Research project

Translocal Cultural Fields

Music as a Cultural and Economic Enterprise in the Four Biggest Cities in Finland, 1900–1939


National and international significance of the research

Our study examines musical activity in the four biggest cities in Finland, Helsinki, Tampere, Turku and Vyborg in the first four decades of the 20th century. The activity is explored both from a cultural and economic point of view. The musical life of individual cities, including the cities in our research, has been the focus of many studies (Marvia & Vainio 1993; Lappalainen 1994; Kuula 2006; Korhonen 2015), and both artistic and economic aspects have to some degree been taken into account in past research. However, previous research has typically focused on classical music and disregarded other musical activity. Our objective in this project is to substitute this obviously too narrow and biased view with an account of the whole field of urban music and thus provide completely new information on Finland’s musical past.

The cities in question have been chosen because of our theoretical and methodological premises. In the past twenty years, several scholarly disciplines, including the study of history and music history, have sought to rid themselves of the “national gaze” (Beck & Sznaider 2006, 1–3; Middell & Roura 2013, 20; Scott 2002, 544). This has primarily been done by studying cities and contacts between them, not by looking at nations and nation-states. More often than not, European cities have had more cultural ties to each other than to their surrounding hinterlands (Freitag & von Oppen 2010, 12). These contacts, rather than the status of the cities in national contexts, are the subject of study also in this project.

In the research of music history, artistic and aesthetic aspects and revenue logic have usually been discussed in separate studies or in separate parts of the same study. Artistic and aesthetic discussions have been linked to the tradition of arts studies, and the study of revenue logic to economic and social history. Furthermore, the former has emphasised the role of creative artists as subjects of history and works of art as central research subjects, whereas the latter has stressed the special conditions of economic and social activity. In our project, we aim to bring these viewpoints together theoretically. This combinatory approach will give our research international significance and link it to the most topical discussions of critical musicology.   

In Marxist thinking, the material foundation constituted by forces and relations of production determines the cultural and ideological superstructure. This crude principle has been applied to music as well (cf. e.g. Shepherd 1991), but more refined formulations of the combination of aesthetic and economic viewpoints have also been provided, for instance by Howard Becker in his book Art Worlds (1982). Instead of individual artists and works, Becker is interested in the collaboration of actors in the field of arts and the way in which their work gives form to the art world and works of art. Becker sees aesthetics as an activity performed by the actors in the field (including actors other than critics and philosophers) and used to justify the actors’ demands regarding allocation of resources. To illustrate this point, Becker discusses the case of jazz (Becker 1982, 132–133).

In his work Distinction (1984), Pierre Bourdieu also includes music as an example. Basing his argument on empirical source material, Bourdieu looks for statistical connections between cultural tastes, social class, and status. Taste manifests itself as distinctions made by consumers in the cultural field. Distinction focuses on consumption, but Bourdieu later applied the concept of distinction to cultural production as well (Bourdieu 1993). In the musical context in particular, the theories of Bourdieu and Becker have been elaborated by Jason Toynbee (2000), who applies elements of post-Marxist political economy in scrutinizing the possibility of creativity in popular music, and by Derek Scott (2001, 2010), who has focused on the relation between musical taste and social class, as well as on aesthetic evaluations and struggles in the field of cultural production. We share the previously mentioned authors' stance that aesthetic evaluations and distinctions are central to retaining, as well as changing, the revenue logic of the musical field.

Previous research pertaining to the project and how the project links to it

The project is partly based on a previous study of the research group entitled ‘Rethinking “Finnish” Music History – Transnational construction of musical life in Finland from the 1870s until the 1920s’ (2011–2015), funded by the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Cultural Foundation (see homepage: One of the findings of the project has been that until the beginning of the 20th century musical life in Finland had strong and diverse ties to the Baltic Sea region, especially to the cities of the German-speaking area. The research project at hand will continue to shed light on the same processes of network building by scrutinizing the musical life of three cities in the first four decades of the 20th century. One common claim is that after the Great War the prevailing music-related monoculture began to undergo an institutional division into “serious” and “light”, a development that was reflected in the musical lives of cities and in musical entrepreneurship. Our research questions are in various ways related to the verification of this claim.  

