Kajanus’s practical orchestra school


On 1st of October 1885 the Orchestra Association established an orchestra school with the aim of guaranteeing its orchestra a supply of competent players. It provided tuition in a wide range of instruments, “the violin, violoncello, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, etc.”, and the advantage was of course that the teachers could be drawn from the orchestra’s own ranks. The school’s principal was Robert Kajanus himself. At the beginning, he also taught music theory in the school, as did later Jean Sibelius and Ilmari Krohn. For a long time the school admitted only male students.

The role of the orchestra school in training future players for the Helsinki Orchestra Association’s orchestra was considerable, but the school also had a wider impact on Finnish musical life. For among its protégés were men such as Georg Schnéevoigt, Heikki Klemetti and Toivo Haapanen, the last two of which studied music theory at the school. Many composers completed their basic training there, among them Heino Kaski, Armas Launis and Otto Kotilainen.

In founding the orchestra school, Kajanus trod rather conspicuously on the toes of the Helsinki Music Institute and its founder Martin Wegelius. This did not exactly improve the relations between Wegelius and Kajanus, which had become inflamed in the heat of the battle waged during the founding of the Orchestra Association.

At the orchestra school, violinist Johan Järnefelt was a pupil of the orchestra’s leader, Anton Sitt, and wrote of his studies:

“The first lesson was a disappointment for me: the “old chap” had his own opinions of me as a pupil and to begin with instructed me with a supercilious air. But it is often the case that a biting comment on a manner of playing is more helpful than one can imagine. Sitt usually sat upright in his chair, a reeking cigar between his teeth. At no time did he refrain from smoking except on the platform at a concert. While he was conducting or playing in rehearsals, a cigar, either a half or a whole one, would nod from the corner of his mouth.”

The school closed in 1914 when the orchestra was taken over by the City and the students transferred to the Helsinki Music Institute.

Sources: Einari Marvia & Matti Vainio – Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri 1882–1982 & Järnefelt's diary