Ainola – a visit to the house of Jean Sibelius


The house of Jean and Aino Sibelius, Ainola

Visiting a composer’s house can be both revealing and alarming. Revealing because you have the chance to peel back the layers behind some of your favourite music; alarming because you might not always like what you see when you get there!

Visiting the Sibelius house in Ainola was a case in point, though ultimately the trip was an overwhelmingly positive insight into the Finnish composer, his mind and the process used to create his wonderful music – or not, of course, as the great man’s pen was famously silent for his final 30 years.

First impressions are key. The house, secluded in the grasp of tall, rangy fir trees, is a calm and uncluttered place, save for a number of intriguing devices on display on the kitchen stove. Built in 1904, it is beautifully preserved, with incredible attention to detail.

Rows of glasses in a cabinet suggest Sibelius and his wife Aino enjoyed entertaining, while looking in the study to see the composer’s hat and stick on the table was strangely comforting, as though he were getting ready elsewhere in the house to go out for a walk.


Sibelius’s desk, Ainola

The piles of scores by the piano were illuminating, with Mendelssohn’s Elijah and St Paul not perhaps the first works that might come to mind. The Steinway faces a corner of the sitting room, around which is dotted some lovely landscapes and other works of art from friends of the family. A cold scene with swans, a characteristically blue-bright Finnish sky, green trees and the composer’s portrait are all homely and reassuring. Yet if you sit at the piano and raise your head a sudden chill pierces the air.

Here can be found A Prayer to God by Oscar Parviainen, erected to remind Sibelius of the death of his daughter, Kirsti, when just a year old. In the picture the child is comforted by its mother, but with a chilling figure that looks like Death hovering above.


Sibelius’s piano and paintings, Ainola

That Sibelius would always see this when sat at his piano brings new meaning to his darker music, a frisson of danger and deep dread. This impression stayed with me, even beyond the sight of the lake visible from the front room, glinting in the sunshine. This is countered by a softer woodland scene representing the view from the composer’s desk in the back room.

From there the grave of both Sibelius and Aino can be glimpsed, and it is a moving time indeed spent in contemplation in that quiet spot, the wind breathing softly in the branches. A busy road in the middle distance disturbs the peace on occasion – Sibelius would surely not have had that to contend with when living here – but a sense of calm soon returns.


The grave and house, Ainola

Ainola is utterly inspiring but also deeply troubling in parts – a mirror, then, of its composer’s music. If you are a Sibelius fan I urge you to go there, as it leaves a lasting impression.

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