The project is also closely linked to Derek Scott’s extensive research, which has examined the formation of cosmopolitan musical life, popular music and the music industry in the Western metropolises from the 19th century onwards (especially Scott 2008). Finland had no large metropolises, but the local urban music scene seems to have in numerous ways resonated with developments in the world at large. The interaction of domestic and cosmopolitan affected the construction of those translocal fields of music culture the contents of which this project has essentially set out to explore.

Objectives and expected results

Objectives of the research

Our objective is to investigate the entire gamut of gainful activities in the field of music in the cities of Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Vyborg from the turn of the 20th century to the beginning of the Second World War. We are particularly interested in exploring how the changes in the political, cultural and economic relations in the Baltic Sea region affected gainful employment locally. In addition, we will study the effects of regulatory actions (customs, taxes, permits etc.) on the young nation-state and analyse the impact of rapid technical development (e.g. records, cinema, microphone and radio). By gainful activity, we mean all music-related activities the purpose of which is to generate income for the actor (musician or company), for instance public funds, remuneration, pay or business profit. The means by which income is generated at a given moment will be called revenue logic. Reviewing the relationship between gainful activities and aesthetic valuing and distinction is central to our research.

The reasons for having chosen Helsinki, Tampere, Turku and Vyborg for examination are the following: Helsinki (population in 1938: 320.000) has been the capital of Finland since 1812. In the second half of the 19th century, it developed into an unrivalled regional metropolis, after which it has continued to be the centre of Finnish business and cultural life – also as far as music is concerned. The three smaller cities scrutinized in this project – Tampere, Turku and Vyborg (each one in the population range of 75 000 in the late 1930s) – were not only socially and culturally different from Helsinki, but also different from each other as far as their musical life is concerned.

Tampere was the biggest inland city and a rapidly growing industrial centre, whose musical life was built on the financial and ideological support of industry owners, revenue provided by business life, as well as the support of the workers’ movement. Turku was the former capital of Finland, and the roots of its musical life go back to the Middle Ages. Thus, a certain historical awareness was – as it is even today – the basis for maintaining a vivid and diverse musical life in the city.  In addition to this, Turku’s geographical and cultural proximity to Sweden brought about a unique position in terms of the western influence that it has received in the form of musician exchange, musical repertories, and music commerce.

When it comes to centuries’ old and multi-ethnic Vyborg, its proximity to the Russian border and St Petersburg/Leningrad makes it a fascinating city to be compared with the other urban centres in Finland. Vyborg was also a respected centre of entertainment and music trade, the lucrative job opportunities of which attracted both foreign musicians and their colleagues in Helsinki.

The source material of the musical life of cities investigated in the project is, for the most part, widely available and rich – both in quantity and quality. The material available in the different city archives and old newspapers, for instance, provides a research corpus that is wide, representative and sufficiently diverse for innovative research. The research material of the cities is partly scattered and there are gaps in the existing historiography of their musical life, but viewed in toto, the material forms a large and representative research corpus of the topic studied.  


We assume that European warfare in the 20th century changed the cultural and geopolitical relations in the Baltic Sea region and thus also greatly affected the opportunities to earn a living through music. As an outcome of the First World War, the Russian empire collapsed and was replaced by the Soviet Union with its entirely different political and economic system. In Finland, the developments led to the Finnish Civil War in 1918, after which musical relations to Russia, especially, were all but completely broken. The Finns’ close relations to Germany persisted, but the chaotic economic situation in Germany in the 1920s hindered the musical business activities and the intensity of transnational relationships in many ways. Substituting operational networks were sought in Western Europe, the United States, and especially Sweden, to which centuries-old musical ties remained close-knit throughout the period between the two World Wars. Between 1910 and 1920, two notable migration patterns, the continuous trans-Atlantic migration caused by emigration to America and the influx of refugees of the Russian Revolution, affected gainful musical activities. The majority of the refugees belonged to an educated class, and from theirs amidst emerged a significant group of professional musicians whose influence on local music has so far been almost completely uncharted.

Trans-Atlantic mobility had an effect on all areas of music but most of all on the adoption of American dance music, i.e. jazz. American entertainment culture took a grip on Finland, and our aim is to examine its characteristics in more detail than before: to what degree was American culture transmitted indirectly through the old relations with Germany – as has usually been argued – and to what extent was it directly transmitted via various fields of music and cultural industry (e.g. cinema, dance music, concert music, radio broadcasting and the record industry). Our study will also seek to answer some central questions concerning the development of musical relations with other countries and their cosmopolitan nature.

