Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was a Finnish composer. Born in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, Sibelius' music (of the late Romantic period, and partly inspired by the idea of romantic nationalism) was to play a significant part in the formation of Finnish national identity after the country's transition from Russian Grand Duchy to independent state in 1917. Despite having been born into a Swedish-speaking family, Sibelius was sent to a Finnish speaking school. Before what was effectively a retirement from composition in the final 30 years of his life, Sibelius composed prolifically, utilizing a wide range of musical forms.
His oeuvre includes seven symphonies, 21 pieces of choral music, over 100 songs, an opera (Jungfrun i tornet), incidental music for 13 plays, chamber music, piano music, masonic music, a number of tone poems and what is perhaps his best-known work, the symphonic poem Finlandia - the Finnish national anthem. He had an unfulfilled ambition to be a concert violinist - he did however write one of the great violin concertos.
The influences of Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner are readily apparent in Sibelius's orchestral writing, as well as the structural influences of the earlier sonata allegro form in his symphonic pieces. However, Sibelius remains unique and distinct for his virtuosic demands on performers, flare for the dramatic, willingness to experiment, and sometimes simple, beautiful melodies constructed from just two or four notes. The influence of Sibelius on Bela Bartok and Krzysztof Penderecki is unmistakable.
Sibelius' music has frequently divided critics: whilst many have written in enthusiastic support of his music, he has been heavily criticized by many others, including the composer and philosopher Theodor Adorno and Virgil Thompson. French composer René Leibowitz once notoriously called Sibelius "the worst composer in the world". Celebrated recordings of his music have been made by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Simon Rattle and Leonard Bernstein, among others.