On Music: 6 Things You Need to Know about Jean Sibelius


1. Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is arguably the greatest Finnish composer there has ever been, and perhaps one of the best examples of late Romanticism you can find.

2. He started picking out melodies on the family piano at age 5, but it wasn't until he took up the violin at age 15 that he began to be consumed by music. His sister and brother were both musically inclined too, and the three of them would play trios together that Jean wrote. (Jean on violin, his sister on piano and brother on cello).

3. At first he studied law in Helsinki, but music won out and he changed schools (i can just imagine his mom's reaction: "you did what??!") and by the time he graduated, he'd already started writing one of his first big hits: Kullervo, which was based on Elias Lönnrot's, Kalevala—sort of the Finnish Beowulf.

4. If the name Sibelius is new to you, get your feet wet with his stupendous Violin Concerto. Because he studied violin, he knew the limitations and the capabilities of the instrument better than most composers. Of all his works, he really wears his Romantic heart on his sleeve in this one. What follows are two brief excerpts from the 2nd movement of the piece, played here by one of my favorite violinists, Gidon Kremer.

5. There are probably more, but at least two cool things have been named after Sibelius. First: the music school in Helsinki he attended when he was a college student. It's now call the Sibelius Academy. The second is the best application I know for writing, printing and publishing music: Sibelius 5, which was developed by two brothers, Ben and Jonathan Finn. You think their last name has anything to do with the software name?

6. Sibelius's most well-known piece is his Finlandia, which fans of Die Hard 2 will remember as the closing music of the film. And if you're wondering which came first, the music or the vodka, Sibelius penned his around 1900, while the vodka has only been on the shelves since the early 1970s.

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