Various governmental actions (taxation, customs, regulation of imports, copyright law, prohibition, work permits for foreign musicians, the founding of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE and government grants) also strongly affected the revenue logic in the field of music. As limits were set for one activity, opportunities for other activities emerged. The relationship between actors in the musical field and state administration was presumably reciprocal: state regulations affected the opportunities to generate income in the field of music but, at the same time, the aesthetic choices and distinctions made in the field of music influenced state administration’s decision-making.

In the first half of the 20th century, the technologies for sound reproduction and recording were developing rapidly. New types of media (record, cinema and radio) offered new ways of generating income while making some old ones obsolete. For instance, with the emergence of audio film, a whole profession disappeared as the musicians who had previously accompanied silent films became redundant. At the same time, foreign records and audio cinema offered new and previously unknown aesthetic ideals upon which one could plan one’s career. We are setting out to discover what the concrete effects of these technological changes in each of the cities were, particularly with regard to both the companies’ as well as the musicians’ opportunities to generate income and with respect to individual musicians’ career development.

An entirely different type of revenue logic developed on the basis of public funding. The state and municipalities began to increasingly support the most highly-valued music: symphony orchestras and theatres were municipalised, and state support was allocated to higher music education, composers of art music and opera. One central goal of our research is to compare the relationship between private gainful employment and public funding in the field of music. The concept of “better music” emerged as a reaction to openly commercial business activities, and commerciality began to refer to the aesthetically inferior. Being awarded public funding was seen as a mark of quality in music. Previous research (e.g. Salmenhaara 1996, 394) has emphasised that musical life in the 1920s became polarised into serious and light. The purpose of our research is to discover to what extent this division used to apply in different contexts. Apparently, due to the small size of the musical economy, the majority of music professionals had to repeatedly cross the line between serious and light, since not doing so would have made it impossible to earn a living in music.

Research themes

We will study the musical life of the biggest cities in Finland through four core themes and their interconnections:

I.    Cultural politics
II.    Music education
III.    Music industry
IV.    Musicians, music events and repertoires

I. Distinction and its role in cultural politics

Making distinctions is always a political activity, and it affects the creation of positions and their adoption in the field. This is why it also has a significant impact on revenue logic. The most central distinction was made in the 1920s between the new American popular music and art music. This primarily aesthetic distinction also had its own moral, geopolitical, racial and gender-related aspects, which we find highly important to investigate.

Distinctions could be created in various ways. Journalistic writing was one essential means, but distinctions were also made and maintained by concrete musical activity. One of our research subjects will be the creation of distinctions in state regulation politics: what boundaries were created by customs, taxes, work and entertainment permits as well as copyright law and prohibition; how did these regulations affect musicians’ ability to earn a living; and what discussions and political battles did they provoke?

The subject will be examined by looking at how the musical life of the cities functioned in practice. Decisions made in the governing bodies of the state and cities had concrete consequences for the everyday operations of musicians and companies in the music industry and for their ability to generate income. What is more, actors in the field of music were, through their actions, themselves essential creators and maintainers of distinctions, and thus key actors in cultural politics.

II. Teaching a musical instrument as a profession

The Finnish music school system is globally renowned, and its origin is most often traced back to the end of the 1960s. However, the institutional development had already begun in the 19th century, although teaching was initially offered only by the university, a few short-lived music schools and private tutors. Since the 1870s, church musicians had been trained in schools meant for future sextons and organists. The Helsinki Music Institute was founded in 1882 (known as Sibelius Academy since 1939), and it remained the only institution that trained professional musicians in Finland well into the 20th century. The operation and course requirements of the Institute were based on German models, especially those of the Leipzig Conservatory. (Dahlström 1982.)

