Year: 
1 856
Timeline: 
Sibelius 150

Robert Kajanus was born in 1856, the son of Georg August Kajanus, a surveyor, and Agnes Ottilia (née Flodin). His mother was musical; she played the piano and sang – a common musical pursuit among members of the bourgeoisie at that time. The four Kajanus children who survived into adulthood became either professional musicians or otherwise ardent music lovers. Robert was 12 when he began taking private lessons in theoretical music subjects with Richard Faltin. He had by this time already started playing the violin, but the fact that he was left-handed later proved to be something of a handicap.

When he was 20, Kajanus, like many Finns in those days, enrolled at the Conservatory in Leipzig, then a city renowned for its music, to study composition and music theory. Returning to Finland in 1882, he found himself employment by forming an Orchestra Association Orchestra, later known as the Philharmonic Society Orchestra, in Helsinki. When the orchestra was taken over by the City of Helsinki in 1914, it was renamed the Helsinki City Orchestra but known in English as the Helsinki Philharmonic.

Regarded as one of the greatest pioneers of classical music in Finland, Robert Kajanus was in his day unquestionably the most influential actor on the contemporary musical scene. Not only did he found the Helsinki Orchestra Association Orchestra and conduct it for 50 years; he was also a prolific composer, taught several generations of Finnish players at his orchestra school and music at the University of Helsinki for 30 years.

The resolute advancement of musical life in Finland called for a man of considerable strength of character. For years, Robert Kajanus was at loggerheads with Martin Wegelius, and there were some difficult patches in his relations with Jean Sibelius. Despite coming from a Swedish-speaking family, Kajanus was fervently pro-Finnish; this caused a considerable outcry, particularly in the Swedish-speaking press, and aggravated the animosity between him and the conductor Georg Schnéevoigt, a man with Swedish sympathies, in the 1910s.

History has viewed Kajanus in two lights: on the one hand as a pro-Finnish-minded hero and a champion of Sibelius, and on the other as an unscrupulous, pig-headed advocate of his own interests. He was known both for his drive and for his endless energy, and in his later years for his gloomy disposition, which is assumed to have been a consequence of his personal adversities in life.

Johan Järnefelt, a violinist contemporary, also described him as a playful, satirical character.

Source: Matti Vainio – ”Nouskaa aatteet” Robert Kajanus – Elämä ja taide & Kansallisbiografia