifth Symphony.

A Selection of Incidental Music and Songs

On Spotify here. (There is a slight delay before the first selection begins.)

Whether Sibelius thought any of the pieces on this Spotify playlist were potboilers or otherwise a distraction from his more serious work, I haven’t researched. I suspect it’s true for some of them, at least. What I do know is that one or the other of the members of our household, and often both, have enjoyed getting to know and listening to the works from which these selections have been chosen and hope you will, too. Each piece on the playlist is listed below with a link to additional information about the piece.

Nocturne and Elegie from the King Christian II Suite, Op. 27 (1898) 

On YouTube: Elegie

The Peacock from the Swanwhite Suite, Op. 54 (1908)

Rakastava (The Lover), Op. 14 (1911-12) (for strings and percussion) 

Nos. 2 (Prelude to Act I Scene 2, “Mélisande”) and 8 (Prelude to Act V Scene 2, “The Death of Mélisande”) from Pelleás et Mélisande, Op. 46, (1905) 

On YouTube: No. 8 (Esa-Pekka Salonen/LA Philharmonic)

Paavali’s Song, ‘Pakkanen puhurin poika,’ from Kuolema (Death) (1903) 

Dance Song (Tanssilaulu) from Jokamies (Everyman), Op. 83 (1916)

Var det en dröm? (Was it a dream?) from Five Songs, Op. 37 (1900-02) (text by Julius Wecksell)

Sibelius presented Var det en dröm to his favourite soprano, Ida Ekman, with the words, “Here you have my most beautiful song.” With thanks to Anneli for introducing us to this song.

On YouTube (Jamie Barton—first selection):


 Credits: Citations to Tawaststjerna are given as location numbers from the Kindle Edition of Erik Tawaststjerna’s Sibelius, Volume 1: 1865-1905, Sibelius, Volume 2: 1904-1914, and Sibelius, Volume 3: 1914-1957. Citations to “Ainola Guide” are to Ainola—The Home of Jean Sibelius Guide, published by Finland’s National Board of Antiquities and available at Ainola. All other quotations may be found at the links indicated in the text. The image of Gallen-Kallela’s Symposium may be found here; I photographed the image of Ilya Repin’s The Great Men of Finland from my copy of the Festival Program edition of the Bard Music Festival’s Sibelius and His World. As always on the blog, the remaining photographs, unless otherwise indicated, are mine.

Prufrock in Aino's garden (Photograph by J. Holford)

Prufrock on a path to Aino’s garden (Photograph by J. Holford)

34 thoughts on “In Aino’s Garden

  1. wanderer

    This is a tremendous resource thanks Sue – a wonderful and compelling first read and so much to return to, especially the ‘Gothenburg / conducting’ link. It must have taken ages – maybe even long nights with you slumped over a table in the morning.

    The garden looks so beautiful as you have captured it – lived in almost. Which is quite different from the quasi abandonment I felt there (years ago now) with a spooky sense of emptiness (almost coldness) as if the vacuum left by the disappearance of something great and strong refused to be filled, except for the sound of movement in the trees.

    I’ve lingered with the lupins by the (brutal) road, the lake with its roughened surface, and memories flood back. Thanks so much. Do we anticipate an ‘inside the house’ post?

    Jamie Barton does a fine job.

    1. Susan ScheidD Post author

      wanderer: How interesting about your own experience of the garden. I wonder whether it has been restored since you visited? During our visit, there was someone in the garden at all times with wheelbarrow, rake, and gloves, doing her best to keep it up to Aino’s standards, which I think were exceedingly high.

      There won’t be a post of inside the house. For one, photographs were not allowed. It was, in fact, quite a struggle to think what I could possibly add, as so many have written about visits to Ainola–notably David, whose posts on the subject introduced me to Ainola and directly inspired my visit. What I arrived at, which also comported strongly with my own experience of Ainola, was to write from the perspective of Aino and her garden. (In that regard, I’ve always recalled, with fondness, your photograph standing in the front doorway of Ainola. It’s your photograph that prompted the photograph of me standing on a pathway to Aino’s garden.)

