Though Jean Sibelius is rightfully regarded among the most significant composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for fusing traditional elements of the Romantic era with radical experimentalism, his orchestral works should be labeled first and foremost as Finnish, as his seven symphonies are a veritable soundtrack to Finland's national identity.
Born to a Swedish-speaking family in 1865, he studied composition in Germany with Albert Becker, though a significant portion of early pieces show the clear influence of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Early signs of nationalism can be heard in Karelia Suite for Orchestra (Op. 11), a set four tone poems he completed as a student, the rousing orchestral poem Finlandia, and his first two symphonies. The 1903 Violin Concerto was a well-timed departure from19th-century Romanticism, and received wide international recognition. Though he completed few works after World War I, they included his a elusive, masterful sixth symphony and the dark symphonic poem Tapiola. While his effect on Scandinavian composers is paramount, his radical approach to nationalism had influence far beyond Finland's borders.