Is this the secret grandma of Finnish music?

Is this the secret grandma of Finnish music?


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2023

Finns are marking the 120th birth anniversary of Helvi Leiviskä, a prolific composer unknown beyond her own peninsula.

Some says she’s right up there with Sibelius. Either way, they are demanding to hear more.

She worked most of her life as librarian of the Sibelius Academy, passing away in August 1982.


  • Adam Stern says:

    The Seattle Philharmonic played the U. S. premiere of her Symphony No. 2 in 2019. Truly extraordinary music.

  • Tony Fogg says:

    The photograph in this post is of the Australian composer Miriam Hyde.

  • Sara Davis Buechner says:

    The photo here is of Australian composer Miriam Hyde, whom I knew personally.

  • soavemusica says:

    Well, I am a Finn, and have only read/heard about her.

    I wasn`t aware of the major celebrations on the streets, but I did try to listen to the music, as the notes put together are called. That would do, thank you.

  • Andreas C. says:

    “Secret grandma” is a good description of Leiviskä, since as the librarian of the Sibelius Academy, she provided a few generations of Finnish conducting and composition students with orchestral scores and was thus at least a familiar face to many of them. Hannu Lintu conducted the 3rd a few years ago – it hasn’t been printed, but he remarked that Leiviskä’s handwriting was impeccable and felt strangely familiar, until he realised he’s seen it on numerous library folders and scores during his studies.

    At the same time, he remarked that her person and biography are largely unstudied by musicologists and historians, making her feel somewhat like a “ghostly presence” on the pages Finnish musical history: few interviews and writing have been published, and very little is generally known beyond her connection to Theosophy.

  • soavemusica says:

    If you are not a friend of music, you have probably not even read/heard of her in Finland.

    Then again, Finland may have recently won international fame in European Figure Skating Championships. I don`t know, if the term “woman/female” is offensive in the sports of our time, but with our very own eyes we can see an elderly male performing in the ceremony, as a – how does one put it – traditional female?

    Not every international commentator was able to take it seriously. In Finland, they could probably be arrested.