The music of this Finnish master is filled with rich lyricism and orchestral timbres that evoke the spirit of northern countries, expressing intimate reactions to an expansive world. Throughout WWII, Sibelius' hymn to his homeland Finlandia was played by orchestras as a protest against the fascist invaders, and was often retitled a nocturne or somehow otherwise camouflaged but audiences knew what was intended. This music was heard, often uncredited, in several wartime films, and occurred in the television series The Pallisers (1974) and in Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990).
Excerpts from Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 are heard throughout Paragraph 175 (1999) as many aging gays recall the horrific oppression of homosexual men and some lesbians under the Nazis employing an old law known as Paragraph 175 originally enacted in 1879. Even gossip and innuendo, or a single touch, were considered evidence.
Sibelius' Karelia Suite, with its restless Intermezzo, sweet Ballade, and sprightly Alla Marcia, is heard in excerpts in Kidnapped (1960) based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The music accompanies scenes of David Balfour fleeing with the adventurer Alan Breck Stewart across the Highlands to evade the redcoats. They are chasing after young David who has been falsely accused of murder.
In director Bruno Bozzetto's Allegro non troppo (1976), a hilarious take-off and poignant social commentary on Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940), Sibelius' Valse Triste begins gently and in a melancholy vein as the animator is inundated by smoke from a producer's cigar creating a blue fog. As the fog clears, a matrix of solid block structures is revealed in the midst of which emerges the crumbling, or perhaps bombed-out shell of what was once a house. A small stray cat with big eyes walks about exploring the remains as the waltz gently turns from its initially sad feeling to a lighter but still nostalgic mode. The cat sees visions of the house when it was a home with a lovely interior, someone in a rocking chair, and a comfortable stuffed chair perfect for a cat to snuggle into. But the visions suddenly disappear, and the cat falls a few feet from his imaginary cushioned position. He sadly views the reality, but the visions soon return and the family serves him a meal, plays with him by blowing soap bubbles from a pipe. This time the visions create a swirling vortex when they dissipate. The cat himself then gradually disappears until he is a mere ghostly outline. The music ends as a wrecking ball smashes into the house.
Various works by Sibelius have been excerpted for approximately 35 feature films, from Gustaf Molander's revolution drama En Natt (One Night, 1931), to Death Takes a Holiday (1934) (uncredited), Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier, 1955), Luottamus (Trust, 1976), Moderna människor (Modern People, 1983), Da Capo (1985), The Fourth Protocol (1987), Orgazm pod boj kurantov (Orgasm in the Red Square, 1993), Vredens gran (The Christmas Tree of Wrath, 1997), and L' Amitié (1998).