Robert Kajanus studied theory of music with Richard Faltin and violin with Gustaf Niemann in Helsinki from 1868; this was followed by a further period at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1877 to 1882, when he studied composition as well as theory with Ernst Friedrich Richter, Karl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. At the same time he also studied composition with Johan Svendsen in Paris during 1879 and 1880 and occasionally in Dresden between 1880 and 1882. Upon his return to Finland, in 1882 he founded the Orchestra of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society, which was renamed the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1914, and remained its conductor until 1932. Kajanus was conductor of the Muntra Musikanter male voice choir from 1883 and founded the Symphonic Choir in 1888. During the 1880s he was one of Finland’s leading composers, and his music possessed a strongly nationalistic character; however, following the highly successful first performance of Sibelius’s Kullervo Symphony in 1892, Kajanus effectively ceased to compose.
Education formed a significant part of Kajanus’s activities. He founded an orchestral school in 1885 and was its director until 1914, when it was incorporated into the Helsinki College of Music. He successfully competed against Sibelius for the position of director of music at the University of Helsinki in 1897, retaining this post until 1927; he was awarded the title of honorary professor at this university in 1908 and was made a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music in 1915. He founded the Union of Musicians’ Associations in Finland 1917, serving as its chairman until 1933, and was also chairman of the Finnish State Expert Committee on Music from1922 until 1933, the year of his death. The Orchestra of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society was also an important part of Kajanus’s activities: its survival was largely due to his efforts. Sibelius composed his tone poem En Saga for this orchestra in 1892, and he conducted it in many of the first performances of his works. Kajanus led it in a very successful tour of Northern Europe, Germany and Holland in 1900, which culminated with concerts at the Universal Exposition in Paris. For this tour, Sibelius revised his Symphony No. 1 and Finlandia. Kajanus’s conducting activities were quite extensive for the period: he conducted the Tampere Orchestra for two seasons, 1898–1899 and 1900–1901, and made guest appearances as a conductor elsewhere not only in Finland but also in Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.
Kajanus’s present-day reputation rests on his recordings of music by Sibelius. The first tranche of these was made in London with an anonymous orchestra for the British Columbia Label in 1930 with the financial support of the Finnish government, which wished to introduce Finnish music to a wider international audience. The repertoire consisted of the Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 of Sibelius, who himself nominated Kajanus to be the conductor of these recordings. Two years later, in 1932 and after Columbia had merged with HMV to form EMI, Kajanus returned to London to record, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Symphonies Nos 3 and 5 by Sibelius, as well as the tone poems Tapiola and Pohjola’s Daughter, and the Belshazzar’s Feast and Karelia Suites. Sibelius has been quoted as saying about Kajanus’s conducting of his music: ‘Very many are the men who have conducted these symphonies…but there is none who have gone deeper and given them more feeling and beauty than Robert Kajanus.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).