Santeri Levas

Santeri Levas (to the left) with Aino and Jean Sibelius in the 1940s, examining the daily mail in Ainola. Photograph by Levas.

Benno Aleksander (Santeri) Levas (till 1936 Lehmann; 8 February 1899 – 10 March 1987) was a Finnish writer and photographer, best known for his books on the composer Jean Sibelius.

Santeri Levas was born in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland, in 1899, to the family of Nicolai Lehmann and Hertta née Piispanen. His main career was in the service of Kansallis-Osake-Pankki (1923–1962) as a correspondence clerk and a departmental manager, but he started to publish both fact and fiction, first under pseudonymes, in the mid-1920s. Levas was educated a Master of Arts (1936) and a sworn translator.

Levas served as a long-time private secretary to Jean Sibelius, from 1938 till his death in 1957. During their discussions, he was able to jot down unique material for a biography of the master, but it was agreed that the book should only be published after the death of the composer.

In 1945, however, Levas published a photographic book on the Sibelius residence, Ainola, in Järvenpää; separate editions were published in both Finnish and Swedish. The second edition, Jean Sibelius and His Home, from 1955 presented the text in four languages.

The main work of Levas, the two-volume biography of Sibelius, was first published in Finnish in 1957–1960, and translated into English as an abridged version, Sibelius: A Personal Portrait, in 1972. He also published a biography of Clara and Robert Schumann and several travel books, observing and documenting life in the post-war Germany and Austria, among others.

In the 1940s–1950s Levas was a chairman of the Helsinki and later Finnish Photographic Society. He was also an honorary member of Fédération Internationale de l’Art Photographique and an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society (ARPS). His photographs and writings were published in Sweden, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Santeri Levas died at the age of 88 in Helsinki.


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