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Leevi Madetoja

Leevi Antti Madetoja
Born February 17, 1887, Oulu. Died October 6, 1947, Helsinki

Bachelor of arts 1910, Master of Arts 1914, Imperial Alexander University
Graduated from the Helsinki Music Institute 1910, further studies in Paris, Vienna and Berlin 1910–12

Music teacher 1926–39, University of Helsinki
State composer’s pension 1919
Music critic 1916–32, Helsingin Sanomat
Teacher of the theory and history of music 1916–39, Helsinki Music Institute, Helsinki Conservatory, Sibelius Academy
Orchestra conductor 1941–16, Viipurin Musiikinystäväin orkesteri (‘Orchestra of the Vyborg friends of music’)
Assistant conductor 1912–14, Helsinki Philharmonic Society

Board member of the Finnish composers’ Copyright Society 1928–47, chairman 1937–47
Secretary of the national expert committee for composing 1918–28, member 1928–47, chairman 1936–47
Founding member of the Society of Finnish Composers 1917, board member 1917–47, chairman 1933–36
Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music


Honorary member of the Society of Finnish Composers 1947
Honorary award of the Finnish Cultural Foundation 1947
Title of Professor 1937
Kalevalan reimuvuosi bursary 1936

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

On the path to musical greatness

A stamp from 1987, 100 years from the birth of Leevi Madetoja.

Leevi Madetoja was born in humble circumstances in Oulu 1887. His father was a ship’s first mate who died in the USA without ever seeing his son; his mother was a saleswoman. When it was noticed that the boy was better suited to academic tasks than manual work, he was sent to study at the Finnish lyceum in Oulu. After completing his studies in 1906, he moved to Helsinki to study music both at the University and the Music Institute.

His first main instrument was, unusually, the Finnish zither, as there had been insufficient money at home for a piano or other expensive instruments. During his lyceum days he had taught himself the violin and piano at the houses of more affluent friends, and he sang in the lyceum choir, which he would later go on to conduct. While studying at the Helsinki Music Institute, he became one of Jean Sibelius’s rare private students. Madetoja would later write warmly about Sebelius’s teaching, describing it as highly improvised.

During his student days, Madetoja joined the cultural circle that had collected around the poet Eino Leino. There he met, among others, Hilja Onerva Lehtinen, whom he married in 1913. Madetoja received both his bachelor of arts and his degree from the Music Institute in 1910. The following two years were spent studying music in Paris, Vienna and Berlin.

When Madetoja returned to Finland in 1912, he was offered a post as the assistant conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society, which was led by Robert Kajanus. Madetoja remained in this post until 1941, after which he spent two years in Vyborg as the conductor of the Viipurin Musiikinystäväin orkesteri (‘Orchestra of the Vyborg friends of music’). After returning to Helsinki in 1916, he worked as a teacher of music theory and history at the Helsinki Music Institute and a music critic for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, work which continued until 1939 and 1932 respectively.

As a result of his significant musical achievements, Madetoja was already granted a state composer’s pension in 1919. He succeeded Kajanus as music teacher at the University of Helsinki, a post he held from 1926 onwards. Madetoja was also involved in founding and actively participating in many societies and representative organisations for composers and the field of music. He was granted the title of professor in 1937.

His huge range of tasks, both professional and as a member of societies and organisations proved, however, too much for Madetoja, and his health collapsed. His and his wife’s drinking, which had begun to increase in the 1930s, grew out of control, and in 1941 he was forced to enter Huvitus, a clinic for alcoholics. He never fully recovered, although he still composed a number of works after his return home.

Madetoja’s 60th birthday, in 1947, was celebrated as a day of national significance. He received an honorary award from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and was granted honorary membership of the Society of Finnish Composers. Madetoja passed away the same year.





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