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A musicologist is born (on Ilmari Krohn)

Ilmari Krohn (1867-1960), the "founder of Finnish musicology", was born in Helsinki into a family steeped in culture, graduated in Finland and after wide-ranging studies at the Leipzig Conservatory was awarded a Doctorate by the University of Helsinki in 1900. His was the first Finnish doctoral dissertation in music and it was entitled Über die Art und Entstehung der geistlichen Volksmelodien in Finnland" (On the Nature and Origin of Sacred Folk Melodies in Finland, 1899).

BY Helena Tyrväinen

While attending the International Congress of Music History in Paris in 1900, Ilmari Krohn was introduced to the growing field of musical research in Europe. From then onwards he regarded himself as a musicologist.

Ilmari Krohn (1867-1960), the “founder of Finnish musicology”, was born in Helsinki into a family steeped in culture, graduated in Finland and after wide-ranging studies at the Leipzig Conservatory was awarded a Doctorate by the University of Helsinki in 1900. His was the first Finnish doctoral dissertation in music and it was entitled Über die Art und Entstehung der geistlichen Volksmelodien in Finnland” (On the Nature and Origin of Sacred Folk Melodies in Finland, 1899).

Oriented towards Germany for family and professional reasons, and having a German wife born in St. Petersburg, Krohn had previously had little contact with his colleagues in France. According to him, his sojourn abroad in 1900, during which he attended a major scientific event in his field of study, the first international congress of music history ever to be held, in Paris, opened his eyes to the extent and scope of this branch of learning. He became aware of the obligations imposed on him by the post of senior lecturer newly established at the University of Helsinki and from then onwards regarded himself as a musicologist. His scrapbook begins, most revealingly, with an item on the paper he gave in Paris, based on his doctoral dissertation.

Musical research, at university level, developed in Finland apace with that in France, though on a narrower front. The first French doctoral dissertation devoted exclusively to music dates from 1893. Its author, Jules Combarieu, edited an anthology of the papers, Krohn’s included, given at the Paris congress.

Germany – France

The Paris congress on the history of music was a separate section of a large international congress on comparative history organised in France at ministerial level. The President was Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray (1840-1910), Professor of the history of music at the Paris Conservatoire from 1878 and thus occupant of France’s first chair in music history founded in 1872. Krohn had already corresponded with the Vice-President, Julien Tersot, a renowned expert on folk songs and the author of a history of the French folk song. Among the other distinguished organisers were the congress’s Honorary President, Camille Saint-Saëns the composer, and the music historian and writer Romain Rolland, its Secretary General.

The Finns could hardly have been innocent of the ongoing tension between Germany and France at that point in time and the general politicisation of international musical life. In a letter addressed to Krohn from Berlin on behalf of the International Music Society in June 1900, Oskar Fleischer mentions the Paris congress. The letter was a reply to an enquiry from Krohn presumably referring to a congress planned for Germany. Fleischer writes: “Because of the Paris Congress, the plans for the  congress have been dropped and it has been postponed until next autumn. We do not want to give the French any cause whatsoever for complaining that we are setting up in competition, though we know quite well that France will not repay us in the same currency.”

This major gathering of researchers in Paris was attended by the famous Hugo Riemann and Hermann Kretzschmar from Leipzig, where Krohn had studied, Adolf Sandberger from Munich and Guido Adler from Vienna, along with delegates from many other countries.

“To all living composers”

Assembled in Paris at the end of July 1900 were also some other leading figures in Finnish music, who had come there for the World Fair. Robert Kajanus conducted concerts by the orchestra of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society at the Trocadéro. With them in the audience were composers Jean Sibelius and Armas Järnefelt, who, like Kajanus, had works on the programmes for the two concerts.

Seeing that Krohn had, in the early stages of his career, been hailed in public specifically as a composer, he must have felt bitter that not one of his works was performed on those occasions. Three years earlier he had already been humiliated by Kajanus and Sibelius, the most prominent members of the Finnish delegation, when they had outrun him in the appointment of the lectureship in music at the University of Helsinki; Sibelius was placed at the top of the shortlist but Kajanus appealed and the post later went to him.

