Editor’s note: Arland Fiske passed away June 16, but as a tribute to him, The Pilot-Independent will continue to print his column for the next couple of months.
There are few nations whose people I admire so much as Finland. There are few Finns so dearly loved by their country as Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). His portrait of later years depicts a solid executive jaw with drawn cheeks and eyes focused on the future with determination.
Finland has given the world many outstanding musicians. Among those who have become well known outside their country are Erik Tullinberg (1761-1814), the first known Finnish composer; Selim Palmgren (1879-1951), called the “Finnish Chopin;” and Jonas Kokkonen (born 1921), the leading authority on Finnish music today.
But Sibelius is by common consent the greatest of them all. His “Finlandia” has been playing in my soul since childhood. The hymn, “Thee God We Praise,” is sung to this music, producing an expression of strength and reverence.
The music for “Finlandia” was written when Sibelius was in his early 30s. The Russian rulers of Finland sensed its patriotic effect and forbade its performance.
Artists with the ability of Sibelius are not without their eccentric qualities. To make sure that his studio would have silence while he composed, he built a large tollhouse for his five daughters at a safe distance from his residence.
This in contrast to Edvard Grieg, who built a composing cottage at a distance from his house in Bergen. Still Sibelius was warm-hearted to his family and townsmen. Guests were served wines of rare vintage. As a young man, he fell in love with Vienna and the waltzes of Strauss.
Sibelius imitated no other musicians. His work flowed out of the loneliness and lofty aspirations of his own soul. The violin was his first love. We would stand in the bow of a boat and play to the birds and waves, reproducing the sounds of the wind, clouds and rustling branches.
The Finnish epic myths, Kalevala, influenced his musical expressions of patriotism. A magnificent concert hall has been erected in Helsinki in honor of Sibelius where over 200 concerts a year are held. When viewing it, I stopped to gaze at it for some time. It is an architectural work of art.
Finland passed from Swedish rule to Russia in 1809. Not until Dec. 6, 1917, did Finland gain its independence from the Czars. During the Winter War of 1939-1940, Sibelius, then 74 years old, refused to go into an air-raid shelter when the Russian bombers attacked. Instead he angrily charged out into the cold with an old hunting rifle and fired away at the Russian planes.
Finns are a proud and patriotic people. It’s true that they were often criticized for being careful not to publicly offend the Kremlin. But no nation has been so conscientious about repaying its war debts to the United States.
In the secret conferences of World War II between the Allied leaders, Churchill and Roosevelt refused to allow Stalin to reclaim Finland as Russian territory. Stalin finally conceded, admitting that a people so brave as the Finns should be allowed to have their freedom.
Music continues to inspire love for the native land in the hearts of the Finns. Over 60 music institutes perpetuate the heritage in this land of about five million people, 70,000 lakes and 200,000 reindeer. This small nation boasts eleven symphony orchestras. Over sixty thousand people attend the annual folk music festival in Kaustinen, a city of only 3,400 people.
The world needs more people like the Finns. So if you are Finnish, you have reason to be proud.
Next time: “Sweden — It’s People and Royalty”