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Martin Wegelius

Born November 10, 1846, Helsinki. Died March 22, 1906, Helsinki.

Master of Philosophy (Aesthetics), 1869, Imperial Alexander University
Music studies in Helsinki, Vienna, 1870-1871, Leipzig, 1871-1873, Munich, 1877-1878
Trips to Germany, 1876, 1882, 1886; France and Belgium, 1889-1890; Italy, 1901

Singing teacher in various schools in Helsinki, 1868-1869, 1880-1902
Leader, Akademiska sångföreningen (Academic choral society), 1869-1870, 1873-1876
Répétiteur (music coach), Swedish Theatre in Helsinki, 1873-1877
Conductor, Finnish Opera, 1878-1879
Founder, Helsinki college of music (aka Sibelius Academy)
Music Theory Teacher, Director, 1882-1906, Helsinki college of music
State Pension for Artists, 1902
Lectures on music and music history, 1870s

Memorial, Ramsholmen (Tammisaari-Ekenäs, southwest Finland)

Named after Wegelius
Martin Wegelius Institute Foundation, 1956
Martin Wegelius minne -memorial foundation, 1931

Photo: National Board of Antiquities
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Master’s in Aesthetics to Music maker

The University Bursar Adolf Wilhelm Wegelius’ son Martin Wegelius enrolled to study in the Imperial Alexander University in 1864. The Wegelius family were of respectable clerical and civil servant stock from Ilmajoki in Ostrobothnia, western Finland. Young Martin’s interests and life’s work were to take a very different course from what his pious upbringing might have suggested.

For his main subject Wegelius studied aesthetics. His supervisor in this was the man responsible for developing the discipline, Professor Carl Gustaf Estlander. It is said of Estlander that at one stage he had intended that the young and talented Wegelius would succeed him in the chair. Wegelius studied under the likes of such Finnish luminaries as Wilhelm Bolin and the historian Zachris Topelius.

Alongside his university studies Wegelius distinguished himself through his involvement in various kinds of clubs, artistic soirées and other pastimes. These activities, together with piano playing and studying composition, had played a conspicuous role in Wegelius’ life ever since he was at school. Moreover, from an early age Wegelius wrote music and fiction, albeit for the school rag.

Upon conferment of his Master’s degree in 1868, Wegelius worked initially as a singing teacher in several of Helsinki’s schools. He then went on a study visit to various European cultural capitals, including Vienna and Leipzig. The Teutonic cultural realm presented him with a great source of inspiration: Richard Wagner.

One of Martin Wegelius’ projects was to have been a biography of Richard Wagner. It was never completed although fragments of the manuscript remain.​
One of Martin Wegelius’ projects was to have been a biography of Richard Wagner. It was never completed although fragments of the manuscript remain.​



Wegelius’ early career comprised various kinds of part-time duties. He had already distinguished himself in the 1870s as a music critic and composer.  Morevoer he conducted the academic choir, was piano coach at Helsinki’s Swedish theatre and conductor for the Finnish opera house. In this period he also worked on his best known compositions: the cantata Den 6. Maj for Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s memorial concert and an orchestral arrangement of Topelius’ 1865 poem ‘Karin Månsdotters vaggvisa för Erik XIV’ (‘Karin Månsdotter’s lullaby for Erik XIV’).

There is little doubt as to the extent of Wegelius’ influence in the world of Finnish music at the beginning of the 1880s. Thereafter active composing became a secondary occupation. Wegelius turned his attention to an ambitious new project: the systematic and fulltime establishment of music education in Helsinki.


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