Sibelius at Koli


Almost all Finns report that their favourite place is some special nature site. For Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer, this place may have been Koli.

In 1892, Jean Sibelius had a burning desire to go to Karelia. His Kullervo symphony had premiered in the spring and become his international breakthrough. Because of his success, the 26-year-old composer got general Alexander Järnefelt’s permission to marry his daughter Aino. Despite the success of Kullervo, Sibelius could not afford a wedding trip. He applied for a travel grant to go to Karelia to study Kalevala poetry. This trip would also become the newly-weds’ honeymoon, says Jussi Makkonen, the only cello artist in the world whose main employment is to play music by Sibelius.

The master returns

 Sibelius came back to lake Pielinen and Koli once more, 17 years after the wedding trip. He had been through some hard times. In addition to money trouble, his health had become frail. A tumour was found in the master’s throat, and he travelled to Berlin to get it removed. Amidst all this worry, Sibelius recalled lake Pielinen and Koli, which he wanted to see again. Although he travelled abroad more than 40 times, seeing the majestic fells of Koli was one of the highlights of his life.
– Atop Koli hill, Sibelius recalls his past life. His worries and the fear of death are never far. The experience as a whole makes a tremendous impression: there is an autumn storm, hail, a dark sky over lake Pielinen, and a moonlit boat trip, Makkonen narrates.


Koli calls to the contemporary artist

The national landscapes at Koli have been etched into Finnish art history mainly thanks to the greats of Karelianism. The author Juhani Aho, painters Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, Pekka Halonen and Eero Järnefelt, as well as the photographer I.K. Inha have also sought for inspiration at Koli, just like the composer Jean Sibelius. The region is still attractive to artists. A group of log structures called Ryynänen, painted with red ochre, stand in the middle of the Koli village. At the heart of the yard is the Ryynänen artist residence, which is available for rent to visiting artists. Artists come there from all over the world. - We have had guests from Australia, Canada, China, Japan, the United States, and almost all European countries, says Chair Aura Liski of the Koli culture society. Liski says that the residence has been effective in growing the number of inhabitants of the village. – Four of our residence guests have become permanent Koli villagers. One artist spends half of the year at Koli and the other half in London.

Johan Julius Christian ”Jean” Sibelius, 1865-1957

  •  Finland’s most internationally renowned and performed composer, the national composer of Finland.
  • American radio audiences voted Jean Sibelius the most popular composer of 1935. He triumphed over such greats as for example Beethoven. 
  • In addition to his seven symphonies, his best-known works include a violin concerto and the orchestral works Karelia and the Swan of Tuonela. Valse Triste and Finlandia are his greatest international hits. 
  • In Finland, his birthday on the 8th of December is a national holiday called Jean Sibelius Day.



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