Go Back

Jean Sibelius & Veijo Murtomäki

Johan Christian Julius “Jean” Sibelius

Born December 8, 1865 Hämeenlinna. Died September 20, 1957, Järvenpää

The most internationally renowned and performed Finnish composer

Studies in law at the Imperial Alexander University 1885
Studies at the Helsinki Music Institute (today Sibelius Academy) and further studies abroad.
Honorary PhD 1914, honorary professor 1916, Imperial Alexander University

Key works:
Seven symphonies, a violin concerto and the orchestral works Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, The Swan of Tuonela (part of the Lemminkäinen Suite) and Valse triste. Vocal, choir and piano music, theatre music and chamber music. His last great works were Symphony No. 7 (1924), the theatre piece The Tempest (1926) and the symphonic poem Tapiola (1926)

A list of the works of Jean Sibelius

Veijo Tapio Murtomäki
Born July 26, 1954, Pyhäjärvi

Bachelor of Arts 1977 (musicology), University of Jyväskylä
Diploma in music theory 1980, Sibelius Academy
PhD 1991 (musicology), University of Helsinki
Doctoral dissertation: Symphonic Unity: the Development of Formal thinking in the Symphonies of Sibelius

Professor of music history 1991–, Sibelius Academy
Associate professor of music history 1989–91, Sibelius Academy
Lecturer of music theory 1983–89, Sibelius Academy
Research associate (extraordinary) in musicology 1982–83, University of Helsinki

Research themes: Sibelius as the subject of musical analysis and as a patriot and supporter of collaboration with Germany 1918–44

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Lion of Finland

Photo: Helsingin yliopistomuseo
Written by Veijo Murtomäki and Olli Siitonen (Kaija Hartikainen and Tiia Niemelä, ed.)

Translated by Matthew Billington

Sibelius and the University

Johan Christian Julius “Jean” Sibelius was born in the town of Hämeenlinna on 8 December 1865. He started piano lessons at the tender age of seven, tutored by his aunt Julia. It was not until the age of 16 that he took up the violin, under the tutelage of the conductor of the local Army band. Sibelius, a Swedish-speaking Finn by birth, went to school at the local Finnish lyceum and became thus bilingual. In addition to classical literature, he was acquainted with the Kalevala and the works of Aleksis Kivi from a young age.

Sibelius's christening record, Hämeenlinna Parish Records 1865. Photo: Terho Aalto.

In the autumn of 1885 Sibelius began studying law at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki. He also enrolled in the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) founded three years previously. But soon his law books were left to gather dust, as Sibelius took to music like a fish to water. He performed as a violin soloist for the Music Institute and was also appointed leader (concertmaster) of the Academic Orchestra, directed by Richard Faltin.

Jean Sibelius, 1913. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Dropping out of law school did not cut Sibelius's ties to the University. In 1892, the University Senate awarded him a grant to study the runo singers of Karelia, and on 11 November 1892 he duly filed a report on his expedition. He composed cantatas for the degree conferment ceremonies of 1894 and 1897, the first with lyrics by Kasimir Leino and the second with lyrics by A. V. Koskimies. In addition, Sibelius was acting music teacher at the University and in 1896 composed the music for the celebration of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, held at the University. The celebration was for the most part a roaring success, but the orchestra made a hash of the cantata, which has been seen as contributing to Sibelius' later failure to secure the job of Practice Master for Music.

Jean Sibelius's application for a grant for his expedition to Karelia, 1892.


Jean Sibelius applied for the position of Practice Master for Music at the University primarily on the strength of his compositions, but he also gave a demonstration lecture on “Some views on folk music and its influence on classical music.” This was to be the only time he discussed his views on his works in written form. After the 1897 conferment ceremony, and following a round of appeals, Robert Kajanus, nine years his senior, was appointed in his stead.

In 1914, Jean Sibelius was awarded an honorary doctorate by both the Imperial Alexander University and Yale University. He recieved an honorary professorship in 1916. He composed the Promootiomarssi (Academic March) for the conferment ceremony of 1919, which is also remembered for awarding an honorary doctorate to the then head of state, C. G. E. Mannerheim. However, Sibelius was dissatisfied with the performance of the orchestra led by Kajanus, considering the tempo of the march far too slow.

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki awarded Jean Sibelius their highest honour, the Badge of the Presidium, in 1950. On 20 September 1957, at the age of 91, he passed away after suffering a brain haemorrhage. University students and the Student Union played a visible role in his funeral: students stood guard in front of the church, marched with their flags in the funeral procession, and took part in the guard of honour lining the streets. Jean Sibelius was buried in the grounds of his house, Ainola, which was opened to the public as a museum in 1974.

Funeral of Jean Sibelius, 30 September 1957. On the left, crowds in front of the Helsinki University Library watching the motorcade as it sets out for Ainola. On the right, university students standing in a guard of honour. Photo: Helsinki City Museum / J. Immonen.
Go Back