The Pacius Award which i was given last week prompted me to think about the history of music making in the University of Helsinki, and in universities in general. I think it is quite remarkable that still during these cynical times where everything is measured in profitability and efficiency, we still manage to have liberal arts present in the university curricula.
Inclusion of music in the university studies goes all the way back to Plato's Republic (written in 380BC), which served as an educational model for the first universities in Europe in the 12th century. The universities in medieval Europe were divided into four faculties - Arts, Theology, Medicine, and Law, but before studying any other discipline the student first had to become a Master of Arts. The curriculum consisted of the Seven Liberal Arts which were divided into Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). That means that until recent times practically every educated person had also studied music!
Finland's first university was founded in 1640 in Turku, and it also had a faculty of Arts, even though in Finland it was called the faculty of Philosophy (and later, Humanities). Its first music director, Carl Petter Lenning (1711-1788), was appointed in 1747, and this was the position Fredrik Pacius (1809-1891) later applied for, when the university had been transferred to the new capital, Helsinki, after Finland had been annexed by the Russian Empire.
Pacius was born in Hamburg and had studied violin with Louis Spohr (1784-1859) before securing a job in the Royal Court Orchestra in Stockholm. In 1835 he became the music director of the University of Helsinki, and that started a new era in Finnish music. He composed the first Finnish opera, The Hunt of King Charles, as well as another Singspiel, The Princess of Cyprus (wouldn't it be fascinating to actually perform this piece on Cyprus!). He also composed the song, Maamme (Vårt Land) which later became the Finnish National Anthem. Because of this and other achievements he earned himself the nickname "Father of Finnish Music".
After Pacius many other important figures in Finnish musical life have served as the music director of Helsinki University, notably the conductor Robert Kajanus and composer Leevi Madetoja. Their job was to organize the musical life of the university, compose and conduct according to the need.
These days this job does not exist anymore, but Musicology has been taught at the university since 1900, and there is also an active Helsinki University Music Society (HYMS) which could be seen as the heir of the now extinct music director position. As part of keeping alive the tradition of academic music making they present the annual Pacius Award for "considerable efforts to advance the musical life of the University." For me it was a great honor to be named the recipient of the award this year. Thank you, alma mater!