Music for Freemasonry


The first Finnish Freemasons' lodge was founded in 1756, but Masonic activity ceased when Sweden lost Finland to Russia in 1809.

At the dawn of Finland's independence, a number of men who had emigrated from Finland to America and there become acquainted with Freemasonry were considering whether Freemasonry could be reintroduced to Finland. The most active among them were the lawyer Toivo H. Nekton (previously Itkonen) and the engineer J.E. Tuokkola, who had re-emigrated to Finland in 1918. Both Nekton and Tuokkola drew up long lists of prospective members. The name of the "world-famous composer" Professor Jean Sibelius appears in the preliminary lists. Early versions of the list also included august members of society such as General C. G. Mannerheim, Archbishop Gustaf Johansson, the architect Lars Sonck, the painter Pekka Halonen and the composer Robert Kajanus. It is not known whether Nekton talked to these men, or how they reacted to the proposal, but none of them appeared in the final list of candidates.

When a small group gathered to discuss the founding of "Suomi Lodge 1" on 14th August 1922, it was recorded in the minutes that Jean Sibelius would compose "original, genuinely Finnish music for the lodge". Toivo H. Nekton, who had been an active choral singer, had already discussed the matter with his old friend. It is also noted in the minutes that Jean Sibelius and Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa would be "exempted from the registration fee and the membership fee for the first year". The initiators hoped that Sibelius would become the organist of the lodge, while Wettenhovi-Aspa was granted the exemption since he had promised to write a history of Freemasonry in Finland - a promise he never fulfilled.

In the presence of a group of dignitaries gathered in the Assembly House of the Estates in Helsinki on 22nd August 1922, Arthur S. Tompkins, the Grand Master of New York State, together with his entourage, performed an induction to the order according to the prescribed ritual. One of the newcomers acted as the candidate for induction, while Jean Sibelius and about another thirty men followed the proceedings from the side.

"Suomi loosi" – the Suomi Lodge - started its activities with great enthusiasm. During the first year of its activity Sibelius participated in the sessions of the lodge on six occasions, but as he was spending a lot of time abroad in those days, his visits became less frequent during the years that followed.

It seems that every time Sibelius was present at the sessions of the Suomi Lodge he sat at the fine Mannborg harmonium, as the lodge did not possess an organ as yet. The programme included works by Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and Bach, and also well-known chorales. When the composer was sitting at the harmonium the Masons could hear, in addition to other music, fine improvisations. These provided material for Sibelius's Surumarssi, which later became connected with the third grade of Masonry, and was almost completed in April 1923.

Sometimes in the enthusiasm of his playing the composer seemed to forget time and place, and the Master of the Lodge had to interrupt the music discreetly in order to proceed with the ritual.


The Masonic Ritual Music

Nevertheless, Sibelius's own ritual music was slow in coming, and for a time it seemed that he had forgotten it entirely. Wäinö Sola, who was unaware of the initial stages of the matter (he had become a Mason in April 1923 when Sibelius was acting as part-time lodge organist) suggested at a brotherhood dinner in the autumn of 1926 that Sibelius should be asked to write a special ritual piece for the Finnish Masons. The motion was carried with great enthusiasm, and the very next day Sola had the opportunity to present the request to Sibelius, who gave his assent. The Suomi Lodge decided to support the project financially. This became possible when a brother of the lodge, the pharmacist Berndt Forsblom, donated 10,000 marks for the purpose. It was paid to Sibelius before the end of the year.

Now Sibelius became interested, and early in the morning of 7th January 1927 he called Sola and asked him to come that same evening with brother Linko (Ernst Linko had received his Masonic degree a couple of weeks after Sibelius) to the session of the Suomi Lodge in which his ritual music would be performed for the first time. On that occasion they received the score from Sibelius, and thus faced the ordeal of what was essentially a sight-reading performance. In the morning Sibelius had already come to listen to the music when it was played by the regular organist, Arvi Karvonen. However, the harmonium could not produce anything like the forte Sibelius desired - which led the furious composer to address harsh words to the uncooperative instrument. The music was not played in its entirety that night, but at least three ritual music pieces received their first performance. The activity of the lodge was the installation of Samuli Sario as Master of the Lodge; as a skilful user of words Sario had also participated in translating and writing the texts for the music.

After only five days the entire ritual music was ready to receive its first complete performance. On the evening of 12th January 1927, with Sibelius himself in attendance, Wäinö Sola and Arvi Karvonen performed the entire ritual music for the congregated brethren. Among those present was also the Vice Grand Master of Finland, V.M.J. Viljanen, who in his warm address thanked the composer, adding that the new ritual music would cause Sibelius's worldwide reputation to "shine forth and be immortalised" even more than before.

