Discover the Helsinki of Jean Sibelius

Sibelius park in Helsinki.
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Jean Sibelius moved in 1885 to Helsinki from his hometown of Hämeenlinna to study. He achieved his greatest artistic triumphs in the Finnish capital, as well as starting a family and simply enjoying the joys of life – even after he had moved to Ainola in Järvenpää in 1904. One can still sense the spirit of Sibelius’ times in Helsinki, even though the city has changed a lot. Only two of the composer’s numerous residences in Helsinki still exist, but his memory lives on in many places.
Main Building of the University of Helsinki.
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Main Building of the University of Helsinki

Sibelius began studying at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki Music Institute in 1885. His law studies soon made way for music, but the Great Hall of the university, which was the city’s main concert hall during that time, still became very important to Sibelius. He conducted there the first performances of nearly all his main orchestral compositions. Sibelius also served as the model for the pale-cloaked man in the centre panel of Albert Edelfelt’s fresco The Inauguration of the Royal Academy of Turku that adorns the wall of the Great Hall. Badly damaged by bombing in 1944, the original architecture from 1832 was altered. The acoustics suffered and the hall lost its position as a leading concert venue.
Unioninkatu 34, Fabianinkatu 33

National Library

The National Library of Finland houses the biggest collection of Sibelius’ musical manuscripts. Work on the complete critical edition Jean Sibelius Works began here in 1996. The edition is based on a thorough study of all surviving sources.
Unioninkatu 36

Helsinki Cathedral

Sibelius passed away on 20 September 1957. The funeral was held on 30 September in the Helsinki Cathedral. The coffin was brought to the church on the previous day, and that evening 17,000 people came to pay their respects to the great composer. Students formed the honour guard. Seven candles burned on the altar at the funeral, one for each of Sibelius’ symphonies. The laying of wreaths lasted two hours. Musicians carried the coffin out to the car, which then drove towards Järvenpää. People lined the way for the entire 40-kilometre journey. Sibelius was buried in the wooded garden of his home, Ainola.
Unioninkatu 29

Arppeanum

During his study years Sibelius played violin in the Academic Orchestra. The orchestra played in the university’s music hall in this building, which also housed the university’s chemistry laboratory.
Snellmaninkatu 3

House of the Estates

Freemasonry was revived in Finland here on 18 August 1922, when Sibelius too was inducted. He later composed ritual music that is still used by the Freemasons in Finland and the USA.
Snellmaninkatu 9-11

City Hall

Originally built in 1833 as the Seurahuone Hotel, this building also housed a restaurant and banquet hall. Around 1900, the Helsinki Philharmonic Society Orchestra held here popular concerts that were often attended by Sibelius. His compositions were also performed; the first version of his Karelia Suite was premiered in 1893 at a charity concert in the banquet hall. In 1913 the City of Helsinki acquired the hotel and converted it into the City Hall. The interior underwent a brutal modernisation in the late 1960s, but the banquet hall was retained and is still used at times for concerts.
Pohjoisesplanadi 11-13

The Esplanade park on a sunny day.
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Doctors’ House

In 1901 a group of doctors had an impressive Art Nouveau house built on the corner of the Kasarmitori square. Sibelius’ doctor from 1908 to 1919 was Dr. Wilhelm Zilliacus, who lived and worked here. Zilliacus was a strong opponent of Russian repression and supporter of the Finnish Jaeger movement – young men who had sought military training in Germany with the aim of liberating Finland. In 1917 he received a copy of the words for the Jaeger March, written by one of the Jaegers serving in Liepaja, Latvia, and smuggled into Finland. Zilliacus asked Sibelius to compose the music for the march. In great secrecy, Sibelius soon delivered the composition to Zilliacus, and it became a powerful symbol of independence.
Fabianinkatu 17

Swedish Normal Lyceum

As early as the spring of 1886, Sibelius attracted attention as a violinist in the student concerts of the Music Institute held at this school (built in 1880). Some of his earliest compositions were performed for the first time here, including his highly acclaimed String Quartet in A Minor at the end of his studies in May 1889.
Unioninkatu 2

Esplanade

Around 1900, the Esplanade was the recreational heart of Helsinki where the young Sibelius too would spend his free time. Some of his favourite cafés and restaurants are still there, albeit much changed over the years. The Opera Cellar that opened in 1866 on the park side of the Svenska teatern is today a bar and nightclub, while König, which opened in 1892 at Mikonkatu 4, is now a disco and karaoke bar. The Esplanade was also lined by many banks that the chronically indebted composer would visit often, such as Wasa Bank (Eteläesplanadi 12) and the old Yhdyspankki (Aleksanterinkatu 36b), as well as the ne Art Nouveau bank halls at Pohjoisesplanadi 15 and 19 that now serve as cafés.

