Abraham Julius Grundén (1779−1834)

Abraham Julius Grundén, born in Gävle 23 April 1779, died in Stockholm 1834. Son of vicar Anders Adolf Grundén and his wife Helena Juliana (née Printz). Advisor at the Swedish Administrative Court of Appeals and composer. Wrote music primarily for the Aurora Order, in which he was music director and later Grand Master.

During his times, Abraham Julius Grundén was a respected name due to both his personality and position in society. His work as a composer most likely contributed to his reputation. Today his compositions rest on archive shelves, and his name does not readily awaken any associations. But the story of his life bears witness to a man who filled a purpose by writing music that was welcomed in a given context.

Life and profession

Abraham Julius Grundén was born in Gävle in 1779. He was the son of Anders Adolf Grundén (1742−1802), ordained as a priest but with a profession as principal of a school in the city, married to Helena Juliana (née Printz 1750). His mother was the daughter of a priest. In 1781 his father was named vicar in Söderala, on the outskirts of Söderhamn, where the family soon moved and Abraham Julius grew up. Abraham Julius had three siblings, of which one died as a young child.

As a vicar’s son, his path to Uppsala University was already staked out. Grundén studied at Uppsala but he was also very much involved in the city’s, or better said, university’s music life. He was one of seven students indicted in the notorious music case from 1800. ‘[A] much written about scandal in the annals of Uppsalian music life’, writes musicologist Ingmar Bengtsson. The Akademiska kapellet (the university orchestra at Uppsala University) had rehearsed the tone poem Bataille de Fleurus by a certain Franz Metzger for a grand ceremony celebrating the coronation of King Gustav IV Adolf. Upon discovering that the revolutionary French anthem, ‘La Marseillaise’, was quoted in this piece, the principal of the university immediately banned it. Arriving to perform at the ceremony, the musicians found a Haydn symphony sitting on their music stands instead! Seven of the musicians refused to play anything other than the rehearsed ‘Napoleonic battle painting’. For this crime of public order with political reverberations, they were put on trial by the university’s own court, Consistorium Minus. Grundén and the other six were dispelled from the university and penalised with fines and imprisonment.

Abraham Julius Grundén also participated in the Akademiska kapellet’s activities, illustrating not only his music connections, but also his familiarity with the repertoire. (Although no composition by Grundén has been discovered in the orchestra’s archives.) Sources are otherwise silent about him as musician or composer during his Uppsala study years.

Grundén spent his entire civil career working at Kammarrätten (the Swedish Administrative Court of Appeals). Kammarrätten was a central government office organised under the Finance Department. Kammarrätten was both a court and an administrative agency, Grundén worked mostly as an administrator. He was employed as a clerk in 1804, then as a notary of the public, and later as legal assistant. By 1818 he had been appointed to the advisory panel of the administrative court of appeals, which was the post closest to the Kammarrätten’s president.

It is uncertain as to whether or not Abraham Julius Grundén lay behind ‘Grundén’s piano school’, at which composer August Söderman, among others, studied.  Söderman’s biographer, Gunnar Jeanson, brought forth this correlation between Abraham Julius Grundén and the school.

Abraham Julius Grundén was married to Carolina Grundén (née Söderström, 1799−1893). The pair had one daughter. According to his wife’s biography (Aftonbladet 14/1 1893) Abraham Julius Grundén was ‘ of his times one of the most well known personalities in the city’. Abraham Julius Grundén died in Stockholm in 1834.

The composer

Nothing is known about Abraham Julius Grundén’s musical education, or of the details on how he went about composing music.

Grundén’s activities as a composer are mostly associated with the Aurora Order − ‘one of Stockholm’s most cheerful and amusing orders’ as noted in an article in the Kalmar newspaper (11/6 1887). The Aurora Order was established in 1815; Grundén became a member in 1819. According to the order’s original constitution ‘its main purpose […] was through merry pastime, during moments of leisure, to dispel those troubles inseparable from the toils of life. These Pastimes should principally consist of Theatrical Practices, and in lack of these, of Dance.’ In practice, this meant that the order members performed plays, and on several infamous occasions, rather ambitious productions consisting of both original texts and music. Most often the subjects were comedies and farces. Among those who participated during Grundén’s time were singer Charlotte Dannström (married name Billström; sister of singer and vocal teacher Isidor Dannström) and newsman Lars Johan Hierta. The Aurora brothers met at the Kirsteinska building, which was a public venue for a variety of events, on the street currently known as Vasagatan.

