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  Main page: People: Famous Finns: Ainola – the home of Jean Sibelius   

Ainola – the home of Jean Sibelius

Written for Virtual Finland by professor Irmeli Niemi,
Chairman of the Board the Ainola Foundation

The place where Finland's greatest composer Jean Sibelius spent much of his life, the house named Ainola, after his wife Aino, is a destination of pilgrimage for music lovers in general and admirers of Sibelius in particular. The visitor to Ainola absorbs the unbroken tranquillity and gains a sense of the world in which the composer and his family lived. When he was composing there Sibelius insisted on silence; he believed that music should be heard without disturbance from extraneous noise.

His wish is still respected at Ainola: none of the maestro's work is amplified through loudspeakers in the effort to fabricate a mood. No, the atmosphere of the place emerges from the visitor's freedom to share the tasteful simplicity of the house, to hear the wind rustling through the trees in the garden and the song of birds. Those fortunate enough might catch sight of the curving flight of cranes above Ainola and the lake known as Tuusulanjärvi, an undying source of inspiration to Sibelius.

Ainola stands on the edge of the town of Järvenpää, 38 kilometres north of the Finnish capital, Helsinki. The house was built early this century to a design by the architect Lars Sonck, known in Finland as a leading exponent of the Art Nouveau style. Among Sonck's other notable buildings are Tampere Cathedral and the mansion named Kultaranta, the official summer residence of the Presidents of Finland.

By the early 1900s, when Sibelius was in his thirties, he began to realise that Helsinki was not the right place for him to write music: too much of fashionable society, too much alluring but time-consuming trivia. In his own words, "In Helsinki every song within me dies." Many another artist had rekindled the flame of creativity once away from the distractions of the city.

Sibelius knew that a small community of artists had grown up on the shores of Lake Tuusulanjärvi. His brother-in-law told him of a wooded plot of land for sale in the area. In 1903, Sibelius signed an agreement for the purchase of the land, and the following year the family were able to move into their new home. Apart from the time spent travelling abroad and two other brief periods, Sibelius lived there for the rest of his life. Helsinki was a fairly short distance away by train.

The grounds in which Ainola stands are encircled by a spruce hedge and contain the main house plus a sauna cabin, two utility buildings and an office building. Ainola itself is a two-storey wooden house whose steep roof and porch of round logs give it a late-romantic feel. After some time, the exterior of the building was given a changed look when cladding boards were added and the upper storey was enlarged. From his study upstairs Sibelius could look out across the tree tops to the lake beyond.

Click for a larger image

Sibelius with his wife Aino
at home in Ainola

To the visitor Ainola looks surprisingly small to be the composer's workshop as well home to himself, his wife and their five daughters. In places the log walls of the rooms are in their natural state and traditional tiled heating stoves give the interior a singular appeal. Pride of place in the drawing room belongs to the grand piano, on which distinguished pianists of our time are occasionally accorded the honour of playing Sibelius's "Impromptu" or some other appropriate work of his. The walls are decorated with everlasting laurel wreaths and paintings, the latter including Gallen-Kallela's mystical "Satu", part of which is a portrait of Sibelius himself. There is also the composer's favourite painting: Oscar Parviainen's imposing "Hautajaissaatto" (the Funeral Procession).

Ainola's self-effacing, unadorned, refined atmosphere owes much to the fact that it remained the home of Aino Sibelius for more than ten years after her husband's death. Artistically talented and cerebral, she possessed the skills of the craftsman: hers were the designs for the staircase leading to the upper floor and for the kitchen cupboards and cabinets. Her skilled hands gave their gifts to the garden of Ainola, where flowers, herbs and fruit bushes flourish still, as she planned. It is the last resting place of Jean and Aino Sibelius.

Interior view of Ainola. (Click for larger image)
Left: Ainola - Living room with the grand piano.
Right: Ainola - The library
Left: Ainola - Dining room with the fireplace.
Right: Ainola - View from dining room to living room

In 1972, the Sibelius daughters together with the Ministry of Education and the Sibelius Society established the Ainola Foundation in order to preserve Ainola as a monument of cultural history and to keep the house open to the public, which it has been since 1974.

Here you can view 360° panorama pictures of Ainola created for Virtual Finland by Kari Palsila.

1. Ainola´s front entrance
2. View of the living room and the dining room

"When Sibelius first left Helsinki, Järvenpää was to a large extent untouched countryside. Foals and sheep almost nosed their way into the house, and from time to time an elk majestically bestrode the grounds. Even by Nordic standards, Sibelius responded with exceptional intensity to the moods of nature and the changes in the seasons: he scanned the skies with his binoculars for the geese flying over the lake ice, listened to the screech of the cranes, and heard the cries of the curlew echo over the marshy grounds just below Ainola. He savoured the spring blossoms every bit as much as he did autumnal scents and colours."

From "Sibelius, Volume II" by Erik Tawaststejerna
Faber and Faber, 1986

On October the 18th, 1957, Sibelius was returning from his customary morning walk. Exhilarated, he told his wife Aino that he had seen a flock of cranes approaching. "There they come, the birds of my youth," he exclaimed. Suddenly, one of the birds broke away from the formation and circled once above Ainola. It then rejoined the flock to continue its journey.

Two days afterwards Sibelius died of a brain haemorrhage.

From "Sibelius" by Erik Tawaststjerna
OTAVA, 1977

In 2003 Ainola is open to the public from May 2 to September 30, from Tuesday to Sunday between 10 and 17 hours.

See here how to reach Ainola.

Further information on opening times and guided tours here:
address: Ainolantie, 04400 Järvenpää
telephone: +358 9 287 322 or +358 9 2945 620
e-mail: or

Published April 2002




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