Kappeli

The café and restaurant Kappeli originally opened in 1867, while the current building dates back to 1891. Kappeli was a popular hangout among artists in Helsinki. Sibelius spent a lot of time there around 1900, either partying with his artist friends, dining out or simply enjoying a glass of sherry and a cigar.
Eteläesplanadi 1

Kämp

Opened in 1887, the luxurious Kämp hotel and restaurant soon became a favourite hangout for Sibelius. Already at the end of the 1880s he spent many happy evenings there among the “Leskovites”. This musical group of friends was so called after the dog Lesko, who belonged to Ferruccio Busoni, piano teacher at the Music Institute. Between 1892 and 1894 another group, the Symposion, gathered at the Kämp comprising Sibelius, the painter Akseli Gallén-Kallela and the conductor Robert Kajanus. Their spirited art discussions and merrymaking became legendary. Sibelius would continue to dine and stay at the Kämp into the 1930s. The hotel eventually fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1967, but a section of the façade was restored for the bank building that was built on the spot in 1969. In 1999 the bank was converted back into a five-star hotel, but the interior does not correspond to the original design.
Pohjoisesplanadi 29

Lundqvist’s Palace of Commerce

Radical young cultural intellectuals formed a circle around the Swedish-language literary magazine Euterpe in 1902 and convened at the magazine’s editorial offices in this building. Sibelius spent many long spirited evenings at these gatherings, ultimately leading him to move to the countryside in Tuusula in 1904.
Aleksanterinkatu 13

Svenska teatern

Completed in 1866, this building became the centre of Swedish-language theatre in Helsinki. Sibelius’ first theatre composition Kristian II debuted here in 1898. In 1899 Svenska teatern presented a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history to the accompaniment of music by Sibelius. The piece Finland Awakens, meant as a covert protest against Russian oppression, captivated audiences and would evolve to become the symphonic poem Finlandia. The decorative façade of the theatre was simplified in 1935, but the main hall and foyer would still feel familiar to Sibelius.
Pohjoisesplanadi 2

Hotel Klaus K

In the 1880s there was a wooden building on the corner of the streets, and just up the hill was the brick Paersch building that housed a German school for girls. Founded in 1882, the Helsinki Music Institute originally leased premises in the school, where Sibelius studied from 1885 to 1889. The music institute held exams and concerts in the main hall of the Paersch building, and Sibelius himself often played there and performed his early compositions. In 1913 an Art Nouveau building was completed on the corner. In 1920 this was joined to the Paersch building to form the Rake hardware store. A hotel opened in the building in 1938, and the hardware store closed in the 1970s. The main hall of the Paersch building was restored in the 1980s and renamed Rake Hall.
Bulevardi 2–Erottaja 4

Helsinki Music Centre as seen from Töölönlahdenkatu on a slightly cloudy day, where the National Museum of Finland can be seen reflected in the large windows of the building.
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Old Student House

The Old Student House was built in 1870 as a centre for student parties, organisations and cultural activities. It included a music hall, where student choirs could rehearse, and a banquet hall, where concerts were held. Sibelius attended these concerts, and in 1889 he performed as the violin soloist for the Academic Orchestra. His performance was praised, but thereafter Sibelius buried his childhood dreams of becoming a violin virtuoso. Instead, Sibelius’ male choir pieces would be sung in the music hall from the 1890s onwards. The banquet hall was damaged by fire in 1978 but fully restored. Choir singing was discontinued in 2013, as the Student Union felt it disrupted the building’s restaurant activities.
Mannerheimintie 3

Fennia

Sibelius stayed often at the Hotel Fennia (opened in 1898) when visiting Helsinki – sometimes for weeks at a time when he sought peace and quiet in which to compose. On Sibelius’ 70th anniversary 8 December 1935, a banquet was held here. The guests heard his second symphony broadcast live from New York.
Mikonkatu 17

Finnish National Theatre

Regular theatre productions in Finnish began in Helsinki in 1872, and the long-awaited national theatre building was completed in 1902. The theatre’s inauguration was a national celebration for which Sibelius composed the piece The Origin of Fire (Tulen synty). The most famous of his compositions that was premiered here, however, is Valse Triste, which was originally composed in 1903 for the play Death (Kuolema) written by his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt.
Läntinen teatterikuja 1

Kaisaniemenkatu 1

In the early 1930s Sibelius tried to focus on composing his eighth symphony, and he spent long periods living in the hotel Karelia in this building. However, the composer grew increasingly self-critical and the symphony was never completed.

Kalevankatu 45

Armas Järnefelt, future conductor and Sibelius’ friend, introduced him in 1888 to his sister Aino Järnefelt (1871–1969), and the two fell in love at first sight. Sibelius became a frequent guest at the Järnefelt’s home, befriending Aino’s brothers and adopting the family’s powerful patriotic sentiments. Jean and Aino Sibelius married on 10 June 1892. The newlyweds rented an apartment at this address. The couple’s first child Eva was born here, and the first version of En Saga and the choral piece The Boat Journey (Venematka). The family moved out in spring 1893.

