Photo: Victor Barsokevitsch. Kuopio Cultural History Museum.
Miss Maria Kopjeff in Kuopio, August 1896.

Happy birthday, Maj Lind!


Many a Finnish pianist has reason to thank Maj Lind. Few of us have met her, and even fewer actually knew her. She was born 141 years ago today, and in October, 75 years will have passed since her death.

In her last will and testament, Maj Lind did something that will forever assure pianists a place in the limelight. In just four words, she bequeathed her fortune to the Sibelius Academy “för utbildande av pianister” – for the promotion of the art of piano playing.

In order to honour her wishes, the Sibelius Academy founded a competition for its pianists. This was in itself a gratifying decision, for it meant that the public at large could also benefit from her bequest. The competition has already been held 30 times.

Some of Maj Lind’s beneficiaries have made it to the very top; others have been content with less. Maj Lind nevertheless provided an opportunity, a springboard. The opportunities spread further afield when the competition became international, and Finnish pianists have since been able to welcome colleagues from as far away as Asia and America.

The first Maj Lind Piano Competition was won by Leena Siukonen 72 years ago, in October 1945. That spring, the world was still in flames; the Second World War ended in August. Finland was just beginning to recover and had delivered the first consignment of war reparations to the Soviet Union.

Leena Siukonen-Penttilä (1924–1994) later made a name for herself as a violinist and a lecturer in the violin at the Sibelius Academy. One of her most illustrious violin pupils is Leif Segerstam, who went on to win the Maj Lind Piano Competition in 1962. Others who grasped at the opportunity offered them by Maj Lind include Eero Heinonen, Matti Raekallio, Juhani Lagerspetz, Olli Mustonen, Laura Mikkola and Paavali Jumppanen. They all decided to enter for the competition and to practise for it in earnest. With them they took home a prize, and the audience won a new star pianist.

The prize-winners teach the new rising talents, the next-generation pianists, who in turn prepare for their own competitions.

Maj Lind was an amateur pianist. She studied the piano in Kuopio – the town where she went to school – and in the city where her mother was born, St. Petersburg. Before her marriage she gave piano lessons to beginners in Helsinki, advertising for pupils in Helsinki’s Swedish-language press (Hufvudstadsbladet and Nya Pressen) in 1895. Still Maria Kopjeff, she was 19 years old.

A press article in 1967 mentioned that Maj Lind was an eminent pianist and that she dedicated herself to music in her later years. “She was regularly seen at all the finest concerts,” it said. These concerts were held at the Helsinki University Hall on Senate Square. Nowadays, concert audiences make their way to the Helsinki Music Centre at the corner of Kansalaistori Square.

In August 2017, Helsinki will be hosting the International Maj Lind Piano Competition for the fourth time. Pianists the world over are right now making their application videos. When the competition begins, 40 pianists, their audiences and the Competition Jury will meet at the Helsinki Music Centre. There the competitors will perform beneath the cameras of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), which will be transmitting the finals to every home in Finland – a potential 5.5 million viewers. Yle will also be streaming the whole competition online. Hence listeners the world over will be able to follow the competition bearing the name of Maj Lind.

The initial impulse for all this came from a widow called Maj Lind.

Text: Katri Maasalo