Petrus Blomberg (1841−1907)

Petrus (Per) Fredrik August Blomberg was born in Spelvik, Sweden on 9 August 1841 and died in Falun on 16 January 1907. He was an organist, singer and composer. After finishing his student examinations in Nyköping in 1862, he studied at Uppsala University where he composed Sweden’s first fully developed student farce with original music, together with Julius Bagge. In 1868 he took his organist examination in Uppsala, and was employed in Södertälje in 1877 and Falun in 1885.

Life

Petrus Blomberg holds a special place among Swedish composers. Even though he left behind only a single work that is comparable in quality to the recognised composers of his time, his composition has qualified him for a prominent place in Swedish music history. Petrus Blomberg is namely one of the two music authors of Sweden’s first fully elaborated student farce with original music. He was thus involved in the beginnings of a theatrical tradition that lives on today.

Childhood and student years

Per (Petrus) Fredrik August Blomberg was born the son of a clergyman in Spelvik, just outside of the town of Nyköping. After his studies at the town’s grammar school and passing his upper-level exams in 1862, he went to Uppsala for his university studies. His great interest in music, and especially his skilled vocal abilities, led to his involvement in the musical life of Uppsala, particularly in male quartet singing. He came to be involved in, among other things, the first configuration of Luttemanska kvartetten, a quartet formed in 1865 by the tenor Hugo Lutteman. This ensemble toured considerably both within Sweden and abroad.

Petrus Blomberg took part in male student singing in Uppsala. He travelled with a specially formed choir to the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris, and sang under the leadership of Oscar Arpi. Blomberg also sang on a vocal tour of southern Sweden in 1873, as well as a tour in northern Sweden one year later. He traveled again with a vocal group from Uppsala to Paris for the 1878 International Exposition − this time under the musical leadership of Ivar Hedenblad, and despite the fact that he had left Uppsala the year before. One can imagine that Petrus Blomberg sang in many other contexts within Uppsala’s student life, but they remain unnamed among known source materials. Everything points to the fact that he belonged to the inner circle of male singers during his Uppsala years.

Blomberg’s most memorable contribution during his student years was his composition of portions of the comic work Mohrens sista suck eller Kärlek och död (Mohren’s last breath or Love and death). The piece had its initial premier by an ensemble from Södermanland−Nerike’s nation (student organisations or ‘nations’ are based on where the members come from), on 30 November 1865. Blomberg’s fellow nation-member, Julius Bagge (later to become a well-known music publisher) wrote the rest of the music for the work. Blomberg composed the first act and half of the second act, while Bagge completed the second act and wrote the whole third act. When the opera parody had its premier, Blomberg was 24 years old and Bagge 21, thus the musical work conveys their youthfulness. An obituary claims that Blomberg ‘worked an entire school term on his farce and was also compelled to invite the performers to supper after every rehearsal’.

Mohrens sista suck is an opera seria with strong comic undertones. The farce is considered to be a real classic within the genre and has, through the years, been performed innumerable times. The text was written by another student, Per August Elfvik, who was 23 years old at the time. He later became pastor for the army regiment of Västmanland (west of Uppsala) and then vicar for Hjulsjö parish in the same region.

In 1872, during his Uppsala years, Blomberg made his singing debut at the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera) in the role of Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. There were to be no other name-worthy roles for him on that stage, however, he toured as a singer and we know that he sang with Gothenburg’s music association in 1875. Many performances could certainly be added to these if there were more available sources, however, biographical sources do mention concert tours in Finland and Russia.

Establishment as organist and time in Falun    

How Petrus Blomberg acquired his musical training is unclear. He completed his organist examinations in Uppsala in 1868, which would have been preceded by music lessons. He most certainly had vocal training, but also must have acquired training in music theory − at least in harmony − and perhaps in composition. Otherwise it would have been hard for him to go as far as he did as a singer and composer.

