Jan van Boom (1807−1872)

Jan (Johan/Johannes) van Boom, born in Utrecht on 15 September 1807, died in Stockholm on 19 March 1872. Piano teacher at the education institution of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1848, professor in 1859. Member of the academy in 1844. Van Boom composed for a wide range of settings, with an oeuvre that includes countless piano pieces, chamber music, orchestral pieces and an opera. His works were published in Sweden and Germany.

Interest in piano music, the piano itself and the people who played it swept through Europe in the first half of the 1800s, where a great many virtuoso piano composers, most of whom also worked as teachers, competed for a footing on an expanding commercial market. The Dutch-born Jan van Boom − a contemporary of such geniuses of piano composition as Chopin, Liszt, Thalberg and Mendelssohn − became a key figure in the field in 19th century Sweden. While van Boom was most influential as a pianist and piano teacher, his compositions were many and varied, displaying solid grasp of form and a style that testifies to the virtuoso’s command of the instrument’s tonal resources.

Life

Jan van Boom was born in Utrecht on 15 September 1807, and was raised in a family of musicians. Both his younger brother Hermanus Marinus van Boom (1809−1883) and father Johannes van Boom (1783−1878) were outstanding flautists, the latter also being a composer and the brothers’ first music teacher. After his home tutoring, it is likely that Jan van Boom went on to study with Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles, although it was probably less a matter of thorough study than brief consultations, which, at a guess, took place when Moscheles and Hummel visited the Netherlands during their tours in 1820 and 1823 respectively. Much later, somewhere between 1843 and 1846, van Boom continued to hone his skills with lessons in composition under Franz Berwald. His time studying for Berwald might well have influenced van Boom’s later development, even if by this time he was already an active composer with several major works under his belt.

In November 1824, at the age of 17, Jan van Boom gave his first public piano performance in Stockholm. The next year (or possibly in 1826) he settled there permanently and soon became acquainted with musicians in the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra). He soon entered a long-standing collaboration with the nine year older violinist August Berwald, and over the coming years appeared at concerts and soirees with violinist Johan Fredrik Berwald and clarinettist Bernhard Crusell. According to contemporary critics, van Boom’s technique was already expressively polished and technically driven. His first printed composition, Introduction et variations in E-flat major for piano, was advertised in the Swedish press in 1827.

Christmas day 1838 featured singers Jenny Lind and Giovanni Battista Belletti in a performance of a mass by van Boom, which has regrettably been lost. Following the concert, the pianist and composer disappeared from the Stockholm concert scene. On his return on 6 March 1842 at Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera), it was obvious that he had undergone some kind of artistic metamorphosis, as the programme featured his first composition for orchestra − an overture (it is unclear which one) − alongside the first performance in Sweden of Chopin’s F minor Concerto.

Van Boom was voted onto the Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1844, four years later becoming a teacher at its educational institution, a position he would hold until his death. The appointment meant that he taught a great many prominent musicians of the younger generation, including Richard Andersson, Elfrida Andrée, Jacob Adolf Hägg, Sara Magnus-Heintze, Ludvig Norman, August Söderman and Hilda Thegerström.

In the last 25 years of his life, van Boom gave up performing publicly as a pianist other than on the very odd occasion. On the other hand, he regularly figured in private music circles at which his own pieces were played, and his music continued to be published and performed in public by others. His Grosse Concert-Symphonie op. 24 could be heard in Stockholm and Norrköping in 1862 with Aron Hultgren as soloist, and Introduzione und Concert-Allegro op. 75 for orchestra was premiered in 1868. Around twenty piano pieces were printed by Swedish and German publishers in the 1850s and 1860s, the last major work being Theoretisk och praktisk piano-skola (1870).

In the summer of 1871, van Boom fell ill and lost his ability to teach. He died on 19 March 1872 in Stockholm. The following year, the first movement of his Grosse Concert-Symphonie was performed in his memory by his old piano student Richard Andersson at a memorial for the academy’s deceased members.

Works

It comes as no surprise that piano music dominates van Boom’s list of works. However, his output contains music from a variety of genres, so that accompanying the 50 or so piano pieces are the opera Necken, orchestral pieces, chamber music, choral pieces and songs. Roughly half of the pieces were printed and most of the others are preserved as autographs at Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden) in Stockholm.

For many of his works the date of composition can only be guessed at, since only a handful of his manuscripts are dated and there is little else to go on than the year of printing. His opus numbering is also problematic, and while his known compositions have been assigned a number from 6 to 82, the series contains numerous gaps. It is possible that some works have since been lost, but it is also possible that the opus designations were applied somewhat arbitrarily, a practice that was not unusual in the 19th century.

