According to new research radio made the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius an international media figure

New research highlights how in the 1930s, the relationship between radio and Finland’s most famous composer Jean Sibelius had an important effect on the development of broadcast operations as well as on the status of Sibelius and Western classical art music.

Black and white photo of the composer Jean Sibelius at his desk in his home Ainola.
Photo by Eric Sundström, Helsinki City Museum

Finland’s most famous art music composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) gradually ceased writing new music at the end of the 1920s. At the same time, radio broadcasts became more common in Europe. In Finland, the key player in the industry was Finnish Broadcast Company Yleisradio, founded in 1926, which gained broadcast monopoly status in 1934.

Thanks to AM technology and coordinated joint concerts, Yleisradio showed that it had something to offer to an international audience as well, says Janne Mäkelä, visiting researcher from the University of the Arts Helsinki.

Sibelius’s music, on the other hand, spread effectively around the world and made Sibelius himself a celebrated national hero and an international media figure.

’In previous studies, the 1930s have often been seen as a culturally closed decade in Europe including Finland,’ says Janne Mäkelä.

According to his research, the decade was also transnational in nature due to the intensive relationship between radio and classical music.

Finlandia by Jean Sibelius opened the European concert on 29th October 1939. The concert was enabled by the Finnish broadcasting company and took place in Sibelius Academy. Photo: Hugo Sundström 1939 / Finnish Heritage Agency / Finna. The photo is from Janne Mäkelä’s research article published in Lähikuva journal number 1/2024.

Sibelius as diligent radio listener

‘Sibelius himself was a diligent radio listener and, with the help of AM broadcasts, newspaper programme information and personal networks, stayed well informed about foreign radio programmes until the 1950s,’ Mäkelä says.

In the 1950s, the international reach of radio decreased due to the new FM technology.

The central research material of the article consists of Finnish newspapers and magazines and Yleisradio’s annual reports. The research literature includes writings about music, radio operations, internationality and Jean Sibelius.

Radio company Centrum used the famous composer Jean Sibelius in its newspaper advertisements in the years 1935–39. Phota: Helsingin Sanomat, 17 September 1939 / The National Library of Finland. The photo is from Janne Mäkelä’s research article published in Lähikuva journal number 1/2024.

Read the research article in Finnish

Janne Mäkelä: Radio ja Sibelius. Rajoja ylittävä mediasuhde 1926–1957. Lähikuva 1/2024, 8–34.

The research article is part of Diversity of music heritage research project funded by Kone foundation.