Different men and objectives held sway in Paris, however, and they made it possible for Krohn to be recognised as a composer as well in the World Fair forum. Along with Oskar Merikanto, Erkki Melartin and Richard Faltin (a Finnish teacher of Krohn’s of German descent) he was given publicity at an international exhibition at the Paris Opera. The organiser of this, the Opera’s librarian Charles Malherbe, had sent a sheet of manuscript paper “to all living composers”, as the press release put it, with a request for a sample that best represented the art of each. In other words, the French organisers did not yet rank Sibelius, Kajanus and Järnefelt as living composers.

Folk music assigned a central role

As a discipline and discourse, musicology was not yet clearly distinct from other subjects and the art of music at around the turn of the century. The congress President Bourgault-Ducoudray was, like many of the congress committee members, a composer. His opening address did not express any “purely scientific” epistemology independent of  ideological aims and utilitarian points of view, or not insofar as it applied to folk music.

Research literature has so far glossed over the fact significant as regards attitudes to music in France at the time that Bourgault-Ducoudray dedicated much of his opening address to folk music research. It was symptomatic of France’s concern in the 19th century for the vitality of national music and desire to renew it by drawing on the past. The speaker stressed that the enthusiastic research into folk tunes witnessed especially in Russia, the Scandinavian countries, Spain, Germany and France had opened up a new channel for composers. Analysis of the “as yet unused elements of expression” inherent in folk tunes was in this sense important. “The study of the past has revealed to us the existence of certain neglected galleries the intelligent exploitation of which would assure new conquests for musical activity.”

But according to Bourgault-Ducoudray, “ascribing the worth they deserve to the elements of original expression inherent in folk melodies, putting them into circulation in the language of music would not only enrich the composer’s palette (-); it would also establish a closer and closer link between the individual, conscious effort of the refined artist and the collective, anonymous production that is the indelible mark of a race. (-) The time has come for artists and scholars to make a complete inventory of the melodic riches that are as divine mineral with which the refined artist must create a work of art.”

Eyes turn to the Kalevala

In his paper on Finnish folk music De la mesure à 5 temps dans la musique populaire finnoise Krohn was not, therefore dealing with some provincial, way-out topic. His doctrine of rhythm was founded on German scholarship and classification according to the metres of Antiquity. In referring to the pentameter of ancient Greece and juxtaposing sacred Finnish folk tunes with the Ur-forms of these tunes, German chorale melodies, he wove the perspective of comparative melody research into his paper.

Krohn’s real “research topic” was nevertheless the aesthetic merit of the pentameter. In his speculative address he in fact evaluated the suitability of pentameter folk tunes as material for composers. Tunes with the stress on the first and the fourth beat of the bar he considered unsatisfactory: they are repeatedly truncated and therefore restless. He approved of those with the stress on the first and third beats, for they were characterised by constant extension and thus composure. He pointed out that the melodies of the national epic, the Kalevala, are typically written in the former way, with the stress on the first and fourth beats. This, he claimed, was wrong and recommended it be amended by moving the bar line!

Finally Krohn’s treatise acquired an openly ideological, normative tone. “The melodies of the Kalevala songs (-) must always be the natural basis for our national Finnish music.” In his own speculative premise he thus comes close to the concept of Bourgault-Ducoudray of the significance of the tie binding the composer and the people together.

As a young man Krohn himself wrote some compositions on topics taken from the Kalevala. In the absence of research, it is so far impossible to say how far the melodies of the Kalevala poetry really did influence his idiom. The bulk of his output consists of religious music.

A European musicologist from Finland

At the Paris congress Krohn kept company with many fellow Christians and experts on sacred music. Many of them, in their papers, addressed ongoing research into Gregorian chant. Maybe the prime significance of the Paris congress lay, for Krohn, in precisely this. From then onwards, research into the music of Antiquity and the Middle Ages was what interested him most. He continued corresponding with many of the congress delegates, on subjects such as Greek, sacred and church music, including Gregorian chant, modes, neume notation and the work of the monks of Solesmes.

Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray said in his opening address at the Paris congress: “Composers’ marked predilection for national tunes and subjects seems to have broken down the barrier that once separated science and art.” In Krohn’s case, interest in sacred Christian folk tunes, their Ur-forms and historical development, also broke down the fences between Protestantism and Catholicism, history and mythology, nations, cultures and eras in his life as a scholar and made him a full member of the European cultural community.