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Clouds and chords remembered

By James Werner / December 9, 1981



My wife and I are connoisseurs of parks. We seek them out wherever we travel. During the summer of 1975 we spent more time than usual in the parks of Europe, for it was one of the warmest and driest summers there in many years. In hot weather a park is a haven from the midday sun, and if there is any breeze at all , you will find it under a tree in some park.

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Our last day in Helsinki, however, was unlike any other day we had spent in the parks. For the first time in many days the sky was overcast and threatening to rain. We had the afternoon free, and we still had our rented car. I did not want to leave without spending some time in the park that is dedicated to one of my favorite composers, Finland's musical giant, Jean Sibelius.

The idea of naming a park after a composer is refreshing, to say the least. Will there ever be a MacDowell, Ives, Gershwin or Copland park in the United States? Or a Purcell, Handel, Elgar or Vaughan Williams park in England? Perhaps , in time. But Helsinki already has its Sibelius Park, with a strikingly unique monument to the composer. And what a fitting monument it is!

One part of it is the face of Sibelius, sculpted in a mass of metal embedded in a rock promontory. The face is serious, almost brooding, as his music sometimes is. To one side and in front of Sibelius's face is a larger metal sculpture composed of many tubes, clustered together vertically like organ pipes but at different levels and in varying depths. The tubes have diversified surfaces, some smooth, some rough, some with jagged holes running their length. The impression is one of massive undulating motion, frozen at one instant.

By the time we got to Rajasaarentie Street on the north border of the park, a light drizzle had begun. It seemed appropriate, for so much of Sibelius's music reflects the misty atmosphere of the north, pierced at times by flashes of sunlight like sharp trumpet blasts.

We left the car and strolled along a walk toward the rise in the middle of the park where the monument stands. We stood in front of Sibelius's face and watched the rain gently beating on it while he stared ahead. Water dripped from the other sculpture's mass of gleaming silver tubes, reminding me of icicles. I could almost hear the mysterious opening strains of Sibelius's tone poem about the forest-god, Tapio, rising above the sound of the rain. The spell was broken, however, by the drone of cars passing on a nearby street.

We didn't want to leave. The park epitomized Finland for us. For years Sibelius was Finland for me, and he became so for my wife too as we listened to his music together over the years. We walked around as the rain continued.

A few days earlier we had basked in the sun, eating our lunch in Kluuvi Park near the railway station. That was usual for us, sitting on the grass munching cheese, fruit and hard-crusted bread. I cannot deny that we enjoyed those sun-drenched lunches in that warmest of summers. But all those typical enjoyments tended to merge into a composite, whereas the afternoon in Sibelius Park stands by itself, somewhat as Sibelius stood among the composers of Europe. He was one of them but so unlike the rest - a solitary figure, immersed in nature, feeling it and expressing it in his unique way. To him, the rain and mist were as welcome as the infrequent sunshine. The memory of our walk through his park in the rain is as sweet to me as some of the chords uttered by the strings in his symphonies.