Article from a Shanghai newspaper in Chinese on the occasion of Jean Sibelius’s 70th birthday in late 1935. Archive of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Article: The Nation of Sibelius – Sibelius and the Construction of the Finnish National Identity Abroad in the Early Decades of Finnish Independence

Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Chief Curator, Archive and Library Manager,
Finnish National Gallery

First published in Hanna-Leena Paloposki (ed.), Sibelius and the World of Art. Ateneum Publications Vol. 70. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, 2014, 211–229.

Promoting Finland Abroad

After gaining its independence in 1917, Finland began establishing contacts with other countries and to make itself known internationally. Finland wanted to portray itself as a solid, independent Western state and an internally unified nation. Culture played an important role in the construction of the country’s image. As the evening newspaper Iltalehti observed in 1927, Finland had to make itself known abroad for more reasons than that we ‘run fast and make good butter and excellent pulp.’ According to the paper, Finland also had great theatre, first-class music and vibrant literature and art.[1]

From the start, the task of promoting Finland internationally fell to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, established in 1918, and Finnish diplomatic missions played an important role in this. The visibility of the country, the dissemination of information about and events associated with Finland were constant topics in the press summaries, reports and reviews supplied by Finnish embassies to the ministry, as well as in news wires sent to Finnish papers.[2] Aside from the authorities, many institutions, societies and private individuals contributed to the cultural exports of Finland.

In this essay, I discuss the ways in which Jean Sibelius and his music were used in official promotion during the first decades after Finnish independence. I will focus on the activities of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Finnish diplomatic missions,[3] particularly in relation to two topics: Sibelius’s 70th birthday celebrations in 1935, and Sibelius and the construction of the image of Finland in Italy.

[1] Järjestelmä tarpeen. Iltalehti 26 February 1927.

[2] Information on the promotion of Finland can be found in the archives of the Foreign Ministry as well as Finnish diplomatic missions. The former contain a section dedicated to this matter. Historians Pekka Lähteenkorva and Jussi Pekkarinen discuss the matter in Ikuisen poudan maa. Virallinen Suomi-kuva 1918–1945 (2004) specifically based on archive material and from the perspective of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. However, the section on Sibelius is rather short in the book. The sequel, Idän etuvartio? Suomi-kuva 1945–1981, was published in 2008 (Helsinki: WSOY).

[3]  In this essay, I do not discuss Sibelius’s own relations abroad, his own views of his role in the promotion of Finland, or the issue of the possible ‘Finnishness’ of Sibelius’s music.

Featured image: Article from a Shanghai newspaper in Chinese on the occasion of Jean Sibelius’s 70th birthday in late 1935. Archive of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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