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Where Sibelius Fell Silent


The house was designed (for no charge) by an architect friend, Lars Sonck, in the "National Romantic" style. It is essentially a grand log villa built on a heavy stone base and clad with weatherboard; in the grounds Aino designed a sauna house (with laundry room), laid out vegetable and flower gardens, and planted fruit trees, some of which still survive. Inside, the main rooms have heavy pine beams and those typically Scandinavian high stoves finished in glazed brick or tile. There is the feel of solid, continuous living to the place. Even the Sibeliuses' two housemaids were solid and continuous: both lasted nearly 60 years.

Almost nothing has changed (though Sibelius's original manuscripts have been removed to the national archives); and the place which once held Sibelius and his music still holds them both. The composer's white summer suit rests on a hanger in his study; his broad-brimmed Borsalino and stick are on a nearby table. Here is the Steinway grand he was given on his 50th birthday (though he composed in his head, not at the piano); there is a run of the National Geographic magazine covering the last five years of his life. On the Russian oak desk at which he worked from the time of his marriage in 1892 lies the wooden ruler Aino carved for him, with which he ruled his scores; also, an empty box of Corona cigars, and an elegant Tiffany photo frame, containing a portrait of Aino, through which the light streams. Open on the desk is a facsimile score of his greatest symphony, the Fourth. But the homely is never far away: in the kitchen, screwed to the wall, is an apple-coring machine which Sibelius brought back from one of his trips to America. Made of black cast iron, it is a Heath Robinson contraption of prongs, screws and blades which will peel, core and slice your apple at the turn of a handle. From the same trip he also brought his wife a Tiffany diamond; but it is the apple corer that sticks in the mind.

Reminders of his fame are everywhere, from an enormous laurel wreath (now much dried) which once encircled him on a notable birthday, to the multiple commemorative images made of him. Every time a plaster medallion of Finland's greatest artist was cast, he was given a personal copy, and most seem to have ended up on his walls. But genius had to co-exist with family life, and it was not always easy. "Our souls are worn down through continuous contact with one another," Sibelius wrote in his diary. And: "I am building a studio for myself—at least one. Next to me are all the children whose babbling and pranks ruin everything." But he never did build himself a studio; instead, he relocated his study upstairs and forbade the noise of any instrument while he was in the house. The children had to wait until he had gone for his daily walk to do their music practice.

The house, though comfortable and practical, is by no means extravagant. The visitor might reasonably conclude this was just a summer home, used by Sibelius to get away from the city. Not a bit of it. For most of his life he was in serious debt. At first these were a young man's debts, caused by his taste for high living: he was a committed drinker who would often go missing for days (but could always be located in "the best restaurant serving oysters and champagne"). And though the drinking was lifelong, and his tastes remained luxurious—that white suit came from Paris, his shoes and shirts were made for him in Berlin—this was not the reason why Aino kept chickens, laid out a vegetable garden, planted fruit trees and schooled her own children. Sibelius took on a huge debt when he built Ainola, and wasn't able to clear it for more than two decades. The website sibelius.fi contains a terrifying graph of his indebtedness for the period 1892-1926: it peaks at the equivalent of €300,000 today.

Source: The Economist
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