The leadership of the Finnish Grand Lodge well understood the value of the composer's fine work and decided to make Sibelius a honorary member; Viljanen presented the invitation to the composer, who declared that he would accept honorary membership with gratitude. Since then, only two brethren have been granted this rare distinction.

On the evening of the first performance of the ritual music Sibelius gave his composition to his own lodge, Suomi Lodge, and announced that the other two Finnish lodges, Tammer and Phoenix, would also be allowed to use it in their sessions. With the composer's permission Sola copied the score for their use. Since then all the Finnish lodges have used only the music of their greatly revered composer-brother in their sessions.

That night Sibelius paid his last visit to his lodge; at least his name no longer appears in the minutes of Suomi Lodge. When Wäinö Sola became the Grand Master of the recently founded Lodge of St John No. 4 at the beginning of January 1928, he on several occasions invited Sibelius to visit the St John sessions. Indeed, Sibelius did honour the lodge with his presence on the lodge's tenth anniversary, but there are no records of later visits.

At this stage, the ritual music consisted of eight compositions. A lodge session was begun reverently and solemnly with the Avaushymni (Opening Hymn), The Alttarin valmistus (Preparation of the Altar) is brief and solemn, while the third piece is used for ceremonial processions and conveys a deep sense of mystery. Sibelius did not give a name to the fourth piece of ritual music, calling it simply "No. 4". To the fifth piece he gave the name Light. Today this work, the most splendid piece in the ritual music, is known under the name of Sulkemishymni (Closing Hymn), or alternatively Salem. When Sibelius was writing the piece he may have been inspired by a poem by Viktor Rydberg, skilfully translated by Samuli Sario. Salem was performed in 1938 at the opening of the World Exhibition of New York; the American publisher Galaxy had just published it in the first American edition of the ritual music.

Piece No. 7 (at this stage still unnamed) was intended by Sibelius for a Masonic ritual. Viktor Rydberg's poem Arioso was used as the text. The last piece of ritual music, Marche funébre, is one of the most impressive compositions in the suite. It has also been used outside the brotherhood as funeral music. Later, Sibelius's chorale, Suur olet Herra, was added to the suite. The pieces Veljesvirsi and Ylistyshymni, both connected with Finnish Masonry, were to be Jean Sibelius's last compositions.

The brethren received Sibelius's ritual music with enthusiasm. Sola described the atmosphere in a letter to Berndt Forsblom, the apothecary of Kiuruvesi, as follows:

"Sibelius's music is now completed and it is truly wonderful. There is more for the singers than you would think. Sib has sought words all the way from Confucius and he has discovered lovely poetic pearls by Rydberg, Schiller and Goethe. That poem by Simelius which you suggested has received the sweetest expression of them all.
Sib's compositions can be played either with words or without, and the funeral march is really marvellous. Suomi Lodge can be happy to possess this music. - - - I am sure that if it was played on a large organ in a big church with an orchestra it would cause much astonishment."

There were some copyright problems with opus 113. When the Grand Scribe of the Grand Lodge of New York visited Finland in 1933 he heard Sibelius's ritual music for the first time and became very enthusiastic. A couple of years later the Grand Master Axel Solitander took a copy of the music as a present to the Mother Grand Lodge in America, but Sibelius had forbidden publication. As there were breaks in the flow of information and the American and Finnish copyright regulations were in conflict, the Grand Lodge of New York had the score of the ritual music printed in 1937; this publication did not reach Finland until 1948! However, the next edition was prepared with collaboration between the Grand Lodges. The Finnish editions are from 1969 and 1992.

Jean Sibelius's Musique religieuse, Opus 113, is a priceless treasure of Finnish Masonry. At the same time it contributes to the worldwide fame of a great Finnish Freemason.

Finlandia (Masonic Version)

As early as the 1920s a considerable amount of non- ritual music was performed on Masonic occasions. Even before the ritual music was completed Wäinö Sola had been cherishing the idea of a solo song or choral version of Finlandia with Masonic words. He completed a text at the beginning of February 1937. Sola sent his text to Sibelius without disclosing the author's name. Sibelius approved of the words and arranged the Finlandia hymn episode for male choir. At the tenth anniversary session of St John's Lodge No. 4 a quartet consisting of Wäinö Sola, Martti Similä, Sulo Räikkönen and A.O. Turunen performed the hymn to words by Sola for the first time. On this occasion the Finnish flag was saluted, in the presence of the composer himself.

The occasion saw the founding of a music fund which bore the name of Sibelius. Wäinö Sola was the first person to contribute a cheque. This was the cheque that had been promised to Sibelius for the honour he had conferred on the lodge but which he had refused to accept. O.J.A Viljanen, the Master of the Lodge, set a basic sum for the fund and instead of the proverbial widow's mite a substantial monetary donation was collected for the fund during the evening.