Sibelius founded a drinking club in Helsinki and endlessly consumed Benedictine. He would drink alcohol to strengthen himself before conducting a performance, and was known to vanish for days at a time. The final page of his diary, from 1944, features a shopping list for cognac, champagne and gin. The painting above is Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s work entitled ‘The Problem’, depicting Sibelius drinking with friends.
Did you know: Sibelius moved to the countryside to try to give up his drinking and smoking habits. He wrote that ‘isolation and loneliness are driving me to despair…. In order to survive, I have to have alcohol.’ He endured throat cancer and died from a brain haemorrhage.
Now indulge yourself with….. Sibelius 2nd Symphony, 1st movement
In 1940, Virgil Thomson, the music critic of the New York ‘Herald Tribune’, criticised this work as ‘self-indulgent’.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.