Jeanna Åkerman (1798−1859)

Jeanna Åkerman (née Bauck) was born on 16 December 1798 in Gothenburg and died on 27 May 1859 in Dresden. She was a singer, choir leader and composer. From the 1820s until her death Åkerman was a central figure in Gothenburg’s music life. She was active in the Harmonic Society, and was one of the initiators of the Monday Singing Practice Society and its mixed choir that she became the leader for. Alongside music, Åkerman was also a painter specializing in landscapes. Her extant music works consist of solo songs.

Life

Childhood and studies

Jeanna Elisabeth Åkerman was born in the Kristine Parish in Gothenburg on 16 December 1798 as the daughter of the merchant Johan Christoffer Bauck and Anna Maria Dahlgren. The family was prosperous and cultivated. Johan Bauck, who immigrated to Sweden from Hamburg, was active in the Harmoniska sällskapet (the Harmonic Society) where he also sat on the board of directors. Several of the children in the family were active within the music scene and the youngest brother, Wilhelm Bauck, eventually became a writer on music. Jeanna married Anders Åkerman in 1817, who was, like her father, a wholesaler and owned the Särö manor.

Even at the age of six, Jeanna Åkerman is said to have exhibited a distinct talent for music and she was accepted as a piano student of the cathedral organist, Henric Bäck. In her early teenage years she also began studying singing and taking violin lessons with the qualified violinist and teacher, Mathias Lundblom. Well-known international musicians who visited Gothenburg noted Åkerman’s musical talent early on and at fourteen years old she performed together with the famous German cellist and composer, Bernhard Romberg in the Harmoniska sällskapet.

A yearlong stay in Hamburg during 1814−1815 was important to Åkerman’s development, where she studied singing as well as taking lessons in piano and harp. Upon her return to Gothenburg she continued her studies with Georg Günther, the organist for the German Church who was also a composer a learned music theorist.

Contributions to music life in Gothenburg

After her visit abroad, Jeanna Åkerman would come to play a central role in Gothenburg’s music scene; both in private and public arenas. She took an active part in the Harmoniska sällskapet’s activities as in the concerts organized by Georg Günther. As a solo singer, Åkerman performed works including those of W.A. Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Louis Spohr and Carl Maria von Weber. Later she would come to lead vocal rehearsals of larger compositions such as Mozart’s Requiem and Händels oratorium Jephta.

When the Harmoniska sällskapet’s activities went through a period of inactivity during the 1850s, Åkerman was a driving force behind the founding of a mixed choir, the so-called Måndagssångöfvningssällskapet (the Monday’s Song Practice Society), and in 1855 she was elected leader and chair person for the group. In the beginning the society had a closed membership, however, when in 1857 it merged with the Harmoniska sällskapet it became open to the public. Åkerman also became he chairperson of this organization, but the musical leadership was handed over to Bedřich Smetana who arrived in Gothenburg in 1856.

Jeanna Åkerman’s artistic interests were not limited to music; she was extremely well read and she was active as a painter as well. During the 1810s she was a private student to the artist Fredric Werner and there is evidence that she was an art student in Dresden during the 1820s. A half-dozen landscape paintings by Åkerman are preserved.

Jeanna Åkerman died in Dresden on 27 May 1859 where she had travelled for medical treatment of a progressive illness.

Åkerman’s achievements

That Åkerman had a diverse and vital role in the music scene in Gothenburg and was highly esteemed is evident from Adolf Prytz’s eulogy after her death, held at a formal gathering of the Harmoniska sällskapet in 1859 (published in 1860). Åkerman is represented as an idealist, driven by the belief that the value of music was in its ability to refine and cultivate – not in its ability to entertain. Her ambition for the Måndagssångöfvningssällskapet was described like this, ‘…that through studious rehearsal of the works of famous masters the foundation be laid for a true and pure future taste for vocal music and perhaps in that way to create a limit to the musical frivolity that so often misleads an untrained ear’.

Åkerman’s artistic activities and good social status were typical of female composers of the early 19th century. Judging by the evidence, her musical skills were on the same level as professional musicians of the time. However, as a woman in her social position and married as well, for her to perform as a professional within the music scene was inconsistent
with the era’s social conventions. When Åkerman took part in public concerts, she was not usually announced by name, but as a ‘music lover’.

