A Controversial Monument in Honour of Sibelius, Finland’s Famous Composer:
One of Helsinki’s famous landmarks is the Sibelius Monument which was built to honour Finland’s national composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Who would have thought that the erection of a monument to honour a famous composer would elicit such heated debate, but apparently the whole of Finland got engaged in an unprecedented public debate about the design.
After Sibelius’ death in 1957, the Sibelius Society organised a two-stage competition for the design of a monument.
Eila Hiltunen was one of the 50 sculptors who participated in the competition. Her submission, Passio Musicae, was an abstract design which consisted of hundreds of tubes, superficially resembling organ pipes.
I suppose some of the critics would have objected on grounds that Sibelius never composed organ music. The Jury selected five of the best projects to compete in the second round, and Hiltunen’s radical abstract entry was included as an extra.
The Sibelius Monument Controversy
At all stages of the Sibelius project there was much public debate as the conformists preferred a figurative solution whilst the modernists were of the view that an abstract representation was acceptable. So heated was the controversy that for the second round judging, the Jury got reinforcement by adding three international jury members from Poland, Italy and Denmark.
The members of the expanded jury favoured Eila Hiltunen’s final project which was a much-evolved version of her first entry. So what’s behind the relatively dense cluster of pipes – it is suggested that they could be a birch forest or the Northern Lights. The nature aspect of the design was enhanced by openings and rich texture on many of the tubes.
Even after Eila Hiltunen was declared the winner, months of heated public debate followed before she was commissioned to carry out her project. A figurative element in the form of Sibelius’ bust was added to appease the conservatives. In shaping the composer’s face the sculptor chose to depict Sibelius in his creative age, not as the familiar elderly man, the national icon. But, even this was too much for some critics.
Sibelius Monument, Finland’s first abstract public monument, was unveiled in 1961 and sits outside the Bank of Finland.
So have the critics changed their minds now that Sibelius Monument is one of the top sightseeing attractions in Helsinki? All Helsinki sightseeing tours bring visitors to the Monument. Full-size elements of the Monument, which were originally material and technique studies, stand outside the UN Palace in New York and in Montreal. A 1:5 scale replica is also found at the UNESCO Palace in Paris.
So, was this the work of a genius sculptor honouring a genius composer? What do you think?