In the 1920s, music researcher and composer Armas Launis founded an important new institution, the folk conservatories, which were based on a model adopted from Germany, France and Russia (see Pekkilä 2015 for more detail). The Helsinki Folk Conservatory opened in 1922, and was within a few years followed by the folk conservatories of Turku, Tampere, Pori, Vaasa, Kotka, Oulu and Uusikaupunki. (cf. Laitinen 2009). In addition to the folk conservatory, Helsinki also housed other significant institutions for teaching musical instruments. For instance, the short-lived Dallape Institute (1934-1937) was possibly the first training institution for light music in the whole of Europe, but after a promising beginning its operation soon came to a halt due to some unclear taxation issues. (cf. Tikka & Tamminen 2011.) Outside the Institute, the field of light music offered various ways of learning to play an instrument, among them correspondence courses and schools of instrumental music.

In the project, we will compare the curricula and the backgrounds of the members of teaching staff of these institutions. In addition, we will explore how the institutions were maintained financially, and how their operation was regulated – and in some cases financially supported – from above. One important and previously unstudied aspect of music education in the time period is private teaching. Through an extensive archival study of newspapers, magazines and other text material, we will chart the economic, cultural and aesthetic conditions in which these teachers – professional musicians as well as advanced amateurs of both Finnish and foreign origin – practised their profession.

III. The modern music industry as a regulator of musical income activity

The music industry is an economic field, which in our definition includes sub-fields such as publishing, the organisation of concerts, the production of recordings, and the sale of sheet music and musical instruments. By the beginning of the 20th century, music publishing and music shops had become fairly well established (c.f. Kurkela 2009), but organisations for public music performances were only beginning to take shape. In our research relating to this theme, we will investigate how technological, economic and political changes affected musical positions and income activities in the musical life of the towns. The cross-border music industry was highly dependent on the events of global politics. We will explore how the unstable situation of the Great War and later changes in the political climate were reflected in the music business in general. In addition to European connections, we look at music professionals and take into account the significance of their trans-Atlantic migration for the development of the field. We will study the phenomenon from four different viewpoints:

1. Agencies: At the turn of the century, as independent agents and impresarios began to take responsibility for various practicalities (organising concerts, marketing and financial matters), a new type of business started to form around public concerts. We will look at how artists’ booking agencies were formed. As one of our examples, we look at Fazerin Konserttitoimisto, a concert agency founded in Helsinki in 1903, and considered the first musical agency in Finland.

2. Music publishing: From the late 1890s onwards, several Finnish firms for publishing local music and importing foreign sheet music were founded. Knowhow was achieved by hiring German experts, which made the business truly transnational. However, before 1928, there was no copyright protection for musical works; normally, Finnish composers sold their works to publishers for a lump sum and received no royalties. This all made the revenue logic of music makers quite different from the conditions of today’s music business which is based on copyright stipulations and remuneration systems.

3. The record industry: The audio record had already become a global business before the Great War, although in Finland the commercial breakthrough was delayed until the end of the 1920s. We will ask in what ways the record industry influenced prevailing musical practices from the point of view of economics on the one hand, and of the musician on the other. We will also look at how the organisation of concerts was affected by records becoming more common.

4. Music shops: In cities, music shops became the nexus of musical networks, satisfying the needs of business life and the musical field alike. We will identify ways in which music shops adapted to technical development and to changes in the musical networks.

IV. Musicians, music events and repertoires

Military concerts notwithstanding, at the turn of the 20th century the whole professional orchestral field in Finland was organised by private enterprises. However, the activity was supported by public funds. In addition, orchestral musicians were largely foreigners. For example, in 1903, of the 50 musicians of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society only approximately half were Finns (Marvia & Vainio 1993, 113). In the following decades, the musicians became noticeably more Finnish; the most important reason for this was the Great War, due to which the subjects of the German and Austrian Empires had to return to their homelands. On the other hand, Finland received a substantial number of musicians from abroad in the 1920s – Russians, Central Europeans and American Finns – who found jobs at cinemas, musical theatres and restaurants. All orchestras, the city orchestras of Helsinki (1914) and Turku (1927) notwithstanding, continued to exist as private companies or musical associations, many of which also received public funding. How was the public funding allocated in different towns to different orchestras, and what were the aesthetic arguments used in the allocation of grants?

