During a recent Baltic cruise, second tenor Trevor Watkins and his wife Angela visited Helsinki, capital of Finland.  They went to see one of the city’s most celebrated landmarks, the Sibelius Monument, and learned the interesting story behind it.

The Sibelius monument in Helsinki


The monument, which resulted from a public fundraising campaign and a competition in 1961-62, is the work of Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen.  Initially a purely abstract composition reminiscent of a collection of organ pipes, the piece was the subject of heated debate when it was created. Sibelius did not actually compose for the organ; and many Finnish people felt that their most famous composer and national hero deserved better.  In particular they wanted a figurative element and Hiltunen was eventually commissioned to add a depiction of Sibelius’ face which shows him as he was around 1910, when he was at the height of his creative powers.

Head of Sibelius - added after protests

t is more than fifty years since the unveiling of the monument and the arguments that surrounded its birth have long been forgotten.  It is now much loved by Finns and much visited by tourists.  A scaled down version can be found outside the UNESCO Palace in Paris, and full-size elements used during the design stand outside the United Nations building in New York and in Montreal.

Since 2011, Finland has celebrated Sibelius’ birthday, 8 December, with a flag day.  This year will see a number of events to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, including tribute concerts at this year’s Proms, attended by several CMVC members.  No doubt CMVC will observe the occasion with an especially rousing rendition of Finlandia during our concert on 10 December.

Signature of artist, Eila Hiltunen.

Report and photographs by Trevor Watkins