A gouache of Christian the brother of Jean Sibelius painted by Eero Järnefeltin around 1890


Mozart kann sehr vieles sagen, aber er sagt nie zu viel Ferruccio Busoni


His First Serious Compositions


Karl Flodin related, his first meeting in the second half of the 1880s with the composer . It took place in the café Forsström that had recently opened in the centre of Helsinki: ‘His frail silhouette had something particularly fascinating. His direct nature always seemed to lead towards others with open arms, but one never knew whether if behind, it was self derision or not. His discourses overflowed with paradox and metaphors, without being able to distinguish or not what was serious from what was supposed to be on the surface only, like bubbles born from the strange caprices of his mind. His blond hair fell in disorder and in fine meshes on his eyebrows. His eyes fixed the distance, as though through a fog, but when his imagination was set into movement, his regard became deep and shone with a blue lustre. His ears were remarkable, big, well made to catch sound, the ears of a musician, like Beethoven perhaps had. […] Our conversation went in all directions, like a hare in the undergrowth. Without leaving us the time to know where we were Sibelius juggled with sounds and colours like the sparkling flashes of crystal balls, he made the colours resonate and the sounds sparkle, the way that A major becomes blue and C major red, F major green and D major yellow or something close to that, and the whole universe sang his melodies. […] I don’t remember the end of our meeting but the portrait of Jean Sibelius was encrusted in my spirit and from then I Was very attentive when his name was mentioned: his friends at the music institute were surprised by the audacity of his first compositions for chamber music. […] I then saw him before me as he appeared the first time, the first to plunge his head into a boiling ocean of ideas.’

In his third year at the Institute, Sibelius had a new violin professor: a Hungarian, Herman Csillag . The 27 September 1887, he announced to his Uncle Pehr the purchase of trios, quartets and a sextet of Beethoven, quartets of Onslow, a quintet of Mozart, and a melody for violin of Beriot, adding: ‘Our new professors at the Institute are extraordinary. They are all virtuosos. Csillag is a first class violinist and an excellent professor. For the moment he has only played once, yesterday in a trio of Schumann’s. […] His technique is very sure and he plays as clear as crystal. […] I always play Mendelssohn’s concerto and Rode’s etudes for him. I respect him very much. He is already old. Soon I will attack the romance in F major of Beethoven. My works are not bad at all. Imagine, Uncle! The cellist Hrimaly is going to make a tour of concerts across the country, and play the waltz I composed last summer for Kitti in these concerts. You can read in the programme Valse fantastique ----- Jean Sibelius. The concert hall will surely be full at Tavastehus, if only for me, because its clear that everyone will want to hear opus 1 of ‘my friend Janne Sibelius’. When they play my grand trio, it will be with tableaux, because otherwise it would remain completely incomprehensible. I write fugues for Martin Wegelius. The 14 December, he’ll play the quartet in G minor opus 14 of Robert Volkmann (1815-1883) with Csillag and two other artists.

He spent Christmas at Lahis with the Konows, and the 1 February 1888 related to his uncle different amusing incidents the happened during this visit: ‘As proof of their ignorance of music the morning of New Year’s Day Uncle Konow had a village violinist play polkas and dances under the windows of the bedrooms of the ladies who were still asleep, and everybody thought it was me playing “a concerto or something like that”. During a reception at the Blafields, I played a solo in such a way that the women from the village started to cry. Finally I gathered all the guests around the piano to sing Kopparlagare visan [The Song of Coppersmith, a well known folk song] with variations on the piano played by myself […]. In composition I started to write a quartet (two violins, viola and cello). I also studied aesthetics and practiced my German, […]. My ears are painful from the cold, and I have to stay inside until they are better, it’s very important for me. […] I have gone to a farm where they’re really looking after me. One morning I was in bed when a servant brought me a tray of wine and cakes. It was six thirty. At eight I was brought coffee, then again wine and cakes. Then breakfast with lots and lots of different plates. Then again cakes, then coffee in the middle of the morning with a profusion of new cakes and pastries. I sweated and ate, because people are vexed if you don’t eat. Finally lunch at midday, an epicurean chef d’oeuvre. I did not feel well and had to lay down, but the others continued. When we left everybody had stomach aches.’


