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Visiting Helsinki, our kind host Margit Tuokko (soprano, a longtime interpreter of King Harald's Saga) conveyed us the forty miles north to Ainola, the home of the Jean Sibelius family for many decades, and now a museum. It's been kept as a cosy wooden house out in the countryside, and we learned that many of its pleasing design features had been the work of Aino, Mrs Sibelius. It was particularly delightful to learn that all the plants in the vigorous garden were the same species, in the same locations as those planted by Aino a hundred years ago. We toasted this friendly visit with fruit juice pressed from the apple trees outside.

However, what I really wanted to see was The Stove (pictured here, and what a fine example it is) in which Sibelius reputedly burned all the material of his Eighth Symphony, a long-awaited work which had been spoken about repeatedly and promised to various conductors including Koussevitsky. The latter's courteous enquiries over the years about the score's forthcoming availability were met with various versions of "it's nearly finished" which are excruciating to read about now.

Imagining the dark shadow cast by looming deadlines and great expectations, we began to see the gracious family home in a more anxious light. However, after our visit, I read that according to Aino, once the manuscript(s?) had been burned, Sibelius again became "more calm and optimistic". Of course, contemporary composers now just need to press Delete to get rid of their frustrated attempts. But throwing the pages into a fired-up stove is probably much more emphatic and satisfying.




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