6 December: Sibelius’s drinking club

Every day throughout Advent, the season of overindulgence, we’ll be telling a tale of an overindulgent composer

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Composer:    Sibelius

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How indulgent:  Incredibly indulgent

How: 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

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In 1940, Virgil Thomson, the music critic of the New York ‘Herald Tribune’, criticised this work as ‘self-indulgent’.