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Eavesdropping – At table with Jean Sibelius

Jean Sibelius (on the right) with other artists at one of their “symposia,” which sceptical contemporaries disparaged as mere carousing | Photo: Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0
For his 150th birthday, Jean Sibelius is the focus of an unusual web project. The portal Mitgehört / Ohimennen kuultua by the Goethe-Institut Finland presents him and his contemporaries in an interactive animated panorama and looks back at the epoch of the First World War.

“Perhaps I will never become the great composer that Aino and I dreamed of. Oh, no! My soul is ailing and there’s no end in sight. How did I let it go this far?” Jean Sibelius asks over a bottle of red wine and his diary. He seems at wits’ end. The war has cut off his income. He is making ends meet with commissions; detested “bread tunes.” He entrusts his diary with his thoughts of self-doubt and suicide.

At this moment near the end of the First World War, the man cannot know that streets, schools and the nation’s only conservatory will one day bear his name. One day he – who envies others for their public recognition – will be Finland’s most famous composer and his birthday, 8 December, will be the day on which Finnish music is celebrated.

Jean Sibelius is the focus of the multimedia website Mitgehört (“eavesdropping”), a project by the Goethe-Institut Finland for his 150th birthday. The project is part of the Goethe-Institut’s international series 1914-1918. In an interactive, animated panorama, it conveys a three-dimensional space compiling video and audio material, including scenes played by actors and speakers.

The website offers far more than biographical information about Jean Sibelius. It sketches a panorama of Finland’s arts landscape during the First World War and the Finnish Civil War. At that time, many of the country’s artists became destitute or fought in the wars as soldiers. Some of them are brought together by this elaborate production in the virtual space surrounding Sibelius.

Each of these figures has a story to tell: composer Aarre Merikanto was a soldier in the Finnish war of liberation on the side of the bourgeoisie troops, was taken a prisoner of war and later wrote his famous War Symphony. The writer and later Nobel prizewinner for literature Frans Eemil Sillanpää was not a part of the battles but recorded his wartime impressions in his famous novel Meek Heritage. Other contemporaries, whose names are largely unknown in Germany today, are also introduced.

The cross-section of the arts landscape during Sibelius’s age parenthetically reveals its strong ties to Germany, where many Finnish musicians and visual artists studied. The fine details of Mitgehört stimulate the senses; for instance a doorknob so realistic you feel you could touch it, the rustling of book pages that seem to be close by. Users can even take a quiz to prove how much they learned.

 Zum Webportal Mitgehört | Screenshot: Goethe-Institut
Go to the webportal Mitgehört | Screenshot: Goethe-Institut

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