At the beginning of the 20th century, all forms of orchestral activity followed common European models, and in particular professional entertainment productions, such as operetta, variété and women's orchestras, were almost always based on visiting foreign tours. The objective of the research is to explain how forms of transnational concerts and dramatic entertainment were adapted and domesticated for the musical environments of the three towns. To what extent did the parties of association houses – programmatic soirées – utilise variété, and to what extent was the musical comedy, which had become highly popular at the beginning of the 20th century, an adaption of the continental operetta?

Popular women’s orchestras also open up the question about the position of female musicians in local orchestral cultures. The women’s orchestra boom was clearly visible, for instance, in Swedish orchestral culture, but why did this development not seem to gain a foothold in Finland? What actually was the position of female musicians in Finnish orchestral culture prior to the Second World War?

Music becoming increasingly media-driven (radio, audio record and cinema) was a characteristic phenomenon for the period, yet, at the same time it was also possible to hear more and more live music, especially at restaurants. How did the changing restaurant culture and the dance craze of the 1920s affect the position of musicians and the repertoire of orchestras? What explains the fact that some repertoire from the 19th century, that which is often described as salon music, seems to have retained its position both at restaurants and on the radio until the Second World War – and even long after it?

Expected research results and their anticipated scientific impact

The research project combines research on economics and arts. The economics of music is given cultural-historical perspective and arts research economic substance. The results of the project will help to perceive the changes and turning points in musical revenue logic. The purpose of our research is to show that the current digitalisation-related crisis is not unique but that precedents can be found (cf. the changes in artists’ revenue logic brought about by audio records).

The findings will provide a firm basis for future interdisciplinary research projects on musical practices, and musical adaptations and transformations from one country to another. The project helps to understand that the current globalisation had its predecessor, as before the First World War, the world was highly globalised not only economically (Hirst & Thompson, 1996) but also culturally. This was something that the War changed.

Effects and impact beyond academia

In endorsing cosmopolitan values, this project contributes to efforts to combat the extreme nationalistic, religious and ethnic separatist movements that have arisen as a negative consequence of migration, political debate, and global communications media. A few years ago, an entire issue of the European Journal of Social Theory was devoted to cosmopolitanism and its relevance today, with two contributors arguing that it was Europe’s only way out of crisis (Beck and Grande, 2007: 67–85). Other leading scholarly journals, such as Theory, Culture & Society and Sociological Review, have also taken up this subject as something bearing new significance for the 21st century.

The research provides building blocks for the strengthening of European identity and, consequently, for a safer Europe. The project helps to understand those common cultural and social values and traditions upon which identity can be built as well as those factors that have prevented this identity from being established in the past.

Research methods and material, support from research environment

Research methods

The research is based on the source-critical investigation of previously known archival material and on the intensive production of new material (see data management plan). Some old research on the topic and, especially, contemporary literature are available, and their careful analysis and reinterpretation will be the central research method. We will utilise Pierre Bourdieu's field theory, methodological cosmopolitanism. discursive institutionalism and the concept translocal in building our theoretical framework.

According to Bourdieu (1993), a social space consists of relatively autonomous fields of action, whose heteronomy is produced by forces outside the field. A field comprises positions that are created and adopted by agents operating in the field (people, institutions and organisations). Using Bourdieu’s field theory as the starting point of the research provides several advantages compared to previous approaches to music history. First, compared to music research that takes the difference between art music, popular music and folk music for granted, field theory is better in helping to perceive aesthetic distinctions that have been created within the field and that have been used to create, justify and adopt positions. Thus, creating and maintaining distinctions is not mere aesthetics. Instead, it also has economic and social consequences. Second, as many academic studies have noted (see, e.g., Rawolle & Lingard 2008; Go 2008; Häkli 2013), applying field theory makes it possible to avoid the national gaze in the selection and interpretation of the research subject.

We will avoid methodological nationalism by adopting a translocal point of view, which studies the concrete movement of people, goods, ideas and symbols across distances and borders, be they geological, cultural or political (Freitag & von Oppen 2010, 5). Unlike methodological transnationalism, which looks at the crossing of borders of nations and nation-states, translocal research takes into account not only political boundaries, but also other spatial structures and contemporary perceptions about them.

