Bror Adolf Beckman (1832−1911)

Bror Adolf Beckman was born in Stockholm 5 February 1832 and died in Värnamo 14 November 1911. He worked as a military and music commander with Värmland’s Fältjägare infantry, as a life insurance inspector, singer, music teacher and composer. He was the father of the composer Bror Beckman. Bror Adolf Beckman played an important role in the development of Karlstad’s music life during the 1860’s and early 1870’s. He composed solo songs and piano works.

Life

Background and early years in Stockholm

Bror Adolf Beckman was born in Stockholm in 1832. His parents were Johan Wilhelm Beckman and Brita Elisabet Fehrnström. His father was the assistant vicar at Klara Parish, representative of the clergy in Parliament, an author, and an eminent hymnologist. His contributions to Swedish hymn research are considered significant.

Since no previous biographies of Bror Adolf Beckman exist, the story of his life can only be based on sporadic information. Given that he grew up in Stockholm, his family’s social status, and his father’s interest in music, he was probably highly educated, and such an education would have included training in music. Evidence reveals that he studied at Kungliga Musikaliska akademiens undervisningsverk (the educational institution of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1849 and 1858. The young Beckman also stood out as a good soloist and men’s quartet singer. At one point he was offered a job at the Stockholm Opera, but he had to turn it down since his father was opposed to the idea.

Military officer and music aficionado in Karlstad

Instead, Beckman embarked on a more socially prestigious career as a military officer, which was considered to be a crucial prerequisite for obtaining practical and administrative employment. During the 1860’s, Beckman left Stockholm and became a lieutenant (later captain) with Värmland’s Fältjägarregemente, the infantry regiment in Karlstad. From this point on, Beckman’s portrait becomes more detailed, since he held public positions in Karlstad, where he was a highly regarded and appreciated person. Outside his duties within the regiment, Beckman was a teacher at Karlstad’s secondary school, where he taught gymnastics, drawing, and intermittently even music. He was also appointed as the city’s fire chief.

Beckman grew to become a central figure in Karlstad’s music society. After being appointed music commander of the regiment, he extended his musical activities to the town of Karlstad; his accomplishments include initiating the construction of a music pavilion in the city park, where brass sextets could perform during the summer. One highly cherished feature of the city’s music life was the regiment’s men’s quartet, for which Beckman was a driving force; he also sang the first bass part. In 1870, he received the regiment’s silver baton in recognition of his musical contributions.

Beckman appears to have been interested in kindling Karlstad’s public cultural life (perhaps with the capital city as a role model): he organized concerts, founded the Allmänna Sångföreningen vocal association in 1871, and initiated the building of Karlstad’s theatre. Articles in the local press divulge Beckman’s involvement in musical instrument sales, providing expert advice on the purchase of pianos and other instruments. He was also active in private musical spheres, and led the Association of Tradesmen’s choir, and others.

Life insurance inspector in Kristinehamn

Beckman’s talents extended beyond the artistic to practical pursuits. In the early 1870’s, the local press reported that he had started an insurance business, and in 1875 he left his position in Karlstad for a job as a life insurance inspector in Kristinehamn. The reason behind this move is unknown, but it resulted in his disappearance from music history. It is not known whether or not he continued with music in Kristinehamn. However, he did correspond extensively with his son, the composer Bror Beckman (1866−1929), and a perusal of their letters could likely shed light over this later period of his life, in addition to revealing valuable information concerning his entire musical career.

Works

Approximately 25 compositions by Bror Adolf Beckman are known today. These are mostly songs for solo voice with piano accompaniment, in addition to several short piano pieces. Since none of his extant compositions are choral works or men’s quartets, there is no evidence confirming that he wrote such pieces. Three collections of 17 of his songs and two booklets consisting of two piano pieces each were published during his lifetime probably during the time he lived in Karlstad.