Stylistically, several influences can be detected in van Boom’s compositions. One aspect of his creativity is related to the brilliant virtuoso piano composers, another more to Beethoven. Many of his piano pieces recall Sigismond Thalberg’s euphonious pianistic idiom, in which the melody is often located in the middle register surrounded by arpeggios or other kinds of ornamentation. The nocturne and the third impromptu carry traces of Chopin, and certain variation pieces make use of figurations reminiscent of a composer like Henri Herz.

The two piano trios, on the other hand, are broadly composed in sonata form, cast in the mould of Beethoven, with brief motifs, thematic developments and a prominently large-scale formal architecture. Similar stylistic features can also be found in the C minor piano sonata and the Introduzione und Concert-Allegro op. 75 for orchestra.

Van Boom’s grandest-format composition is his three-act opera Necken eller Elfspelet. Other than the insertion of the folk tune ‘Neckens polska’, the music leans more towards an ‘international’ style than to a Swedish folk idiom and, modelled as it is on the German Singspiel and the romantic works of Weber and Marschner, contains spoken dialogue. Necken was premiered on 11 May 1844, with a bill featuring singing stars Jenny Lind, Belletti, Julius Günther and Isidor Dannström. Despite the rather lukewarm public response − the opera was performed a mere four times − Tobias Norlind holds Necken aloft as a seminal work in the development of the national opera repertoire.

Unlike the exiled composer and contemporary Chopin, the foreign-born van Boom did not strive to tie his compositions to his motherland, but instead frequently displayed an interest in working with Swedish folk tunes and themes. Examples of this can be heard in Introduction et variations sur l’air Suédois op. 16, Morceau de Salon − Grande Fantaisie brillante sur des Airs nationaux Suèdois op. 20, Beautés musicales de la Scandinavie op. 40, 3 Fantaisies de salon pour le piano sur des airs suédois and Variations brillantes in G minor for piano and orchestra. The use of Swedish folk melodies links these pieces to a wide tradition, following in the footsteps of composers like Georg Joseph Vogler, Bernhard Crusell, Johan Fredrik Berwald, Ferdinand Ries and Bernhard Romberg, all of whom composed variations on such themes. Another kind of association between music and a Swedish motif is illustrated by the tone painting Frithiof på hafvet for piano, which makes explicit reference to Tegnér’s national epic Frithiofs saga.

Martin Edin © 2013
Trans. Neil Betteridge

Publications by the composer

Theoretisk och praktisk piano-skola, Stockholm: Lundquist, 1870.

Bibliography

Bauck, Wilhelm: van Boom, in: Kongl. Musikaliska akademiens handlingar: 1872−73, Stockholm: Hirsch, 1874, pp. 25−27.
Boon, Gottfrid: van Boom, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1948, pp. 575−76.
Karle, Gunhild: Jan van Boom, in: Kungl. Hovkapellet i Stockholm och dess musiker 1818−61: med utblickar, Uppsala: Gunhild Karle, 2005, pp. 154−61.
Krook, Axel: Johan van Boom, in: Svea: Folkkalender för 1873, vol. 29, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1872, pp. 196−98.
Norlind, Tobias: 1. Boom, Johan (Jan) van, in: Allmänt musiklexikon, 2. rev. ed., vol. 1, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1927, pp. 160−61.
Norlind, Tobias: Jan van Boom, in: Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 25, 1943, pp. 158−82.
Rabe, Julius: Johan (Jan) Boom, van, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 5, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1925, p. 449 [with detailed list of works].
Uppström, Tore: 'En stundom barsk herre', in: Pianister i Sverige, Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, 1973, pp. 26−33.
Wikman, Bertil: van Boom, Jan, in Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1975, pp. 550-51.
van Boom, Johan (Jan) 1807−1872, in: Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik, Uppsala: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, 2006, pp. 302.

Summary list of works

1 opera (Necken), 4 orchestral pieces (Concert overture, Concert Allegro, 2 marches), 3 pieces for piano and orchestra (Concert symphony, Rondo, Variations brillantes), 2 vocal pieces with orchestra (Hallelujah, Benedictus), chamber music (2 piano trios, 2 piano quartets, violin sonata, etc.), 50 or so piano pieces (sonata, impromptus, 2 capricci, nocturne, Frithiof på hafvet, etc.), 5 pieces for harmonium (including 1 sonata), 20 or so songs with piano accompaniment (including Maria Stuarts bön and Slumrerskan), and miscellaneous works for voices and organ.


Works by Jan van Boom

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 19