Wilhelm Gnosspelius (1809−1887)

Wilhelm Theodor Gnosspelius, born in Stockholm on 28 December 1809 and died in Lund on 13 August 1887, was a violinist, organist, conductor, music manager and composer. He worked in Stockholm from 1822, in Linköping from 1843 and in Lund from 1858. Gnosspelius composed music in a classical-romantic style, primarily cantatas for specific occasions, but also chamber music and church music. He was made a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1845.

Life

Wilhelm Theodor Gnosspelius grew up in a Stockholm home where string quartets were performed and children were taught to play instruments. Starting at the age of thirteen he frequently appeared as a violinist with the Harmoniska sällskapet (the Harmonic Society). His father, who was a wholesale merchant, did not permit him to become a professional musician.

Beer and music

In 1832 Gnosspelius traveled to Germany to study the art of brewing and to listen to music in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden. Mendelssohn’s first piano concerto made a big impression on him. Back in Stockholm, he established himself as a brewer by profession. Gnosspelius’ beer is said to have been excellent and well liked, but its popularity was not enough to carry the business financially. At its closure in 1837, he had debts which persisted until old age.

After his father died, Gnosspelius was able to start studying music. In 1841 he graduated with a degree in conducting.

A musician in Linköping

Two years after graduation Gnosspelius moved with his family to Linköping to work as a vocal teacher at the city’s secondary school. In 1854 he became a cathedral organist and director musices at the grammar school.

Gnosspelius’ move to Linköping contributed to the development of the golden age of music in Östergötland County. As the leader of Norrköping’s and Linköping’s combined music societies he organised performances of great works such as Haydn’s Creation and The Seasons, Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42. He was also considered to be one of the country’s foremost string quartet musicians.

A musician in Lund

In 1858, competing against his friend Ludvig Norman, Gnosspelius won the dual post as both cathedral organist and director musices at the University of Lund. There he was responsible for promoting the orchestral, choral and chamber music in the city. In 1859 he founded the Musiksällskapet (the Music Society) which performed Haydn’s Creation and other major choral and orchestral works.

Under Gnosspelius’ leadership the Akademiska kapellet (the university orchestra) underwent a transformation from chamber music ensemble to an amateur orchestra capable of performing symphonies by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Gade. He also studied counterpoint and drafted a book on harmony, and in old age he participated as a conservative debater in the heated discussions regarding the revision of the prevailing common hymnal from 1820.

Work

After Gnosspelius died, his friend, linguist Fredrik Wulff, noted that the deceased had evaluated his own compositions as being ‘of slight value’. The reasons behind Gnosspelius’ modesty were probably both that he had a very deep respect for the classical masters and that the majority of his own few compositions were only occasional works.

Much of the orchestration, melodies and emotional expressions in a work such as Sorge Cantate i anledning af Prins Gustafs död (1852) could have originated from the times of Haydn and Mozart. Gnosspelius’ later cantatas exhibit 19th century emotional inflections, yet he never abandons his classical foundations. According to the periodical Lunds Weckoblad, his cantata composed on the death of Queen Lovisa in 1871 was ‘a well thought-out and perfectly elaborated work, worthy and melodic, and reasonably suited to the abilities available to the composer in terms of execution’.

Gnosspelius’ most ambitious work is his musical setting of Davids 98 Psalm for soloists, choir and orchestra (1862). The work is in the style of a classical oratorio characterised by a great variety of affect, encompassing elaborate contrapuntal choral sections, a dramatic bass aria, and a tranquil movement for soprano soloist and male quartet. Another sacred piece is his one-movement Requiem for mixed choir and organ (1870) where soft, contrapuntal sections embrace a flaming homophonic invocation.

Gnosspelius’ greatest chamber work, his two-movement Duo for piano and violin in F minor (1850), shows his capacity of creating themes consisting of short, charged motifs suited for further development. Its dire seriousness and (somewhat) bold gestures induces the entireness of the duo to evoke suggestions of late eighteenth-century Sturm und Drang.

Tobias Lund © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Utkast till en harmonilära. No date. [Autograph at Lund University Library.]
Anmärkningar vid Prof. J. A. Josephsons förslag till ny Choralbok. 1877.
[Commissioned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Autograph at Musik- och teaterbiblioteket. Sketch at Lund University Library.]
Också ett ord i choralfrågan. Granskning af professor J. A. Josephsons förslag till ändringar vid Hæffners choralbok, choralerna n:o 60−200, enligt uppdrag af Kgl. Musikaliska Akademien,
Lund: C. W. K. Gleerups förlag, 1880.

