About his own compositions

My symphonies have been like Jacob wrestling with the angel. But now they are as they should be.
(In personal recollections by Sibelius's secretary, Santeri Levas, 1960b)


The friends of Kajus (Robert Kajanus) did not like Kullervo. They burned the orchestral parts, such as they were. Kajus kept the score. (To Jussi Jalas, autumn 1945)

With Kullervo I started a new style. This style has now been used by many younger composers. At its time of its birth Kullervo was a treasure house, but it has long since been emptied.
(In personal recollections by Santeri Levas, 1960)

En Saga

When I had completed En Saga, I took it straight to the binder. On Christmas Eve I collected it and the ink had stained the facing pages so badly that the score was completely ruined. I started to rewrite it immediately, which astonished my mother-in-law, as it was Christmas.
(To Jussi Jalas, 31st December 1943)

Karelia Suite

As I recall, it was last year that I got the score of the Karelia Suite in the length it was originally, from the Kajanuses, who had found it somewhere. It has many movements, e.g. there was an arrangement of the Finnish national anthem at the end.
It was nice to see that nothing has been changed in the parts that were [actually] printed.
(To Jussi Jalas, 31st December 1943)


I would like us Finns to have a little more pride. Not to be hanging our heads! What is there to be ashamed of? This is an idea that runs through Lemminkäinen's Return. Lemminkäinen can hold his own with any count or marquis. He is an aristocrat, definitely an aristocrat.
(A.O. Väisänen, article on JS, 1921)

The lullaby at the end of the piece respresents maternal love, which rakes up the pieces of Lemminkäinen from the river of Tuonela. 
(To Jussi Jalas, 26th August 1948)

I actually have nine symphonies, since some of the movements in Kullervo and Lemminkäinen are in pure sonata form.
(To Jussi Jalas, June 1957)

First symphony

My symphonies have nothing to do with Kalevala. I was not thinking about Kalevala during the composition of the first symphony either.
(In personal recollections by Sibelius's secretary, Santeri Levas, 1960)

Second symphony

My second symphony is a confession of the soul.
(To Jussi Jalas, 31st December 1943)

Third symphony

The third symphony suits a small orchestra. In Moscow I performed it with an orchestra which had 12 violas etc., and the woodwind instrumentalists were almost blanketed out. When I had it printed, it was my intention to write in the score that the number of musicians in the orchestra must not exceed 50.

After hearing my third symphony Rimsky-Korsakov shook his head and said: "Why don't you do it the usual way; you will see that the audience can neither follow nor understand this." And now I am certain that my symphonies are played more than his.
(To Jussi Jalas, 18th June 1940)

The third symphony was a disappointment for the audience, as everybody was expecting that it would be like the second. I mentioned this to Gustav Mahler, and he also observed that "with each new symphony you always lose listeners who have been captivated by previous symphonies".
(To Jussi Jalas, 8th January 1943)

Fourth symphony

The fourth symphony does not require a big orchestra.
(To Jussi Jalas, 1st October 1939)

I was writing the fourth symphony in the Fennia Hotel. Kajanus dropped in and asked why I was stressing myself so much. But I am pleased that I did it, for even today I cannot find a single note in it that I could remove, nor can I find anything to add. This gives me strength and satisfaction. The fourth symphony represents a very important and great part of me. Yes, I'm glad to have have written it.
(To Jussi Jalas, 1942)

Stokowski exaggerates in the fourth (e.g. with the mighty bells in the finale) and tries to turn it into something like an Indian religion, which it is not.
(To Jussi Jalas, 29th July 1942)

When I conducted my fourth symphony for the first time nobody applauded and nobody came to thank me. Only Eero Järnefelt, whom it was dedicated to, came and said: "Now let's go to the Seurahuone Restaurant." (To Jussi Jalas, 31st December 1943)

The Bard

In a way, The Bard presents an ancient Scandinavian ballad.
(JS to Ernst Tanzberger. Quoted by Santeri Levas, 1960b)


Luonnotar was one of my very best works.
(JS around 1945. Quoted in Santeri Levas, 1960b)

Sixth symphony

The sixth symphony always makes me remember the scent of the first snow.
(To Jussi Jalas, 31st December 1943)

Seventh symphony

When performing this symphony it is very important that the beginning and the end are conducted very adagio.
(JS to Basil Cameron, October 1949. Quoted by Santeri Levas, 1960b)

Eighth symphony

I was conducting my new work, which had a part for sarrusophone, when I woke up.
(To Jussi Jalas, 8th January 1943)

Remember that all my rough sketches must be burned after my death. I don't want anybody writing 'Sibelius letzten Gedanke' [Sibelius's last thoughts] or something like that.
(To Jussi Jalas, 17th July 1943)

For each of my symphonies I have developed a special technique. It can't be something superficial, it has to be something that has been lived though. In my new work I am struggling with precisely these issues.
(To Jussi Jalas, 17th July 1943)

My life is about to end, and I should like to complete one work. If I die before that everything has been in vain.
(To Jussi Jalas, 12th December 1943)

Westerlund wanted to print 5 piano pieces op. 114:"I will not make them public now, because they (small pieces) are not really my line of work. It's only when I have large-scale forms confronting me that I feel that I am in my own line. Since I have not performed any new pieces for a long time, I do not want to make these public before I have published my large-scale work, the one that is in the making."
(To Jussi Jalas, 24th February 1945)

The new symphony is in my head. We will see what will become of it. But it is alive! I often work on it at night.
(Summer 1953. Quoted in Santeri Levas, 1960b)


Kajanus's recording of Tapiola is too slow.
(To Jussi Jalas, 9th April1943)

Kajanus did not know Tapiola well enough when he went to London to conduct it.
(To Jussi Jalas, 7th December 1943)

Elegant French softness does not suit Tapiola. Directness is a quality that belongs to T.
(To Jussi Jalas, 12th December 1943)