The Waltz of Death and the move to Ainola 1903-1904

During these years in Helsinki, the composer often attended the sessions of the Euterpeans. Euterpe was a Swedish-language literary magazine. Its editors were supervised by Werner Söderhjelm who acted as a kind of father figure. He was an old acquaintance of Sibelius. The nights of the Euterpeans were often prolonged into the following morning, much to the annoyance of the wives of the participants. From the König and Kämp Restaurants, Sibelius kept sending Aino slips of paper informing her that he was coming home "in a while". After her husband’s death, Aino wrote on the back of one of the slips: "Unpleasant letters 1903-1904. Not to be saved."

The Sibeliuses' fourth daughter was born in 1903. Katarina gave them solace, even if she could not remove the pain of Kirsti's death.

Sibelius conducted his music in Tampere and Helsinki, and in the spring of 1903 in Tallinn. The family spent the spring in Lohja, and Sibelius concentrated on composing a violin concerto. However, it had already become evident to Sibelius’s closest friends that his ability to work could only be sustained if he stayed away from the temptations of Helsinki. In the autumn of 1903 his restaurant bills amounted to as much as 200 euros per evening in today’s money. Yet he still managed to work, composing masterly songs, such as I natten, På verandan vid havet and Höstkväll.

Sibelius achieved his greatest popularity with Valse triste, a sad waltz which he composed for a play called Death, written by his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt. But Sibelius’s immediate circle feared that he was dancing a real Waltz of Death because of his way of living. "Janne, you must give up alcohol. You must," his brother Christian wrote to him on 19th November 1903. One day earlier Janne himself had taken measures to get away from the temptations of Helsinki: he bought a building site for a house close to Lake Tuusula, 45 km north of Helsinki. The house was to be called Ainola ("Aino’s Place") and it would become the Sibeliuses’ permanent home.

Valse triste was completed just before the premiere of Death. According to Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa, an eccentric friend of Sibelius, the idea for the waltz was conceived on the upper floor of the Kämp Restaurant with the help of oysters, soda water and quinine. Sibelius, who had a heavy cold, abstained from alcohol, but more than compensated with quinine, the medicine for colds at the time. A few months later Sibelius was forced to sell Valse triste at a low price due to a lack of money. A couple of years later the work was world-famous.

At the beginning of 1904 Sibelius had time to put the finishing touches to his violin concerto, organise the preparatory work for Ainola and do some serious celebrating. The first public performance of the concerto was on the 8th February, but the soloist Viktor Nováček could not convince the audience of the value of the work. Sibelius withdraw the concerto; he condensed it and made the solo part easier. The revised version was performed in the spring of 1905 in Berlin.

Sibelius continued to lead a busy life. The construction of Ainola had begun in February, the carpenters’ wages swallowed up money, and the nights at the Catani and Kämp Restaurants were not cheap. Aino wearily asked Christian Sibelius in Berlin for help. In his letters Christian gave outspoken advice to Janne and Aino. The drinking had to be stopped by any means whatsoever. As a physician, Christian would prescribe for Janne less dangerous medical powders to replace the alcohol.

The drinking binges were interrupted, and Sibelius collected money for the construction of Ainola by giving concerts in Helsinki, Turku and Vaasa. "I have been a total abstainer for two weeks since my concert," he reported to Christian in his letter of 24th April 1904. At the beginning of June, touring continued at the Kadriorg bathing establishment in Tallinn, Estonia, and in the summer in Latvia.

In the summer the family were already living in Tuusula, supervising the work on the house, and on 24th September 1904 they moved into Ainola.

The Sibeliuses thus became part of the artistic community living by Lake Tuusula. Its members also included the painter Eero Järnefelt (the composer's brother-in-law), the painter Pekka Halonen and the novelist Juhani Aho and their families – figures destined to become pre-eminent in Finnish cultural life.

Tutustu Tuusulaan (This is Tuusula), video

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Despite the community spirit among the artists, the move did not solve all the composer’s problems. Before the upper floor was built in 1911, Ainola was a small home containing a large family. Although the children were taught to be quiet when their father was composing, it was mainly at night that he was able to work in peace.