Photo: Tapani Valsta in 1946. Heikki Valsta’s home album.

Winner of the Maj Lind Piano Competition comes from the front

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

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.

1946

The second Maj Lind Piano Competition was held on October 25–26, 1946, exactly one year after the first.

The compulsory works were the Prelude and Fugue in E Major (DWK 1) by Bach and Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C Minor. The members of the Jury were the same as for the previous competition with the exception of Jussi Jalas (1908–1985, conductor) instead of Selim Palmgren.

Seven pianists entered for the competition, which was won by Tapani Valsta. The prize was worth 45,000 marks (nowadays equivalent to about €3,400). Pentti Soinne came second and Olavi Vartia third. Two pianists familiar from the previous competition – Karin Lindroos and Timo Mäkinen – also took part, as did Inkeri Siukonen, sister of the winner of the first competition, and future Academician Joonas Kokkonen.

The students were youngsters who had lived through the war. Five years before the competition, Tapani Valsta had received training in mortar fire control and had, like the others, served at the front. Luckily, pianists were need to entertain the troops. Valsta broadened his repertoire as a member of the Dallapé dance orchestra and other bands.

Tapani Valsta said of the Maj Lind Competition: “As my bravura number I played Schulz-Evler’s paraphrase of An der schönen blauen Donau; I think it was [piano teacher Ilmari] Hannikainen who suggested it. When the results were announced and I got the first prize, Timo Mäkinen’s father stood up in the audience and announced that an anonymous benefactor had awarded Timo Mäkinen a prize of the same size. I remember how embarrassed Timo was.”

Tapani Valsta (1921–2010) was 25 when he won the competition. That year he went on to complete an organ diploma, then a piano diploma, and to qualify as a church musician. He was in demand as a soloist with orchestras and accompanied a number of singers, cellist Arto Noras and violinist Seppo Tukiainen. He served as organist of Helsinki Cathedral Parish for nearly 30 years and was Professor of the piano and other subjects at the Sibelius Academy right up until he retired.

1947

The third Maj Lind Piano Competition was held on October 24–26, 1947, exactly one year after the previous one. By that time, the old phonograph record was being replaced by vinyl and the media were focusing on London, where Princess Elizabeth was marrying her Philip.

The compulsory works were the Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major by Bach and Beethoven’s Sonata in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2 (The Moonlight).

The Competition Committee was also the Jury. There were two new names: Maire Hallava (1911–2004), a former pupil of Elli Rängman-Björlin and pianist for the voice class of Aino Ackté and others, and Jouko Tolonen (1912–1986, MA).

Seven pianists entered for the competition.

Clara Grenman was announced as the winner and won 45,000 marks (nowadays equivalent to about €2,600). As her elective work, she played Schumann’s Abegg Variations. Pentti Soinne came second and Olavi Vartia third. The other competitors were Brita Boijer-Könni, Joonas Kokkonen, Taimi Kuusi and Jaakko Somero.

Clara Grenman (1918–2014) was 29 when she won the competition. After her victory, she did not, however, make a concert career and instead concentrated on working with children and young people. She taught beginners at the Sibelius Academy, in what later became the Junior Academy. She felt she was doing a more valuable job by teaching the piano and piano pedagogy than if she had been the focus of attention. In addition to music, this unostentatious teacher was very interested in handicrafts.

Like Maj Lind, Clara Grenman bequeathed her estate to the Sibelius Academy Foundation in order to support its students.

1948

The fourth Maj Lind Piano Competition was held on October 23, 1948. There were only three competitors, so the prizes were awarded on the same day. The compulsory works were the Prelude and Fugue in B Major by Bach and Mozart’s A-minor Sonata.

There were new Jury names as deputies: violinist, pianist and conductor Leo Funtek (1885–1965) and pianist Cyril Szalkiewicz (1914–1969).

The prize of 50,000 marks (nowadays equivalent to about €2,200) went to Kauko Kuosma. As his elective work he played Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses.

Kauko Kuosma (1926–2013) was 22 when he won the competition and he, too, had fought in the war. Towards the end he served in the anti-aircraft forces and the entertainment corps. After obtaining his piano diploma, he taught at the Sibelius Academy for many years, gave concerts, composed and was active in various music organisations.

1949

The 1949 Maj Lind Piano Competition was postponed to the following year after receiving only one entry. The fifth competition took it into a new decade.

 

Text: Katri Maasalo

Sources: Quotation by Tapani Valsta in an article by Tarmo Järvilehto in the journal Pianisti (2009) of the Finnish Piano Teachers’ Association). Tapani Valsta, the Finnish grand old man of Finnish piano playing, talks about his life; obituary of Clara Grenman by Erik T. Tawaststjerna, Helsingin Sanomat 5.4.2014; obituary of Kauko Kuosma by Kirsti Sorakkala, Helsingin Sanomat 14.5.2013.