Sibelius Academy

In 1924 the Helsinki Music Institute, where Sibelius had studied, became the Helsinki Conservatory. The school finally got its own building in 1931 and was renamed Sibelius Academy with the composer’s consent in 1938. Sibelius conducted for the last time on 1 January 1939 in the academy’s concert hall. The Radio Orchestra performed Andante festivo in a live broadcast for the World’s Fair in New York. The rehearsal for this concert is the only existing recording of music conducted by Sibelius.
Pohjoinen Rautatiekatu 9

Helsinki Music Centre

The Helsinki Music Centre opened in 2011 and houses the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The HPO was founded in 1882 and performed the premieres of many of Sibelius’ main works under his leadership. The Helsinki Music Centre is also home to the Sibelius Academy.
Mannerheimintie 13 A

Aerial of Kaivopuisto Park during autumn, the Kaivopuisto observatory sitting on its hill in the center of the photo.
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Sibelius memorial oak

In 1941 the Helsinki Society and Helsinki’s male choirs planted an oak tree by the City Garden in honour of Sibelius, who had just moved back to the city.
Helsinki City Winter Garden, Hammarskjöldintie 1

Töölö Sports Hall

In the 1930s Sibelius was at the height of his fame in Scandinavia, the UK and the USA. His 70th birthday was an international media event, and the old composer was inundated by tributes. On his birthday, 8 December 1935, a concert was held in the new Exhibition Hall (now the southern end of Töölö Sports Hall). Sibelius enjoyed the acclaim but afterwards no longer wished to appear in public due to his shaking hands.
Paavo Nurmen kuja 1 D

Sibeliuksenkatu 11

In 1939 the Sibelius family rented a large apartment at Kammionkatu 11 A where they planned to stay during the winters. Their first stay was cut short by the Winter War, but from autumn 1940 to summer 1941 they lived in Töölö. Aino enjoyed living in the city, Jean less so. With the outbreak of the Continuation War in 1941, they decided to remain in Ainola in the countryside, and they gave up their city apartment in 1942.

Sibelius Park and Sibeliuksenkatu

Sibelius’ acclaim in Finland was approaching hero worship, and as he grew older his birthdays were celebrated with ever more grandeur. In 1945, when Sibelius turned 80, the City of Helsinki named this park Sibelius Park. In 1965, to mark the 100th an- niversary of Sibelius’ birth, Kammionkatu, the street where the composer lived for a short period, was renamed Sibeliuksenkatu.
Sibelius park (Mechelininkatu), Sibeliuksenkatu

The Sibelius monument

The Sibelius Society organised a design competition for a memorial to the composer. It was won in 1962 by Eila Hiltunen’s entry Passio Musicae. The abstract design initially provoked a lot of controversy, but the issue was resolved by adding Sibelius’ bust to Hiltunen’s work. The Sibelius Monument was inaugurated in 1967 and soon became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki. 
Sibelius Park

Kaivopuisto Park

Between 1885 and 1895, Sibelius lived as a tenant on several occasions in the villas overlooking Kaivopuisto Park. The most unusual of these apartments was housed in the spa at the end of the Iso Puistotie alley, where Sibelius worked on his breakthrough composition Kullervo in spring 1892. Although the buildings in which Sibelius lived no longer exist, the park and its splendid sea views remain, as do some of the original wooden villas along Itäinen Puistotie and Kalliolinnantie.
Iso Puistotie-Ehrenströmintie-Itäinen Puistotie

Kallio Cathedral

The most played Sibelius’ work, Kellokoraali (bell choral) for seven bells, has rung out for over hundred years daily at 12noon and 6pm from the tower of the Art Nouveau Kallio Cathedral (completed in 1912).
Itäinen papinkatu 2

Lapinlahti Hospital

During the Civil War in winter 1918, friends brought the Sibelius family to safety in Helsinki from Ainola. The family stayed in the accommodations of the composer’s brother Christian, senior physician at Lapinlahti Hospital, until the spring. The cantata My Own Land (Oma maa) was composed there. The park of the former psychiatric hospital (built in 1841) is open to the public.
Lapinlahdentie 1

Sibelius Upper Secondary School

The first musical upper secondary school in Finland was renamed in 1982 in honour of Sibelius with the consent of the composer’s family. The distinguished school specialises in music and dance.
Liisankatu 13

Source: Path of Sibelius brochure. Discover other important places and moments in the life of Jean Sibelius through the brochure Path of Sibelius

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Jean Sibelius achieved his greatest artistic triumphs in the Finnish capital. One can still sense the spirit of Sibelius’ times in Helsinki, even though the city has changed a lot. Only two of the composer’s numerous residences in Helsinki still exist, but his memory lives on in many places.