Works

The extent of Jeanna Åkerman’s composing is unknown, since the only works currently extant are those that were published. The fact that Prytz did not name her composition activities in his eulogy is not a sure indication that is it was a marginal part of her life. However, performances of her works could have been limited to the private sphere.

Åkerman’s published works include eight songs for voice and piano; one published in the music journal Nordmanna-Harpan, and the others in two collections of three, respectively four songs. In addition to the unfamiliar pseudonym ‘C.M.m.’, the texts come from renowned contemporary authors such as Esaias Tegnér, P.D.A. Atterbom and K.A. Nicander.

Åkerman’s songs have an idiomatic and simple form in both parts. In other words, they are well suited to the conditions of amateur music making. Her compositional technique is solid and even if Åkerman stays within the stylistic conventions of the times, her pieces do not lack independence of form and expression.

The songs can be termed ‘lyrical songs’ in which the strophic construction dominates and the melodic line is central. Declamatory formulation of the vocal part and the dramatic musical expression are, however, present (in, for example, ‘Stjernsången’). In such cases the harmonic events drive the melodic shape, but generally the harmonic aspects are subordinate and the piano’s function is – with the exception of shorter ritornellos – accompaniment.

Stylistically Åkerman moves within the same sphere as most of her contemporary Swedish composers (E.G. Geijer, J.E. Nordblom, A.F. Lindblad etc.); that of the mainly German Classical-Romantic solo song tradition in which influences from the Swedish folk song tradition inject certain domestic stylistic elements. Aspects of folk music can also be heard in Åkerman’s work, for example in ‘Ung Astolph och skön Svanhvit’, but is not a significant facet in her music.

Dan Olsson © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

Berg, Wilhelm: Bidrag till musikens historia i Göteborg 1754−1892, Göteborg: Wettergren & Kerber, 1914.
Carlsson, Anders:
 ‘Handel och Bacchus eller Händel och Bach?’ Det borgerliga musiklivet och dess orkesterbildningar i köpmannastaden Göteborg under andra hälften av 1800-talet, diss. in musicology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg: Tre böckers förlag, 1996.
Carlsson, Anders & Ling, Jan
: ‘Beethoven anländer till Göteborg’, in: Carl-Gunnar Åhlén (ed.), Sjutton Beethoven-variationer, Stockholm: Atlantis, 2010.
Lindberg, Annie
: ‘Svenska kvinnliga landskapsmålare och düsseldorfmåleriet vid 1800-talets slut’, bachelor thesis in art history, Högskolan i Halmstad, 2008.
Ny tidning för musik, no. 4 1856, p. 31.
Olsson, Bror
: ‘Åkerman, Jeanna (Jeanette) Elisabeth’, in: Svenskt konstnärslexikon, vol. 5, Malmö: Allhems förlag, 1967, pp. 776−777.
Prytz, Adolf: 
Minnes-tal öfver fru Jeanna Elisabeth Åkerman, född Bauck som afled i Dresden den 27 maj 1859, hållet uti Harmoniska sällskapet i Götheborg å första derefter inträffade soirée, den 10 dec. 1859, Gothenburg, 1860.
Öhrström, Eva:
Borgerliga kvinnors musicerande i 1800-talets Sverige, diss. University of Gothenburg, 1987.

Summary list of works

Songs.

Collected works

Four songs for one voice with piano accompaniment. Götheborg: Oscar L. Lamm (N.J. Gumperts Bok & Musikhandel). 1. Guds Friden (‘Lägg ner ditt pantsar’), 2. I Månskenet (‘Jag ville väl en elfva vara’), 3. Fiskar-Flickan (‘Flyg min julle lilla’), 4. Då Greta rodnade (‘Har du narrat din fader, säj?’).
Three songs with piano accompaniment. Stockholm: Abr. Hirsch, 1834. 1. Stjernsången (‘Stjernorna blinka’, E. Tegnér), 2. Ung Astolph och skön Svanhvit (‘De lindar stå under borgatorn’, P.D.A. Atterbom), 3. Zephirs Sång (‘I varelser kännen I glädjen?’, P.D.A. Atterbom).
Wisper-dalen (‘Det hviskar i den stilla dalen’, K.A. Nicander), Nordmanna-Harpan no 4, p. 15.