happy birthday, jean!

by ferruccio tammaro

january 2016

sibelius around us

From 4 to 8 December 2015 was held in Finland, Hämeenlinna, birthplace of Sibelius, the "VI International Sibelius Conference" by Erkki Korhonen, Andrew Barnett, Anna Krohn, Vejo Murtomäki, Eero Tarasti and Timo Virtanen. I participated as a lecturer along with more than forty other musicologists from all over the world; what better time to celebrate the 150th birthday of the Finnish composer? It has been to me the occasion to return to Finland after more than forty years of absence, since the summers 1971-72. My stays were thanks to a scholarship got by the Finnish government just to study the music and personality of Sibelius, at that time still little known mainly due to really a few available specific documents, such as work manuscripts, letters, diary. Thanks to the hospitality of Professor Erik Tawaststjerna I was thus able to follow the research and draft, then fully in place, of the decisive volume on Sibelius that Tawaststjerna himself was conducting at that time. Back home, I armed with bundles of notes and photocopies and finally could publish my book on Sibelius (ERI, 1984), thanks to a generous financial aid I obtained by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Now much time has passed and the information on Sibelius have enormously grown, thanks among other things to the publication not only of a number of studies, but also of the “opera omnia” (in progress), of the published works and manuscripts catalog, of the composer's diary and of a valuable corpus of letters. This has therefore prompted continuous new research, just as demonstrated by the large number of participants in the Congress we are telling about, along which were introduced reports on historical, analytical, structural, semiotic and philological topics. I have come to Hämeenlinna, aware that for over three decades a few other works of Italian musicologists were added to my various studies on Sibelius. However, equally I felt proud to introduce the Conference announcing that, despite everything, in 2015 Italy had already to his credit the setting up of at least four significant events dedicated to Sibelius' birth anniversary. Italian celebrations had started thanks to composer Federico Ermirio, who had planned a varied "Sibelius Festival – Golfo del Tigullio” (October 8 - 12, Liguria) in collaboration with the towns of Rapallo (where Sibelius stayed with family between February and May 1901), Santa Margherita Ligure, Recco and under the patronage of the Finland Embassy in Rome and of the Region Liguria. A great opportunity with the alternation of conferences and concerts (pianist Folke Gräsbeck, cellist Domenico Ermirio, Laurentius Ensemble, New Helsinki Quartet, Orchestra Polledro, as well as the solo kantele performer Suvi Lehtonen-Gräsbeck) focusing not only on the celebrated composer, but also on other interesting Nordic Musicians as Grieg, Sallinen, Hamerik, Nordgren, Tiensuu. It was then the turn of October 21, 22. The violinist Satu Jalas, Sibelius' granddaughter, heir of the violin owned by his grandfather and long resident in Parma, had set in this city a conference and a concert centered on Sibelius, with the collaboration of the "A. Boito " Music Conservatory. A week later (October 28 – 30) Fabio Colusso and its association "Musicaimmagine" organized in Rome the Conference "Sibelius and Italy 2015" in collaboration of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, the Embassy of Finland and the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae; with the presence, really unexpected and comforting, of many scholars not only from Finland, even young and willing ones from Italy: all ready to present varied studies and research regarding Busoni, Sibelius' Second Symphony, Italian popular songs used by Sibelius, etc... Among the Roman events: the screening of the film "Sibelius" by Pekka Hako, a multimedia exhibition on the same composer and two concerts, one in the Conservatory, the other at the Parco della Musica. Finally also the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna under the leadership of President Loris Azzaroni and Piero Mioli, wanted to give space to Sibelius (focusing his compositions for piano) during a conference held on November 28 for Aleksandr Scriabin's centenary of death. In short, a rich set of opportunities that certainly did not fail to arouse the admiration of our Finnish friends, because many other nations can not boast of having prepared along this 2015 the same number of such prestigious events. The fact, moreover, that the Ambassador of Finland in Italy Dr. Janne Taalas wanted to attend two events in Rapallo and Santa Margherita and the Conference in Rome is the latest confirmation of how Finland has recognized the importance of these meetings.
Of course the conference in Hämeenlinna has been a big event. Lecturers and scholars, thanks to the perfect organization, did switch their relationships, participate in visits to the city and attend various concerts (one really exciting, with the prestigious Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hannu Lintu). The fact that the date of Sibelius' birthday (December 8) is two days later than that of the independence of Finland itself has offered all of us the opportunity to attend even the national festivities: an impressive musical show on ice, where one of the "highlights" couldn't not be the famous hymn present in Sibelius's Finland, a melody that with an appropriate text has been assumed since decades the functions of "second" national anthem. How they celebrated the Finns the anniversary of their illustrious compatriot? With their customary sobriety, without particular enphasis. For example, the December 8 ceremony was held in the city park (obviously dedicated to Sibelius) in front of the composer's statue, but without much pomp or grandeur. The simple laying down of two laurel wreaths, the performance of a short piece for brass and another for chorus, a short speech by Authorities. That was all. All along half an hour. Not much, you would say! But for a Musician so known in Finland anniversaries are not necessary. Sibelius is with the Finns every day and really close to them. After all in Italy isn't necessary to celebrate centennial and bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi, a omnipresent Personality and that doesn't need to be "remembered" with particular celebrations.It takes for granted that anniversaries are used primarily to keep alive the memory of those Personalities who risk being forgotten. Of course this does not refer to Sibelius. On the other hand it's useful to continue organizing conferences and concerts on him, because the big musicians have always something to say, not only to yesterday's generations, but also to those of today and of tomorrow. Hence the planning, already during construction, of future events around Jean Sibelius that will take place in Rapallo – Golfo del Tigullio and in Rome.