Who was Sibelius?

Not the most common question – I will give you that.

If you plan to travel to Finland, or have been searching the web you might have stumbled across references to Sibelius, this year especially, as it marks the 150 year anniversary of his birth in 1865.

What makes him different from the scores (excuse the pun) of other composers and artists of classical music, is that he achieved notoriety and popularity within his lifetime – not something that so many of the ‘greats’ have.

sibelius-mannerheim-and-aino800x500By the time that Jean Sibelius was 70 years old, we was the most popular living composer in the United Kingdom, United States of America and all of the Nordic Countries put together, not a bad accolade to his lives work. His most famous works include “Finlandia” and “Karelia Suite” (here accompanying a Nordic Art & Design video we made including works by Akseli Gallen-Kallela).

In his early days, moving to Helsinki, famously spending much time in Helsinki, including bars and restaurants discussing politics and art with his friends, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Pekka Halonen among them. Born in the same year, these two great painters went on to achieve prominence in their own fields too.  Akseli even painted a famous piece of art representing their ‘meetings’ called “Symposium”, although it was originally said to be named “mistake”.



These are famously called the Symposium years, mainly the group would meet at Hotel Kämp restaurant and lounge in Helsinki. Together this collection of individuals were said to have shaped National Identity in an important way, especially with Finland then declaring autonomy from the Russian Empire in 1917.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Pekka Halonen
Juhani Aho
Järnefelt family
Robert Kajanus
Adolf Paul
Ferruccio Busoni

At the turn of the century, Sibelius and other artists had migrated from Helsinki and built homes by a lake outside of Helsinki, set in nature for inspiration. Now married to Aino, who raised a house full of girls and supported him throughout this career. Living in a traditional way, in the most part, these cultural figures represent a merging of authentic Finnish working life with blending of the new concept of Finnish high art (from the previous years of writing in Swedish Language and painting depicting Royal scenes etc, to a new era of Finnish Folklore images and Finnish Language in the context ‘high culture’.

He wasn’t alone. The whole community continued to fill up with artists, notably writer Juhani Aho and his wife,painter Venny Soldan-Brofeld, poet J.H Erkko. In the same road around the lake lies the death place of Aleksis Kivi, Finland National Poet, which represents what the area looked like before the artists brought their wealth to the area. Nowadays there is also a house designed by Alvar Alto in the area.

Still thirsty for more about Sibelius?

tuusula-lake-ainola800x500It is possible visit the home of Jean Sibelius, Ainola, named after his wife, Aino, as well as the homes of Pekka Halonen, Juhani Aho and of the poet JH Erkko. In this lovely region outside of Helsinki, the lake offers some great fun too.

We can take a smoke sauna and swim in the lake, have fun churchDCF 1.0 boat rowing or ice skating, all the time imaging this group of artistic friends enjoying the landscape with their many late night parties and exchanges!

After getting our creative juices flowing, we wonder what the likes of Sibelius used to eat and drink? Notorious for composing late into the evening and night when his busy household of girls would be asleep, Sibelius enjoyed a drink or two. After krapi-hovi-pickles-800x500suffering from some serious health problems, he spent 7 years without smoking or drinking. We heard that Aino and Jean liked to make their own cheese. We would highly recommend eating a wholesome meal at an old dairy farm on the lakeside, set right in the old family home called Krapihovi. Each dish is inspired by the family owners stories, the stories of the artists in the community and deliciously made on site, including fresh grown herbs and homemade breads…

krapi hovi foodThis year, to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of Sibelius and his Friend’s birth, Krapihovi is offering a brand new celebration menu, including stories about the artist’s and their tastes and styles. There are also guided tours of the whole region, including dinner at Krapihovi Restaurant.


For more information on Sibelius’s music and life, see:



Kontiki Finland Guided Day Tours to the region

About Kontiki Finland

Sarah - Mainly-English-Speaking-Canadian-British-Finn, UAE born. Travel, animals, children, nature, city & food enthusiast. & Tomas - Finnish born world traveller, with a love of fishing, food and fire :) LinkedIn - Sarah Coombes Google+ - Sarah KontikiFinland
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