After the Uppsala period, Blomberg received a brief engagement at the Swedish lyrical theatre in Helsinki, Finland. In 1877 he moved to Södertälje (just south of Stockholm) to take a job as organist in the town’s church. He taught as well, both in the secondary school and privately, meanwhile continuing performances in vocal concerts. At the beginning of 1884, he toured with the baritone Ragnar Grevillius, whom he knew from his Uppsala years. Grevillius, who came from Östergötland in southeast Sweden, was employed by the Kungliga Teatern from 1884 to 1886.

In 1883 Blomberg married Beata (Betty) Utterström, who was born in 1852 in Börje, just outside of Uppsala. The wedding took place in Sigtuna. It is likely that the couple met in Uppsala where Betty lived for a while with an older sister and family. Like her husband, Betty Utterström was musically active. She played piano and usually accompanied his singing.

Moving to the Dalacarlia town of Falun in 1885, he took the post of organist and klockare (teacher and leader of singing) in Stora Kopparberg’s church. While on tour with Grevillius, they both presented a concert in Falun’s Kristine church accompanied by Betty Blomberg at the piano. Perhaps that concert was part of Blomberg’s effort at getting a job there. During his years in Falun, he occasionally worked as a music teacher at the city’s grammar school, gave lectures on music subjects and also presented public singing performances. His singing abilities also opened doors for participation in the social life of the area.

In the middle of the 1890s, Petrus Blomberg revisited the compositional genre of his youth when he wrote music for the comic opera Klockekriget to text by Erik Staaf, who was then adjunct at the grammar school in Falun and thus a colleague. As far as is known, the work was not preserved, but would have been performed in Falun.

Petrus Blomberg died childless at age 66 in Falun. In the local obituary he was described as ‘a likable and sympathetic man, equipped with a good head and a good heart’ − and one who ‘always had a joke on the tip of his tongue’.

Works

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about Petrus Blomberg as a composer. Over and above his collaboration in the farce Mohrens sista suck, there is only one other known extant work, namely a religious song for baritone and organ/piano with a text from David's 25th Psalm − Herre visa mig dina vägar (Show me thy ways, O LORD), which was published by Blomberg’s university friend, Julius Bagge. The work’s number in Bagge’s publishing catalogue indicates that the song would have been written during Blomberg’s time as organist at Södertälje’s church (1877−85). It is possible that the song was written for Blomberg’s good friend from his Uppsala years, Ragnar Grevillius, who sang in the baritone vocal range.

The lack of source information likely reflects that Blomberg was not particularly active as a composer − outside of music composed and arranged for use during his years as church organist. Given his friendship with the publisher Julius Bagge, Blomberg would have had his works published if he had written more than the one known work.

Mohrens sista suck consists of three acts and includes four roles − one of which is a female role, Donna Rotunda. This role has traditionally been played by a man. The composers possibly looked to quartet singing when they chose to have only four roles. As far as the setting for the work, the printed keyboard score states, ‘The events take place near Granada’.

The music shows knowledge of a simpler dramatic music common at that time. The movements cannot be called complicated, but they are effectively written with thought given to the theatrical expression. The work must be sung by well-trained singers. The intended comedy does not lie within the music, but in the events and with the text, which in several places parody operatic elements − one example is that all the characters, after long and sonorous agonies, die during the final chord.

Gunnar Ternhag © 2014
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

Obituary in Svensk Musiktidning 1907, p. 23.
Östberg, Axel: Det  gamla Falun, Falun 1978, p. 458f.

Summary list of works

Comic opera, Mohrens sista suck from 1865 in collaboration with Julius Bagge and Klockekriget (1890s).

Collected works

Stage music
Mohrens sista suck eller Kärlek och död, opera seria [student farce] in three acts (P.A. Elfvik), composed with Julius Bagge. First performed on 30 Nov. 1865 in Uppsala [piano reduction published by Julius Bagge 1885].
Klockekriget, comic operetta (E. Staaf), 1890s [the work is lost].

Other
Words from David's 25th Psalm ('Herre visa mig dina vägar') for baritone and organ or piano. Julius Bagge 119.