Monday, 28 May 2018

Aino - Piano Quintet No. 2

My second piano quintet “Aino” Op.60 is also the second quintet out of a trilogy consisting of three large
form works with the theme “Woman’s Destiny”. The trilogy is a three-year commission by the Kokonainen
Festival in Finland. The first quintet “Minna” was premiered at the festival in 2017 and the last quintet
Helene” will be premiered at the festival in 2019.

The second quintet “Aino - Emotions from the life of Aino Sibelius" will get its world premiere this year on
the 8th of June at the Kokonainen Festival 2018. It will be played by the incredible musicians Heli Haapala flute, Pekka Niskanen clarinet, Linda Suolahti violin, Lauri Angervo cello and Tiina Karakorpi piano. As the name says, it is a selection of feelings from the turbulent and fascinating
life of Aino Sibelius (1871-1969). She was the sister of three artist (the writer Arvid Järnefelt, the
painter Eero Järnefelt and the composer Armas Järnefelt) but she is best known for her being the
wife of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Aino around the time of her marriage (photo from c. 1891 / National Board of Antiquities Picture Archive)

Aino Sibelius was in opposite to Minna Canth very hard for me to understand as a person and
also at an emotional level, which means that I have worked very hard on this quintet “Aino”. As Jenni Kirves concludes in her book “Aino Sibelius - Ihmeellinen olento” (freely translated into
English by me):
“Aino Sibelius truly was a wondrous being. The secret of her persona will always remain a mystery
to us, no matter how hard we try to get to her core. As a human she was of her own class, a special
and contradictional woman, who at the same time was modest and strong, but within her strength very
sensitive and sometimes soft, even weak. Her personality is hard to categorise. Even in her time she
was considered to have a special character, which was hard to understand for many. From today’s
perspective it feels even harder. The women of today maybe find it even harder to identify themselves
with her persona than the women of her time. In this sense she was a artist in the same way as her

The easy way out would be to analyse Aino from today’s feminist perspective as a person who
sacrificed her own persona for her husband’s music. However she never experienced that she
had done so, instead she felt uplifted by her husband’s music and to be part of something infinite
and holy, and she saw herself as a privileged person. The persona of Aino Sibelius therefore can’t
be put into the context of today’s view of equality. Aino didn’t feel repressed because for her it was
self-evident that the woman is a woman and the man is a man, who both live according to their
nature. It wasn’t a question of repressing or being repressed, she thought women were meant to
use their own strength and men their own, and in this way they would fulfill their own path decided
by destiny.”

Even though Aino has been very difficult for me to understand, I still wanted her to be part of my

trilogy “Woman’s Destiny” because without her dedication to her husband and to their family we
would maybe (most likely) not have so many works by Jean Sibelius. Even Jean Sibelius
acknowledged how lucky he had been to marry Aino and said in his speech on Aino’s 75th
Birthday You might have been happier and better off marrying another man, but I could never have been happier with anyone than with you”.

The first movement “Rakkaus” (Love) is what kept their marriage together even through very turbulent
times and the severe alcoholism, which Jean Sibelius suffered from. Aino and Jean felt that they had
found a soulmate in each other and loved each other deeply. Even after having been married for years
they seemed to be newly in love and Aino has also been called “the genius of love”.  She wrote about
their marriage “I am happy that I have been able to live by his side. I feel that I have not lived for nothing. I do not say that it has always been easy – one has had to repress and control one's own wishes – but I am very happy. I bless my destiny and see it as a gift from heaven. To me my husband's music is the word of God – its source is noble, and it is wonderful to live close to such a source.

Repressing her own needs was a great part of Aino Sibelius’ life, even if she saw it as her duty to do so.
The second movement “Höyry” (Steam) is about repressing and controlling herself, while “steam was
coming out from her ears”. Having six daughters with a man who suffered from alcoholism, and his
travelling a lot for his work, and his spending a lot of nights away from home drinking, it must have
been such a strain on their marriage that it is hard to imagine how Aino made it through those times.
But when Aino was angry at her husband she would not shout at him, she would sulk in silence for
days or even weeks at a time.

But even during hard the times of their marriage, Aino Sibelius always missed her husband very much
when he wasn’t at home, which the third movement “Kaipaus” (Longing) is about. When the Sibelius
family got a radio set at home,  she got some comfort from hearing his music and concerts being
broadcasted, she felt closer to Jean through his music. After his death she lived for another 12
years in which she missed him tremendously. Aino would every evening read his scores in bed,
just to feel that he was a bit closer to her, for a little while.

Rautaa” means iron and I feel that was what this woman, Aino Sibelius, was made of. The small and
fragile woman Aino had so much willpower and dedication to her life task and destiny that all I can do
is admire her. Aino Sibelius’ life was anything but easy: being the wife of an alcoholic artist who is
supposed to have said “I’m a poor man with a rich man’s habits”, which would lead to financial distress. Moreover their third child Kirsti died from typhoid
fever at the age of two (in 1900), Aino’s sister Ellen committed suicide one year later. Aino lived
through both of the world wars and the Finnish civil war. All of this is more than most people
could endure in a lifetime, but Aino did.