Robert Kajanus was born on 2 December 1856. Kajanus began his studies with the theory of music and violin, then at Leipzig he studied composition under Richter, Salomon and Reinicke. He was, early in his career, a composer of note, indeed the first prominent Finnish composer to demonstrate a true affinity with the orchestral medium, but in the late 1880s, after becoming acquainted with the music of Sibelius, decided to concentrate on his conducting career. One of his major achievements was his European tour of 1900, culminating in performances in Berlin and at the Paris World Fair. That programme include the newly-published First Symphony of Sibelius. Kajanus gained a reputation as a champion of the great composer, and as the source of an authentic interpretative tradition. He conducted the first recordings of the First, Second, Third and Fifth symphonies and other major works, including those we hear on this CD, having been engaged by HMV to conduct all the performances for the Sibelius Society issues; it was on his death that both Schnéevoigt and Beecham were brought in to take his place.
In 1882, Kajanus founded the Helsinki Orchestral Society, the first regular full-size orchestra in Scandinavia. Finland was of course at that time a grand Duchy within the Russian Empire, and the orchestra received regular subsidies from the state. In 1911 this aid was discontinued, placing the organisation under threat. A rival orchestra, the Helsinki Symphony, was formed under the leadership of Georg Schnéevoigt, and bitter rivalry ensued until the onset of the Great War and consequent loss of manpower forced the merger of the two in 1914. The Helsinki Philharmonic, as the body was renamed in 1914, was led by Kajanus until 1932.
He also founded an orchestra school (1885) of which he was director until 1914, conducted the Muntra Musikanter male voice choir until 1883 and formed the Helsinki Symphonic Choir in 1888. Guest appearances as conductor followed in Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary, Scandinavia and the Baltic States, as well of course as the Sibelius Society recordings made in London in 1932.
Kajanus also conducted the Tampere Orchestra for two seasons, founded the Union of Musician’s Associations in Finland in 1917 (and remained its chairman until his death) and found time to teach at the University of Helsinki from 1897 until 1927.