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Jean Sibelius

Finland’s national composer, Jean Sibelius was born in 1865 in southern Finland. His prodigal, alcoholic father passed on some of his harmful addictions to his son, but Sibelius’s talent rose above all that. He proved to be an accomplished violinist and wrote his first work, Raindrops at the age of nine. After a short period of legal studies, his attention turned back to music. He studied composition with Martin Wegelius and violin with Mitrofan Wasiliev and the Hungarian-born Hermann Csillag. After accepting that he would never become a professional violinist, he improved his composition skills with Albert Becker, Robert Fuchs and Károly Goldmark. He had a major influence on the development of the symphony and symphonic poem genres. His first successful symphonic poem, Kullervo, based on the poems of the Kalevala, was premiered in 1893. From then on Sibelius was hailed as the most important Finnish composer. In 1899, his highly successful Symphony No. 1 and his Finlandia were performed. His works were also widely performed outside Finland, and his Symphony No. 2 (1901) became a symbol of Finnish independence. He was soon regarded as the greatest living composer of symphonies. In the last 30 years of his life, he gave up alcohol and cigarettes because of his throat cancer, and lived a quiet life, working on revisions. He died of a stroke in 1957.