      I’m glad you noted Jamie Barton. I was really pleased to find that video. I felt she sang this lovely song the best of any of the examples I could find.

      1. wanderer

        The photo reference was well noted with a big smile and that sense of something special shared.

        It certainly sounds like the garden is getting more attention than when we were there.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          wanderer: Oh, good. That was exactly my intention. I loved the idea of contributing to a (hopefully ever-widening circle) of “something special shared.”

  2. hilarymb

    Hi Sue – loved reading all of this – told me lots about many subjects I know little or nothing about … thoroughly enjoyed the post … cheers Hilary

  3. Mark Kerstetter

    I’ve been wanting to learn more about Sibelius for a long time, so this was a pleasure to read. It doesn’t surprise me that he had such a vital supporter. It’s hard to think of an artist doing anything substantial without support, and the more the better. And it’s important as well as humbling to know that great artists aren’t necessarily great human beings. Everyone is flawed; we all need someone–at least one–to help us.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark: I also knew very little about Jean Sibelius prior to my visit to Ainola–and nothing about his family. (I didn’t get hold of the Goss book and (3-volume) Tawaststjerna biography until after the visit.) There is so much of interest here, including, which I’ve barely touched on, the place and times in which he was composing. As for so many others in the early 20th century, political, cultural, and artistic foment abounded and informed the artistic movements taking place. In that regard, I’m sorry we didn’t have time to explore the whole of Lake Tuusula, which is dotted with places where artistic contemporaries also lived and worked.

      “Vital supporter” is the perfect phrase. Aino was certainly that, in every way. While I wish the Tawaststjerna biography had included more excerpts of letters from Aino’s side, it was rich with nuance about many, many aspects of living as an artist and with an artist in those times. Just the effect of the “business end” aspect was illuminating, to say the least. A “famous” story about Jean Sibelius relates to Valse Triste, his most played work. Had he received appropriate compensation, he would have made a fortune on that single piece. As it was, the contract so disfavored him (not his fault) that, among other things, his royalties worked out to 1.33% vs. the “normal royalty” of 15%, with inflation working further havoc (the Finnmark lost 93% of its value in the years after WW1).

      No obligation to respond on this, but I did wonder whether any among the musical selections appeals to you at all, or whether Victoria has ever had occasion to sing any Sibelius. I had absolutely no idea about his songs, and I have found some of them quite beautiful.

      PS: Meant to mention, I was reminded of Melville in thinking about Sibelius, and particularly that each stopped writing/composing long before he died. (For Sibelius, thirty years before.)

      1. Mark Kerstetter

        Oh yes they appeal to me! Your spotify playlist is lovely. ‘The Peacock’ (the whole ‘Swanwhite’ is fantastic), the ‘Rakastava’ selections, and the ‘Dance Song’ in particular. Victoria has never sung Sibelius. We didn’t know he did choral music. I always see snow when I hear Sibelius.

        Melville’s volcanic production slowed down after writing ‘The Confidence Man’, but he never stopped writing. After the public lost interest in his novels, he focused on poetry and wrote an opus called ‘Clarel’ running to about 1,000 pages. The last thing he wrote, unfinished at his death, was the novella ‘Billy Budd’, actually a long prose narrative that grew out of the “headnote” of one of the poems.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          Mark: I had no idea about Melville! Thank you for setting me straight. I am delighted you enjoyed the Spotify playlist. Swanwhite was lovely, I thought, and Rakastava is a favorite of mine . . . oh well, and all the songs I put on there. I will think of you as I listen now, an added pleasure!

            1. Susan Scheid Post author

              I’ve just been searching for them myself. There are a number of them, including Clarel. Billy Budd is available online free, too. Fascinating fellow, Melville.