Since our research focuses particularly on arts-related activity, we will complement our point of view with methodological cosmopolitanism, which in recent times has gathered considerable support as a research paradigm, replacing both methodological nationalism and transnationalism (see, e.g., Beck 2006, 81; Beck & Szneider 2006, 2). Cultural cosmopolitanism consists of various progressions, in which local, regional, national, ethnic, religious and transnational cultures and traditions intertwine in many different ways. (Beck 2006, 7; Delanty 2006, 35, 39.) The processes of learning are considered essential means of creating and transferring new cultural models. We will argue that the establishment and transfer of cultural models is based on internalised processes. This enables the cosmopolitan interpretation to avoid powerful dualisms such as domestic–foreign or national–international typical of methodological nationalism and the world society theory (see e.g. Meyer et al. 1997). Instead of approaching the subject from an either/or point of view, methodological cosmopolitanism assumes the question to be both/and. (Beck & Sznaider 2006.)

Finally, since our project focuses strongly on music-related institutions, theoretically we complement our approach with discursive institutionalism, which is the latest addition to the so-called new institutionalism in the field of sociology. (See e.g. Campbell & Pedersen 2001, Hay 2006, Schmidt 2008, and Alasuutari 2015). While world society theory has mainly utilized quantitative data, discursive institutionalism focuses on qualitative case studies, where local actors’ – that is, “policy entrepreneurs” (Appel & Orenstein 2013) – active role in promoting exogenous ideas is given due attention. Pertti Alasuutari (2015, 172) calls this adaptation process by the concept “domestication”. This concept “pays attention to a local field battle as a condition of … acceptability [of a new idea or policy]”. Alasuutari’s concept, referring to the tension and interaction between the global and local, thus comes close to earlier concepts of theories of globalization, such as creolization, glocalization, hybridization, indigenization, localization and cultural translation (Alasuutari 2015, 179).

Research material

The research focuses mainly on archival material, which consists of letters, business correspondence, minutes of companies and organisations and other unprinted sources. Central sources also include previous research literature, contemporary literature, newspapers, ephemera and recordings, sheet music and scores of musical works. The most important collections are housed in the National Library, the National Archives, music archive JAPA in Helsinki, Central Archives for Finnish Business Records (ELKA, Mikkeli), the Sibelius Museum archive in Turku and, for Vyborg, the Provincial Archives of Mikkeli and the regional archive of the Leningrad oblast, which house the former provincial archive of Vyborg. Some of the material has been digitised, among them the Finnish newspapers until the 1910s, but a considerable part of the material is only available in its original format, thus requiring significant research resources for archival work.  

The transnational premise of the research also means that the archival work extends to many foreign archival collections. The most important collections are located in Estonia (music archives in Tallinn and Tartu), Sweden (Statens musiksamlingar, Stockholm) and Germany (Staatsarchiv in Berlin and Leipzig).

Research team, collaboration

Merits of research team members

Principal Investigator Kurkela has successfully been in charge of several earlier projects funded by the Academy of Finland the main objective of which have been to improve the extent of international networking in the field of Finnish music history. Kurkela’s recent research activity focuses on the emergence of the concert institution in Helsinki and on the delimitation of serious and light music since the end of the 19th century. Kurkela’s research focuses on research themes III (Music industry) and IV (Musicians and repertoires).

Derek Scott is a musicologist of international renown, who has an outstanding publication record in the historical sociology of music (  He has been recognized by the ERC as a “ground-breaking” researcher whose “achievements have typically gone beyond the state of the art,” and awarded him an advanced grant to investigate the transfer of German operetta to London and New York.  Scott’s input will be on the cosmopolitan connections of Finnish musical theatre (subproject IV) and on the assessment of the development of the Finnish urban music scene within the framework of Western super culture.

The three postdoctoral researchers of the project are currently working in the project Rethinking 'Finnish' Music, funded by the Academy of Finland ( Olli Heikkinen has previously studied the emergence of musical genres, the cross-border nature of 19th-century musicianship and the birth of city orchestras. His special focus will be on research themes I (Cultural distinction) and IV (Musicians). Saijaleena Rantanen specialises in 19th-century Finnish music festivals, and in this project, she will study the emergence of the modern music industry in 20th-century Finland and its relation to the changes in the ways in which town musicians earned their living. Markus Mantere is currently researching the early history of Finnish musicology as a discipline. In this project, he will broaden his scope to include music training and its reformation in the urban culture between the two World Wars (research theme II).



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