Giuseppe Acerbi (1773−1846)

Guiseppe Acerbi, born in Castel Goffredo (Mantua) on 3 May 1773 where he also died on 25 August 1846, was an Italian artist working as a writer, critic, travel-writer, musician and composer. From 1798 until 1800 he visited Sweden, Finland and Norway after which he wrote the book Travels through Sweden, Finland and Lapland, to the North Cape in the Years 1798 and 1799. He became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1799.

Background

Giuseppe Acerbi belonged to an influential, cultural family from the Duchy of Mantua that was then a part of the Habsburg Austrian Empire. His father, Giovanni, gave him a multifaceted upbringing in the spirit of the age of the enlightenment. Later he studied with Saverio Bettinelli, a prominent figure of the Lombardi enlightenment, and achieved a degree in law at the university of Pavia in 1794. Early on he also dedicated his time to music, composing songs and chamber music, and he was a competent clarinet player.

Journey to the Nordic countries

Acerbi made his name in Swedish music and cultural history due to his journey to the Nordic countries that he undertook together with Bernardo Bellotti, a rich banker’s son from Brescia, in 1798−1800.

Acerbi and Belotti arrived in Stockholm on 19 September 1798 after having travelled through Germany via Vienna. They stayed there until March 1799. Due to his social and musical talents, Acerbi soon became an attractive guest at the parlours of late Gustavian society. He became acquainted with Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand at an ‘evening of musical entertainment’ held by Count Nils Cronstedt. Skjöldebrand was so enthusiastic on hearing about Acerbi’s travel plans that he decided to join the Italians on their journey the northernmost parts of Scandinavia. Skjöldebrand was a member of both the Svenska Akademien (the Swedish Academy) and the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music). He belonged to the elite of Gustavian cultural society and later became the managing director of the Kungliga teatern (the Royal Theatre). During the journey, Skjöldebrand acted as a guide, translator and illustrator.

The companions left Stockholm on 18 March 1799 and travelled to Uleåborg via Turku, up the Finnish coast. After staying there for a couple of months, they continued their journey northwards via Kemi ascending the Torne and Muonio rivers. They pressed on through Kautokeino and Alta, finally reaching the North Cape on 19 July. The return journey followed almost the same route southwards to Uleåborg where they caught a boat over to the Swedish side of the Bothnian Sea. They were back in Stockholm on 20 September 1799.

On 16 November Acerbi was elected into the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien, probably by Skjöldebrand’s recommendation. Acerbi’s composition L’Invocazione del sole alla mezza notte in Lapponia for ‘Tre dilettanti di Musica quivi viaggiatori’ was published in the music journal Musikaliskt tidsfördrif  that very same year. The piece had most probably been written during his stay in Uleåborg where Acerbi and Skjöldebrand (who played the violin) performed music together with some of the local gentry, among them the composer and cellist Erik Tulindberg. In April 1800, Acerbi and Belotti travelled to Norway, continuing on to Denmark and via Hamburg to England where the original English edition of the book Travels through Sweden, Finland and Lapland, to the North Cape in the Years 1798 and 1799 was published in 1802.

An ethnomusicological predecessor

Acerbi’s main aim was not musical documentation, but his observation of local performance practice and competent transcriptions of traditional melodies and lyrics of the then unknown Finnish folk music got noticed out in Europe. His balanced, ethnomusicological description of the performance practice of ‘runo-song’ (Fi. runolaulu) was of significant importance. It inspired early folklore research in Finland and thereby paved the way for Elias Lönnroth’s edition of the Kalevala. One of Acerbi’s clarinet quartets included a five-tone kantele melody that was the first known appearance of Finnish folk music in an art music context. Because of this, Acerbi’s contribution was highly valued in Finland.

In Sweden, on the other hand, his travel journal received harsh criticism. He was seen to be looking down upon the Swedish monarchy and painting a negative picture of the state of politics and culture in the country. The Swedish government reacted at a diplomatic level, which made things very difficult for Acerbi. Skjöldebrand felt forced to write a counterblast. He was also very critical of Acerbi’s arbitrary publications of his illustrations in varying contexts.

For today’s readers, however, Acerbi’s observations and reflections are seen as clear-sighted and interesting. He experienced the music life of Stockholm as provincial and insufficient, which was not surprising considering his background from the cultural region between Cremona and Mantua, one of main centres for European art music.

After his journey to the Nordic countries, Acerbi stayed in Paris for a while. However, his position there soon became unsustainable due to the actions of the Swedish government and he therefore returned to his family estate on the outskirts of Mantua. He was the director of the influential and progressive periodical Biblioteca Italiana from 1816 until 1826. In 1826 he began a career in diplomatic service becoming the Austrian consul in Alexandria in Egypt where he worked until 1834.

Anders Hammarlund © 2015
Trans. Sally Allkins

Publications by the composer

Acerbi, Joseph [Giuseppe]: Travels through Sweden, Finland, and Lapland, to the North Cape in the Years 1798 and 1799, London: Joseph Mawman, 1802.

Bibliography

Acerbi, Giuseppe: Resa i Finland 1799 [selections], Helsingfors: Söderström, 1953.
Acerbi, Giuseppe: Resa i Sverige [selections], trans. Thure Nyman, Stockholm: Sällskapet bokvännerna, 1958.
Acerbi Giuseppe Resa i Lappland 1799 [selections], trans. Bertel Kihlman, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1964.
Alatalo, Hasse: Ängens fågel: visor och låtar i Norrbottens finnbygder 1677−1984 (=Nurmen lintu: lauluja ja tansikappalheita Pohjoisruottin suomiseutuissa), Värnamo: Arena, 2004.

Sources

KMA:s protokoll 1799/11/16, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.

Summary list of works

Works for vocal solo/soli and orchestra, chamber music (string quartet, 3 clarinet quartets, concerto for clarinet and cembalo poss. even orchestra), piano works (1 sonata etc.), songs, choral works.

Collected works

Chamber music
Sonata. Studio per violino e pianoforte.
Trois quators a une clarinette, violin, viola et violoncello (1799?): 1. B-flat major, 2. E-flat major, 3. B-flat major.
Quartetto per archi.
Concerto per clarinetto e cembalo. Publ. by Alessio Bacci, Livorno: Tetraktys, 1999. [Probably also exists in a version with orchestra.]

Works for clavier
L'addio. Andante per cembalo composto da G. Acerbi dilettante di musica all'occasione della sua partenza da Stockholm l'anno 1800.
Rondeau per cembalo.
Sonata per piano.

Vocal music

L’Invocazione del sole alla mezza notte in Lapponia, for three male voices, 1799.
Tu vuoi ch'io viva oh core, aria fo one voice and orchestra.
E non deggio rivederti mai più /Va ti consola … Recitativo e Duetto cantato da Madamigella de Polett e dal Sig: Baron d’Adlerswärd nel Concerto dato dal’Accademia filarmonica di Stockholm a benifizio de poveri di Enköping li 29 decembre 1799. Composto d G: Acerbi dilettante di Musica. For two voices and orchestra.
Ah quanto è dolce all’alma. Cavatina composta per Madamigella Fabré (nello stesso tono e colle stesse parole della cavatina del primo atto delle Due Pupille) da G. Acerbi dilettante. For onve voice and orchestra.
L’Addio d’Acerbi ('Ecco quel giero istante…').
Meco già Niside, aria for tenor and harp, 1811.

Other

Marche militaire composé pour les troupes régularières (Nizam-Gedid) du Viceroi d’Egypte par le cons. d’Acerbi consul general d’Autriche. Alexandrie 13 May 1830.


Works by Giuseppe Acerbi

There are no works by the composer registered