Beckman exemplifies a 19th century Swedish rural composer, referring not only to the composer’s activities in the countryside, but also to compositions being adapted to the musical, social and aesthetic conditions which prevailed outside the major cities. Beckman’s works are written for amateur musicians, with easy vocal and piano parts tailored to current fashion. Stylistically, his compositions are anchored in the bourgeois classical music tradition, but they also appear to be influenced by popular musical expressions from the era.

The composer’s solo songs can be characterised as lyrical songs, dominated by idyllic and sentimental expressions. He plucked his lyrics from verse by popular contemporary authors, particularly Elias Sehlstedt. The song structure is basic, featuring a repeated strophic form, and the length of each verse rarely exceeds twenty measures. The vocal melody maintains a central role, whereas the piano functions purely as accompaniment, except for shorter ritornellos. The harmony stems from the early 18th century. Stylistically, the songs follow the current trend in Sweden of the time, which was largely that of the German Classical-Romantic tradition, with influences from Swedish folk tunes, which added native style elements. There are also discernable echoes of the popular broadsheet ballads and dance music of the era.

In addition to his songs, Beckman published two booklets of piano pieces, each including two Swedish dance melodies (three polkor and a hambo-polkett). These follow the form of the popular dance music from this period, with 4−5 repeats (eight measures each), of which the last two constitute a trio. The right hand plays the melody, with accompaniment figures in the left. Musically, they are related to coeval Central European dance music (Joseph Lanner, Hans-Christian Lumbye et al.). Even here, as in the hambo polkett, there are clear ties to Swedish folk dance music.

Dan Olsson © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Bibliography

Blomqvist, Anders: ‘Restaurangerna i Stadsträdgården’, in: Gillet. Tidskrift för Carlstads-Gillet. Karlstad: 2003, vol. 12, no. 13.
Helmer, Axel: Svensk solosång 1850−1890, En genrehistorisk studie, 1−2, diss. in musicology , Uppsala University, 1972.
Krouthén, Mats: ‘Musiklivet i Karlstad 1868 enligt Nya Wermlands-Tidningen’, in: Britt-Marie Insulander och Mats Berglund (eds), Värmland förr och nu 1994: ...över nejden går låten, Karlstad: Värmlands museum, 1994.
Liedgren, Emil: ‘Johan Wilhelm Beckman’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm, 1922.
Rabe, Julius: ‘Bror Beckman’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm, 1922.

Sources

Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (in his son Bror Beckman's archive).

Summary list of works

Songs for voice and piano, piano works.

Collected works

Piano
Tvenne polkor for piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht (19) 1860. 1. Ida-polka, 2. Börgina-polka.
Elin-Polka och Hambo-Polkett for piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht (137), 1862.

Songs for solo voice and piano

Published
Sex enkla visor for mezzo-soprano or baritone. Stockholm: Abr. Lundqvist (714), 1863. 1. Romans, 2. Sof, oroliga hjerta, sof! (Johan Ludvig Runeberg), 3. Den öfvergifna (Arvid August Afzelius), 4. Sorgens Lyst (A Munch), 5. Det rätta sättet (Elias Sehlstedt), 6. I döden.
Fyra nya sånger for mezzo-soprano or baritone. Stockholm: Abr. Lundqvist (937), 1866. 1. Jag flyr till dig (Euphrosyne), 2. Pilgrimen (K Kullberg), 3. Lifvets vexlingar (Elias Sehlstedt), 4. Blomman.
Sju Sehlstedts Visor for mezzo-soprano or baritone. Christiania: C. Warmuth (C.W. 901), n.d. 1. Min flicka, 2. Gör så godt du kan, 3. Kung David, 4. Lifvets börda (Till min vän Jeremias), 5. Just det samma!, 6. Eko, 7. På landet.

Manuscript 
Trenne enkla visor. Ord af Giovanni. 1. En himmel du gömmer, 2. Båtfärden, 3. Förr och nu.
Tvenne visor. Ord af Sehlstedt. 1. Hjertat och verlden, 2. Visa.
Till musiken (Th. Moore).
Mån' tro, jo, jo! (Adolf Fredrik Lindblad).


Works by Bror Adolf Beckman

There are no works by the composer registered