 At the Institute the 27 March, ‘Jean’ played Schumann’s opus 41 N°1 in A minor in a string quartet, and accompanied at the piano by another student he played as soloist the last two movement of Viotti’s concerto N°22. Two other concerts followed that were in a way a kind of official consecration for him. The first took place in private the 9 April in the presence of the aged Topelius and the Italian cantatrice Alice Barbi (18862-1948), future friend and performer of Brahms. Jean had mentioned her to Uncle Pehr from 1” March: ‘Just recently, Martin Wegelius composed the music for Näcken och Prästen (The Spirit of the Waters and the Priest) by Gunnr Wenneberg, an operetta, and asked me to compose the piano, violin and cello accompaniment for certain of the songs sung by the Water Spirit. It will be presented very soon. Other than the choirs (one visible and the other invisible), there will be an orchestra composed on a first violin (myself), a second violin (Anne Tigerstedt), a cello (Kitti), a horn (Leander very capable) and a harp or a piano. […] Yesterday I finished the first movement of a cello concerto for Kitti. […] The director Wegelius said to me recently that I should go to visit him for a month next summer.’ The collaboration with Wegelius for Näcken och Prästen JS 138 and his invitation to spend a month in his summer house in Granholmen, in the Helsinki Archipelago, showed that Sibelius henceforth enjoyed a special status at the Institute. At the second concert the 31 May Jean played in a string quartet Haydn's quartet in E major, and played as soloist, accompanied by piano, in the first movement of a concerto in E minor by Rode. Sibelius (viola), Csillag and Anna Tigerstedt (violins) and KItti (cello) played a Theme and Variations in C minor for string quartet JS 195. The most detailed critic by the composer Ernst Fabritius (1842-1899), notably praised the ‘beautiful sound effects’. Flodin found the composer ‘more interesting’ than the violinist. Sibelius never mastered Beethoven’s or Brahms's concertos for violin, but because of his diligent practice, he always wrote in a very idiomatic fashion for this instrument, including his occasional pieces. He is said to have declared to Ekman: ‘From the age of fifteen, for ten years I practically played the violin everyday from morning to evening. […] The day when I finally accepted that I had commenced too late to become a virtuoso was a hard return to reality for me.’

The year 1888 saw the publication by Fazer of his first work: a Serenade (JS 167) for piano and vocal on verses by Runeberg in a collection called ‘Finland Sings’. The first words are Ren släct är lampen i min flickas kammar (The Light in the Room of my Loved One is Already Out), in which the poet imagines his beloved praying after having taken refuge in her protective bed (‘If a smile appears on her lips, if her cheeks blush slightly, it is because she dreams of me’). In 1888 a suite in E major for piano and violin in four movements followed (JS 188), only played in public and published in 1994. Dahlström attributes two other works to 1890-1891: a romance in H minor (future opus 2a) that Sibelius and Wegelius played together for Topelius, and a Perpetuum mobile (future opus 2b) considered by Tawastsjerna as one of the most curious creations of the young Sibelius. The Romance and the Perpetuum mobile were revised in October 1911, some months after the completion of his Fourth Symphony, the second taking Epilogue as title. Composed by Sibelius for his own use, the Suite in E major was for the most part for the violin and the piano.

Ferruccio Busoni, son of an Italian musician father and a German pianist mother. Busoni achieved an outstanding reputation as a piano virtuoso. Busoni composed operas, including Turandot and Doktor Faust. One of his most impressive piano works is the arrangement of Bach's Chaconne for unaccompanied violin.

Sibelius spent part of the summer of 1888 at Granholmen with Wegelius and his wife Hanna. Wegelius accompanied him on the piano playing various sonatas and read to him aloud, the evening, translating the French as he went along, extracts of La Rennaisance by Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882) , one of his beside books. He ended his vacations with his Aunt Evelina in Loviisa, where he composed a short melody entitled En visa (A Song, JS 71) and above all a trio for piano, violin and cello in C major called ‘Loviisa’  (JS 208), that lasts about sixteen minutes and composed shortly after whilst with his family. Published in 1991, the work had been preceded, as has been seen, by three other trios for the same formation: in A minor JS 206 (1884), in A minor JS 207 ‘from Hafträsk’ (1186) and in D major JS 209 ‘from Korpo’ (1887), without forgetting the trio for two violins and piano JS 205 from 1883. During the three following summers of 1886, 1887 and 1888 a trio was born. In three movements, the trio of Loviisa was the fifth and last of his trios for piano created in his youth, a style that he was never to return to. Treated on an equal footing, the three instruments participated actively in the discourse from beginning to end. Sibelius authorised a public recital of this trio in Turku the 24 January 1951, but forbid a radio broadcast.

 In the course of his last year at the Institute, Sibelius made new friends who were to become important in his life: Arvid, Eero and Armas Järnfelt his future brothers-in-law, the Germano-Italian composer-pianist Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) engaged by Wegelius as Proessor of the Piano, and the future writer (in both German and Swedish) Adolf Paul whose real name was Georg Wiedersheim-Paul (1863-1943).