During his life, the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, travelled five times throughout Italy. Between the winter and spring 1901, Jean Sibelius was in Rapallo with his family. During his time in the Italian Riviera he started writing the Symphony No. 2 in D. major, Op. 43.
Jean Sibelius - A Great Finn in Rapallo
Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, also known as Jean Sibelius, is considered the greatest Finnish composer and symbol of the national identity of his country. Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna, Finland, in 1865. Until today, his figure is regarded of great importance for the late romantic and early modern western music. Among his works the most well-known and appreciated are the symphonic composition of Finlandia, The Karelia Suite and the Valse Triste, together with his set of 7 symphonies.
Between the winter and spring 1901 Sibelius and his family undertook an extensive sojourn in Rapallo. Together with his wife Aino and the daughters Eva and Ruth he rented a room at the “Pension Suisse” on the promenade of Rapallo (next to the Chiosco della Musica). However, his love for walking and nature took him soon to be attracted by the surrounding countryside:
« Right now it is the time of violets – in the forests you feel the scent of them. I have been to the surroundings of Rapallo, to Sta Marguerita, Sta Miguela and Portofino, where the wonderful blue, sun lightened Mediterranean is garlanded by flowers. Sorry that you can᾿t be here to enjoy with me all the beauty given by the nature. Above all the walk from here to Zoagli and Chiavari – one of the most beautiful parts of Italy. The road follows the sea shore. »
letter to Axel Carpelan (6-3-1901)
On his search for inspiration and the necessary peace to focus on his work Sibelius rented a second room for himself in the quiet of Villa Molfino. The Villa, is a few hundred metres from Bettina57, in Fossato dei Monti, near the very same stream of the San Francesco in direction of San Maurizio dei Monti.
« Finally I have found a resort by the Mediterranean, a garden full of roses in bloom, camellias, plane trees, cypresses, palms and almond trees in bloom; oranges, lemons, mandarins... »
letter to Axel Carpelan (4-2-1901)
While in Rapallo, Sibelius composed his most performed Symphony No. 2 in D. major, Op. 43, greatly appreciated by the critics of the time. At the beginning of the century he found in Rapallo a suitable place for enlarging his artistic spirit and make of his second symphony “a confession of the soul” in Sibelius words. In Rapallo and the Tigullio Gulf there is still an international Music Festival dedicated to Sibelius (The Sibelius Festival) and the Sibelius Orchestra in memory of the great composer. Two commemorative plates in the name of Sibelius can also be seen both at the side of Casa Garibalda and at the entrance of Villa Molfino.
Bettina57 - Casa Sibelius
Bettina57 is located just a few steps from the San Francesco stream, the same stream which flows into the sea just in front of the ancient Castle of Rapallo. The building was erected in the 1878. Above the main entrance there is still a metallic plate reporting this date.
The house was built just a few hundred metres from the previously existed “Porta dei Mulinetti” (“the little mills gate”), one of the five gates enclosing the city of Rapallo. At that time, all around were orchards and vegetable gardens. Continuing walking up the stream of the San Francesco there were many mills, used mainly by the very same families and a few neighbours for cereals and oil production. The façade shows the virtuosity and harmony of the Trompe-l’œil Ligurian building decorative art.
Why Casa Sibelius?
Back then, Bettina 57 was a humble household, probably owned by people partially involved in agriculture for their livelihood. However, if walls could speak they would tell us about the exchange of glances with the prestigious Finnish guest during his walks from the town to Villa Molfino. Indeed he would be walking on this very same street (or through the nearby Sant’Agostino village) when going to Rapallo. It is such an honour and privilege for this small place to contribute to the inspiration of this musical genius. What else would this house tell us if only it could speak?