  4. sophie sarin

    Dear Susan, how wonderful to read about my Scandinavian neighbour in your words! I love the whole thing but the comment which touched me most was Sibelius’ comment about God throwing mosaic pieces down from heaven for him to reassemble: that is so absolutely the creative process in my mind too!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Sophie: How lovely to “see” you here! I thought of you often while we were in Finland, and of the photos of you picking berries in the Swedish countryside. I love the mosaic comment, too, for just the reason you state. The diary entries I’ve been able to read on his creative process were fascinating, and this one captures the essence perhaps best of all.

  5. Brigitta “Britta” Huegel

    Dear Sue,
    thank you for your long post – I learned so much about the complicated life of the Sibelius couple. She must have been a very strong woman – to endure an alcoholic – though he had the gift of genius – is in my eyes very, very tough.
    “The cost was high, and not only for Jean.”, you wrote. No, the cost was high for her too – and I can see her watering her garden with silent tears. Good for the children that she was there. A love and a musical work that had a very high price.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: You state it well, and I think this too often is overlooked. It’s worth noting, I think, that he was by no means cavalier or unconcerned. He struggled hard and had some years free of it, even. The children seemed to have fared very well, for which Aino deserves, as you note, enormous credit. There is a nice capsule of information on the daughters here:

  6. angela

    What a lovely post, Sue – so much information relayed effortlessly. Thank you so much for taking us on your journey through Sibelius’s homestead and touches of their life. I must agree that the gravestone (though is this a metal piece?) is rather alarming – to have his name front and center while she remains almost an afterthought, a postscript, most humbling if we are to take her side. One wonders about loving an artists – the sacrifice in the name of ‘genius’. ~
    (p.s. the inside photos via DN blog are most interesting – that fireplace colour was rather loud!)

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      angela: So pleased you enjoyed the post. The grave is indeed bronze–your artist’s eye at work. (Though I’m not alone in using it, please do forgive my generic use of “stone”!) I found it interesting to learn that “the bronze gravestone plaque was designed by the architect Aulis Blomstedt, the husband of Jean Sibelius’ youngest daughter,” so, designed by someone with a close relationship to the family.

      Jean Sibelius requested the color of the fireplace specifically. He was synesthetic and related green to F major. In the 1940s, he burned many manuscripts, including, by some accounts, drafts of what would have become his eighth symphony. As Aino Sibelius tells the story, “In the 1940s there was a great auto da fé at Ainola. My husband collected a number of manuscripts in a laundry basket and burned them on the open fire in the dining room. Parts of the Karelia Suite were destroyed – I later saw remains of the pages which had been torn out – and many other things. I did not have the strength to be present and left the room. I therefore do not know what he threw on to the fire. But after this my husband became calmer and gradually lighter in mood.” [Tawaststjerna v. 3, Loc 7071-7082] Not long after the burning, he stopped composing, and lived on another thirty years.

  7. David N

    I’ve been waiting to get to the end for so long – my crappy old system keeps popping up script-stoppers and non-pic loading – but at each start my heart leapt so much to see the summer garden which emerges from what I saw in March – everything buried under deep snow, utterly beautiful in its own way, but this makes me want to go back. The lupins at the more rural station are an enticement, too.

    The composer’s helpmate – what a role, and how wise Aino seems to have been. I always felt especially sorry for the much-maligned Pauline Strauss, obviously a great soprano who was obliged, though not forced, to sacrifice a career to motherhood and husband-tending. As for Alma being told by Gustav ‘there isn’t room for two composers in this relationship, well, that’s just intolerable. You’d need to have a clear sense of your own place in the scheme of things to give everything up to the greater genius.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Ah, I am so pleased, that, notwithstanding the system glitches (so frustrating!), you have been able to get on over here. As I wrote to wanderer earlier, you are the one who first made me aware of Ainola with your beautiful posts, which I took with me on our travels (and, as you know, shared with our guide at Ainola). I had much in mind throughout that you’d visited in winter and hadn’t seen the garden in bloom, so a big mission for me was to bring the garden to you.