Bibliography

Andersson, Greger: ‘Wilhelm Theodor Gnosspelius 1809−1887’, in: Greger Andersson (ed.), Spelglädje i Lundagård: 250 år med Akademiska kapellet, Lund: Lund University Press, 1996, p. 154f.
Blomqvist, Göran
: ‘Carl Kempff 1831−1901’, in: Greger Andersson (ed.), Spelglädje i Lundagård: 250 år med Akademiska kapellet, Lund: Lund University Press, 1996, p. 157.
Brandel, Åke
: ‘Gnosspelius, Wilhelm Theodor’ in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, second ed., vol. 3, Stockholm: Sohlmans Förlag, 1976, p. 144.
Ernby, Patrik
: Konsertlivet i Lund på Gnosspelius tid: ett studium av konsertrepertoaren i Lund 1857−1887, thesis in musicology, 60 credits, Lund University, 1996.
‘Gnospelius, släkt’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, accessed 2015-09-30. http://sok.riksarkivet.se/sbl/artikel/13098
Larsén, Carlhåkan
: ‘Lund’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, second ed., vol. 4, Stockholm: Sohlmans Förlag, 1977, p. 382.
Lindberg, Boel
: ‘Festmusik framförd av Akademiska kapellet’, in: Greger Andersson (ed.), Spelglädje i Lundagård: 250 år med Akademiska kapellet, Lund: Lund University Press, 1996, pp. 77−100.
Norlind, Tobias
: ‘Gnosspelius, Vilhelm’, in: Allmänt musiklexikon, second ed., part one, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1927, p. 438.
Norlind, Tobias
: ‘Musik och studentsång i Lund’, in: Under Lundagårds kronor: En minneskrans vid tvåhundrafemtioårsfesten af gamla studenter, [collection 1], Lund: Gleerupska Universitets-Bokhandeln, 1918, pp. 338−348.
Percy, Gösta
: ‘Linköping’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, second ed., vol. 4, Stockholm: Sohlmans Förlag, 1977, p. 336f.
Wulff, Fr[edrik]
: ‘Hågkomster från Lunds högre musikliv 1866−1901’, in: Under Lundagårds kronor: En minneskrans vid tvåhundrafemtioårsfesten af gamla studenter, [collection 1], Lund: Gleerupska Universitets-Bokhandeln, 1918, pp. 15−32.
W[ulff], F[redrik]
: Wilhelm Theodor Gnosspelius: Minnesbild den 11 november 1887, Lund: Fredrik Berlings Boktryckeri och Stilgjuteri, 1888.

Sources

Linköpings stiftsbibliotek, Lunds universitetsbibliotek.

Summary list of works

Orchestral work (symphony), works for soloists, choir and orchestra (Davids 98 Psalm), chamber music (2 pieces for violin and piano), organ music (festive march), 6 cantatas, choral music (2 works of choral funeral music, requiem, kyrie, celebratory choirs).

Collected works

In chronological order
Kyrie for mixed choir. [The Kyrie is mentioned in Tobias Norlind’s Allmänt musiklexikon, 1927.]
Sång wid en Middag gifven af 1sta Regementets Officers Corps åt sin chef, Gen: Adjut: Stafs von Post (Gottfried Feilitzen), 1843.
2ne Chörer sjungna vid Domprosten Lidmans begrafning 1845 16/3 (‘Lektor Hedner’). Male choir. First performed in Linköping 1845.
Cantat för mansröster författade till en Soirée för nödställda barn i Linköping 1847 (Rosengren), cantata for male voices, 1847.
Romance utan ord, 1850. Violin and piano.
Duo for Pianoforte and Violin, 1850. Dedicated to Dr. Axel Burén.
Sorge Cantate i anledning af Prins Gustafs död (Ridderstad), 1852. Cantata for choir, soli and orchestra.
Sorg Cantate till festen i anledning af K[ung] Oscars frånfälle (Albert Theodor Lysander), 1859. Cantata for choir, soli and orchestra. First performed in Lund 1 December 1859.
Symfoni, komponerad för Lunds Katedralskolas kapell. Symphony. First performed at Katedralskolans gymnastiksal, Lund, 21 November 1860. [The symphony is mentioned in Lunds Weckoblad 15 and 29 November 1860.]
Davids 98 Psalm, 1862, revised in 1865. Mixed choir, soli and orchestra. First performed in Lund 30 May 1862, at a concert at the Akademiska Föreningen.
Jubelcantat (Carl Vilhelm August Strandberg, alias Talis Qualis), 1868. Cantata, op. 7. First peformed in Lund 27 May 1868, at the 200-year jubilee of Lund University.
Requiem, 1870. Mixed choir and organ. First performed at the memorial ceremony of Gnosspelius at Kapellsalen, Lund, 11 November 1887. Printed in J. A. Josephson (ed.), Zion, Andlig musik för kyrkan, hemmet och skolan, fourth annual volume, 1870, no. 11.
Cantat vid Sorgfesten d[en] 16 maj 1871 (Henrik Hallbäck), 1871. Cantata, first performed in Lund 16 May 1871. [Cantata composed on the death of Queen Lovisa. A quartet from the cantata was printed in J. A. Josephson and Fr. Arlberg (eds): 100 äldre och nyare svenska sånger för fyra och fem mansröster, Stockholm: Abr. Hirschs förlag 1873, pp. 12−115.]
Cantat vid Akademiens Sorgfest öfver Kung Carl XV (Henric Hallbäck), 1872. Cantata for mixed choir, tenor solo and orchestra. First performed in Lund 29 November 1872.
Festmarsch vid Promotionen 1877 6/6. Festive march for organ four hands.


Works by Wilhelm Gnosspelius

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

Number of works: 1