Sibelius’ fame seems to rest nowadays on his work as a composer of symphonies, but how important a song writer was he?

He was extremely important to the song repertoire as song was to him. His output (over 100 songs!) traverses both the Scandinavian poetic influence of his time as well as the romantic German. Although his first language was Swedish, his dedication to Finnish national culture spawned many works in that un-mined language, and became important in Finland finding its cultural identity during Sibelius’ lifetime. The song repertoire is greatly enhanced by his extensive work, both with piano and orchestra. They are a staple in Scandinavian recitals.

Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley

Is it just the language barrier that means his songs are less often heard?

Sibelius wrote songs in different languages, including German (Op. 50) and English (Hymn to Thaïs), so those songs are definitely accessible! The Nordic languages are a small hindrance to singer and audience, but there is great richness in the folklore and his response to nature, which he explores, and it’s very much worth the effort to find the language character in order to...