The signatures of the members and secretary of the Jury of the first Maj Lind Piano Competition 1945: Elli Rängman-Björlin, Merete Söderhjelm, Selim Palmgren, Ernst Linko and Martti Similä and Sulho Ranta.

First competition in bombed-scarred Helsinki in 1945


The Maj Lind Piano Competition: the 1940s (1/2)

During its first decade, the Maj Lind Piano Competition was intended solely for students at the Sibelius Academy who were also Finnish citizens. It was, according to the rules, “open to present students and former students who left the Academy not more than two years ago”. The competition was held annually and the repertoire included two compulsory works and one work of the competitor’s own choice.


The very first competitor in the Maj Lind Piano Competition walked onto the platform in the concert hall of the Helsinki Conservatory (later the Sibelius Academy) at 11 am on Friday October 26, 1945. The address was Pohjoinen Rautatiekatu 9, and the hall that in which the Finnish Parliament this year holds its plenary sessions while its Parliament Building is being renovated. The Sibelius Academy held its concerts there before the Helsinki Music Centre was built.

The Second World War had ended ten weeks earlier. The damage caused by the massive air raids the previous year (Continuation War with the Soviet Union) was still being repaired, and the Three Smiths statue in the city centre in fact still bears a scar.

Six students entered for the competition: Clara Grenman, Taimi Kuusi, Karin Lindroos, Timo Mäkinen, Leena Siukonen and Jaakko Somero.

The compulsory works were the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Minor (DWK 1) by Bach and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2/3.

In the minutes, the members of the Jury were given the titles Mrs and Mr. They were Elli Rängman-Björlin (1882–1952, one of the greatest Finnish pianists of the early 20th century), Merete Söderhjelm (1910–1996, pianist), Selim Palmgren (1878–1951, Professor of composition and for a time lecturer in the piano), Martti Similä (1898–1958, pianist and conductor, singer and film composer), and Ernst Linko (1889–1960, Professor of the piano). The secretary was Sulho Ranta (1901–1960, Vice-Rector and teacher of composition).

The competition was held over two days. The prizes were awarded on the third day, and the ceremony included a speech by Professor Ernst Linko. Both the compulsory works were performed, as was one of the elective works, Debussy’s Prelude in A Minor. These were played by the top three pianists.

The first prize went to Leena Siukonen and was worth 30,000 marks (nowadays equivalent to about €3,600). Karin Lindroos came second and Taimi Kuusi third. At the end, the Jury and the winner were invited to a dinner at the Conservatory.

Born in Viipuri (at that time part of Finland but now in Russia), Leena Siukonen (1924–1994) was 21 when she won the first Maj Lind Piano Competition. She got her piano diploma the following year, then a violin diploma, and later a Master’s degree in music, folklore and aesthetics. She appeared in concert as both a pianist and a violinist and played in the Trio Siukonen with her sisters Varpu Siirala (cello) and Inkeri Siukonen (pianist). Leena Siukonen-Penttilä was a lecturer in the violin at the Sibelius Academy for 40 years. She also sat on many committees, produced teaching material, did translations, radio and TV programmes, and wrote reviews.

Late in life, Leena Siukonen-Penttilä once again turned to the piano and was still in the audience at the Maj Lind Piano Competition held in November–December 1994. At around that time, she had been practising the Beethoven sonata with which she had won that very competition 49 years earlier.

Leena Siukonen was married to the writer Eino Penttilä. In their will, they did as Maj Lind before them: they set up a Foundation bearing their name, but this time for the violin.

Text: Katri Maasalo

Sources: Obituary of Leena Siukonen-Penttilä by Lassi Rajamaa (Helsingin Sanomat 24.12.1994) and details of the Leena Siukonen & Eino Penttilä Fund of the Finnish Cultural Foundation