      Your two examples from other composer-spouse relationships are striking, and in the case of Mahler, appalling. It’s hard to get one’s mind around these relationships from a contemporary vantage point. I can’t imagine assuming the role taken on by any of these three women. Was Aino wise? I don’t know how to judge. But I think she chose freely, and she was no victim. She did, it does seem to me, have that “clear sense of [her] own place in the scheme of things” that you so justly note. As Glenda Dawn Goss put it, Aino had a “deep soul knowing” that Jean “would be something great for the fatherland.” Goss believed there was no doubt but that Aino inspired Jean “to turn serious attention to the Kalevala,” from which he drew so many fertile musical ideas. Jean, in turn, understood and communicated to Aino throughout their lives his deep appreciation for what she gave him, as well as his understanding of what it cost.

      1. David N

        It’s good to have perspectives ordered: that four-hour visit was one of the most meaningful things in my life, as was the trip to Bergman places on the island of Faro, where a small group of us were so uniquely privileged; so the post on the great man’s thoughts on immortality and death was very important to me.

        I dimly seem to remember some rather super home movies of Sibeius and Aino, must go back and check them up. A singer has recently put up rather randomly music-ed clips of Elgar feeding titbits to his ecstatic doggies: somehow the past becomes the present in such ordinary actions.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          David: I don’t think I’ll ever forget our visit to Ainola–or Finland, for that matter–in a way, it’s all of a piece. Along with three Sibelius biographies, I’ve devoured several novels by Finnish authors since our return, most notably Vinna’s North Star trilogy, which has been said to be, and I would agree, a Finnish War and Peace. There are some wonderful contemporary novels I’ve managed to find in English translation, too. Oksanen’s Purge, the first in a trilogy (recommended by Anneli), Rosa Liksom’s Compartment No. 6, and the ingenious The Human Part, by Kari Hotakainen. As for the home movies, I wonder if these are the ones: I feel ambivalent about them, that this family had to endure so much scrutiny. Perhaps they didn’t feel that way, but it’s hard for me not to feel for them. Why, I often think, can’t the music, which is so brilliant, be enough?

  8. wanderer

    Speaking of Elgar, there is the rather beautiful Ken Russell doco (early Russell, thankfully) with some stills if I remember correctly, although I certainly remember being quite moved by it, and it starts here.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      wanderer: Thankfully early Russell is right. We loved Russell’s Elgar film. As I recall it, the Delius was good too. The Debussy . . . not so much.

      1. David N

        And the Strauss….eeuch. But I think the Estate put the khybosh on that one. The full-blown Tchaikovsky and Mahler films make me laugh, and actually some of the the visual responses to stretches of music – not always the expected – are very striking.

  9. Friko

    What a brilliant conversation you have going on here, but then an excellent post like this one deserves full recognition. Everything has been said already, about the music, the life of the composer and his family, even the garden.

    It is all so very interesting and makes me want to explore for myself. But failing the means, your post has taken me to a (geographical) world wholly new to me and fleshed out much of it. Thank you.

    Your Finnish holiday appears to have meant a lot to you.

    (If you will allow me a platitude: ‘behind every great man . . . . .’

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko: FINALLY someone has noted the platitude, and would that it were not so often true, but rather the other way around! Finland (and Estonia) did seem to capture my imagination, as well as being captivating “on the ground.” There are, by the way, some really wonderful contemporary Finnish novelists (and poets); I only wish more were available in English. Of those that are, I recommend Sofi Oksanen’s Purge, and if you find it good, more is to come, as she’s working on a trilogy, the second of which is called, in English, When the Doves Disappeared. She’s Finnish, though the trilogy is about WWII (and post) Estonia. (Not available here quite yet, but might be by you.) I also enjoyed Kari Hotakainen’s The Human Part, not least for his mordant sense of humor. If you’re not yet feeling completely inundated by too much information, there’s a nice site dedicated to Finnish poets here:, and the August issue of Words Without Borders (also a wonderful discovery for me) focused on contemporary Finnish writing:

      1. David N

        I was just talking to my dear old friends the Bewleys, who hosted us for lunch today at the Reform Club. Both are frail now alas but as wry and sharp-witted as ever. Thomas, CBE, doing most of the talking – Dame Beulah now has less energy to do just as much, like she used to – pointed out that she supported his career for the first half of their working life, bringing up four children into the bargain, and then he actively encouraged her to take the limelight for the second half (he was very distinguished in psychiatry, she in women’s medicine – indeed, she was an absolute pioneer, hence the Damehood. Her memoirs, which she’s currently dictating to one of her daughters, should make fascinating reading. But what a great definition of a happy marriage in which both partners are equally fulfilled in their working lives and have given so much to humanity.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          David: A lovely example of an alternative approach to a creative partnership, and I suspect there must be many more of that ilk. In more recent years, I think there is much more possibility for a more equal partnership, at least I hope so! In thinking further on this, I was reminded of composer Shawn Jaeger (about to receive his Ph. D. in composing from Northwestern) and his wife, soprano Lucy Dhegrae, and how much they support one another, allowing each person’s career to flourish. Lembit Beecher and his fiancee, the fine cellist Karen Ouzounian, offer another example. The circumstances of the Sibeliuses’ lives and the time in which they lived made this kind of partnership harder to come by, of course. I don’t know whether Aino had aspirations for herself; our guide thought that she might have become a concert pianist. That’s a big dream to set aside, but I do believe whatever dream of her own she had, she chose her life willingly. She’ll always now be part of what I think about when I listen to Jean’s music. She’s in there, everywhere.

  10. shoreacres

    Honestly, I thought the most interesting tidbit here was the story of Sibelius burning his manuscripts. Most of what I know about him I’ve learned from you, so of course I can’t judge his motivations and know almost nothing of any external circumstances that might have led to such an extraordinary event. But, I know enough of life to be able to imagine perfectly well the relief that came from such a grand gesture. Clearly, it wasn’t the kind of clearing out people do before suicide or a sense of impending death. If anything, that thirty years that came after seems to suggest he was ready to just live for a while — albeit, in a different way. Pure speculation, of course, but I found that little detail truly compelling.

    I liked this, too: “…as if God the Father had thrown down mosaic pieces from the floor of the heavens and asked me to put them back as they were.” My first thought was, “Yes, but perhaps the genius lay in taking the kaleidoscopic view — not putting them back as they were, but seeing them in a new way. And in fact, you suggested that when you said, “He took those glittering bits of glass, discarded some, retained and revised others, and by dint of his powerful creative intelligence, composed works as inevitable as they are transcendent.”

    Just a lovely post. Now, on to London!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: You won’t be surprised to learn, I suspect, that there is an ongoing cottage industry of speculation on the “great silence” at Ainola. Ainola displayed a wonderful cartoon that I wish I’d thought to photograph and can’t find elsewhere. There are two frames. In each, as I recall it, Jean Sibelius is sitting in his library chair. In the first, he looks ragged, and there are seven V-shaped wrinkles in his brow (one for each symphony). In the second frame, he is sitting back, at ease, probably smoking a cigar, and his brow is absolutely smooth. From my own readings, I’d say a complex set of issues led to the auto-da-fé, including the increasingly loud voice of his own inner critic, the escalating expectations placed on him as Finland’s Great Man (the Goss book focuses, perhaps a bit too insistently, on this), the toll on his domestic life, and the increasing hegemony of musical high Modernism, of which he was not a part. All that said, I think your take, so in line with that wonderful cartoon, is likely pretty close to the mark: “he was ready to just live for a while.”

      I love that “mosaic” quotation, and your gloss on it as well. Since I wrote this post, I’ve been alerted to a wonderful documentary about his compositional process in writing the Fifth. I was already astounded by his capacity to revise effectively, particularly over a span of years, and this documentary, while a little heavy on the poetic landscape shots, was fascinating in this regard. The documentary is here: There’s a great quotation from his diary at about 12:15: “My way of working based on inspiration has no connection to conventional composing, so I cannot always see where I am going in this wilderness.” I love that.

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