The Heads of the State Music School in Kaunas: Towards the Conservatoire

  • Judita Žukienė
Keywords: Juozas Naujalis, Juozas Gruodis, Kaunas State School of Music, conservatoire, head of school


The State Music School in Kaunas, which operated from 1920 to 1933 and laid the foundation for the traditions in the training of professional musicians in Lithuania, was formed as a conservatoire from the very beginning. However, it was not only its music teachers and pupils but also its directors, who relentlessly pursued one goal – the establishment of a higher school of music in Kaunas – and had to work hard to achieve this status.
Basically, the State Music School had two directors during its existence: the organist and composer Juozas Naujalis (1920–1927) and the composer Juozas Gruodis (1927–1933). However, we can name four persons if we count all those who occupied this position briefly or temporarily. Juozas Tallat-Kelpša, a composer and conductor, headed the school for only three months: from September to November 1920. It was under him that the school was nationalised on 1 October. Thus, Tallat-Kelpša was in fact the first head of the State Music School in Kaunas. In December, however, he gave up the administration of the school and became involved in conducting operas at the State Opera House in Kaunas. The musicologist Viktoras Žadeika was appointed an acting director (in the first half of 1922) when Naujalis was away on a concert tour in the USA. From 1926 to 1933, Žadeika was the vice-director of the school.
Naujalis was the initiator, founder, leader, and teacher of the State Music School. He became its inseparable part. The experience that he had gained in organising private organist courses (from 1894) and an organists’ school (1911) provided Naujalis with the basis for the development of professional musical education in Lithuania and for the hope of establishing a higher school of music, a conservatoire. As a director, he had to take care of practically everything from the recruitment of the teaching staff, curricula development, and the quality of teaching to the search for suitable premises for the school and the purchase of firewood for the stoves. Tired of the administrative burden, he resigned as director in the spring of 1927 and stayed in the State Music School as a teacher.
Juozas Gruodis, who had already taught at the music school for a year and had given up his position as a conductor at the State Opera, was appointed director of the State Music School in the autumn of 1927. Upon taking office, he found: (1) a fully formed teaching staff that met the requirements for a conservatoire (28 teachers who were graduates of higher music schools abroad); (2) an administrative team (director, vice-director, clerk); (3) 267 students (this number remained basically unchanged until the establishment of the conservatoire in 1933); (4) virtually all established specialisms of the musical training programmes typical of conservatoires of the time; (5) the curricula, the design of which was launched in the spring of 1927 in accordance with the requirements for conservatoires, and (6) a fully functioning school building at 3 Maironio Street, which had been gradually acquired and already somewhat renovated.
As the head of the State Music School in Kaunas, Gruodis: (1) continued to make every effort for the school to be reorganised into a conservatoire: he wrote letters, adjusted the curricula, drafted the statute, and took care of the construction of the conservatoire building; (2) completed the formation of the teaching staff that met the requirements for a conservatoire: the teachers were graduates of higher music school in the West ready for changes towards modernity, and (3) established the composition class, which he taught himself, and included other subjects (pedagogy, aesthetics) relevant to the studies in the curriculum. Under Gruodis, the long-awaited reorganisation of the school took place: by the order of the minister of education of 7 February 1933, Kaunas Music School was closed and Kaunas Conservatoire opened. The recollections of contemporaries and statements in the press point to differences in Naujalis’s and Gruodis’s characters. Naujalis was reserved and ‘weighed each word’, while Gruodis was more emotional and energetic. They represented different generations and responded to the challenges of school administration in different ways.
After Naujalis’s resignation, the institution underwent a significant change that upset the established tradition and led to a generational change of teachers. With the change of directors, we can trace two stages in the activity of the State Music School: (1) from 1919 to 1927, under Naujalis: the formation and growth of the school, and (2) from 1927 to 1933, under Gruodis: improving the quality of teaching and the expanding the scope of activities. In evaluating the contribution of the heads of the school, we must emphasise that Naujalis and Gruodis were leaders who both played the roles of visionaries and administrators, taking responsibility for the future of Lithuanian musical education. The entire period of the State Music School in Kaunas should be seen as a steady progression towards the conservatoire.