In recent years, in addition to a steady flow of new works about Jean Sibelius, an increasing amount of attention has been paid to Aino (1871–1969), the composer’s often long-suffering wife. Now a major biography of her has been published – the most extensive to date – written by Riitta Konttinen, emeritus professor of art history at Helsinki University, who has previously written about Finnish women artists such as Venny Soldan and Helene Schjerfbeck and also contributed to the book about Ainola that appeared in 2015. Konttinen points out that Aino was a remarkably strong and independent person who overcame many difficulties including the death of one of her daughters and her husband’s debts and alcohol problems.
Aino Sibelius, née Järnefelt, was born into an large and influential family: daughter of a general, with siblings who excelled in the fields of drama, painting and music. She was not only the mother of six daughters but also a highly skilled organizer whose competence at managing the family made an effective counterbalance to her husband’s impulsivity and financial naïvety. She was a talented linguist, writer, mathematician and artist as well as a fine amateur musician. Her passion for Ainola’s garden is well-known and her skilful cultivation of fruit, vegetables and berries made a significant and sustainable contribution to the family’s economy. Her empathy with and belief in her husband’s music were unshakeable even if she did become exasperated at his sometimes immoderate behaviour. Nonetheless, she kept her emotions strictly under control, especially in public. She continued to live at Ainola – the house she and Jean had commissioned and lived in since 1904 – until 1969, the year of her death at the age of 97.
Aino Sibelius by Riitta Konttinen. Published by Siltala, Helsinki 2019. In Finnish
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