Around 1820 Grundén was chosen to be the order’s’ music director. In 1829 he was promoted to Grand Master, the highest office within the Aurora Order.

In his book Hyrkuskens berättelser (1863) August Blanche gives a hilarious depiction of ‘An evening at the Aurora Order’ based upon the author’s own participation in the order’s activities.  Grundén is characterised as ‘a capable official besides being one of the most honourable and most humane human beings under the sun’. Yet as a composer he is described as a plagiarist, although it was common at the time to borrow from music history when occasional works were put together for common social amusement. To a great extent, this characterisation consists of that which could be classified as fiction, but Blanche’s texts hint somewhat that Grundén the composer was not always viewed with respect.

Grundén’s memorial for the Aurora Order was written after his passing: ‘Zealous Official, Great Musician and Composer, the Order has almost him alone to thank for its advancement and reputation’. According to its historical writer Hugo Sjöstedt (1945), the order came to an end shortly after Grundén’s death because there was no one to be found with the ability to strongly unite like Grundén.

Grundén’s music reached beyond the Aurora Order, although it is uncertain to what extent. In 1826 a work of his was played by what was the original Mazer String Quartet Society. Information about the title and genre are missing − the piece has evidently been lost.

‘As a composer he never reached beyond the level of a dilatant, although he wrote with great ease’, discloses C.G. Stellan Mörner bitterly in Sohlmans musiklexikon (Sohlman’s music dictionary). Those that are more sympathetic say that Grundén was not educated as a composer because such was difficult to obtain at the time. Nor was music his main profession, which is something that he held in common with many of his contemporary composer colleagues. It was enough for him to meet the Aurora Order’s needs.

Works

Grundén’s compositions were written with remarkable agility, which is surprising for someone with no formal education in composition. His orchestral works are irreproachable, if not original. Solely the fact that he wrote several chamber orchestra works reveals much about Grundén’s good insight into the art of composition. One should also keep in mind that his compositions were meant for a limited audience and in many cases were only performed on one occasion. In this light, composer Abraham Julius Grundén’s endeavours appear to be quite impressive.

Furthermore, Grundén also wrote the music to two operettas for Aurora Order: Masken and Rosa eller Återseendet. Even if these are not works consuming an entire evening, composing such works must have demanded weeks or even months of his time – on top of his occupation at Kammarrätten. Both the score and parts are preserved, evidence revealing a creator with good knowledge of the genre. Grundén also wrote music to at least two theatrical works: Andebesvärjningen (by Per Adolf Granberg), and an oratorio ‘in two parts’: Sveriges enighet.

Grundén’s music is technically so experienced that one suspects that many of his works are lost. He probably wrote simpler works before moving on to more complicated forms. The extant works have survived by chance: they were discovered in an antiquarian bookshop in the 1890’s. A royal grant funded the purchase of these works, which were then donated to what was then the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien’s library (now the Music and Theatre Library). Other works were possibly discarded or are missing for other reasons.

Gunnar Ternhag © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Dissertatio historica de affinitate serenissimæ familiæ Badensis cum Vasæa. Quam consens. ampl. fac. philos. Ups. præside mag. Erico M. Fant ... publico examini submittit Abrah. Julius Grundén, Fjerdhundrensis. In audit. Gust. maj. die 15 Novembris 1797. H. a. m. s., diss., Uppsala: Uppsala University, 1797.

Bibliography

Bengtsson, Ingmar: 'Från Engelhardt till musikprocessen', in: Akademiska kapellet i Uppsala under 350 år, Uppsala, 1977, p. 29ff.
Blanche, August
: Hyrkuskens berättelser, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1966 [1863], pp. 72−77.
Sjöstedt, Hugo: Aurora orden 1815−1945, Stockholm: Hackzell, 1945.

Summary list of works

Songs med piano accompaniment, the operetta Rosa eller Återseendet (1822), incidental music, music for the Aurora Order.

Collected works

Incidental music
Andebesvärjningen [probably denotes Per Adolf Granberg's comedy with this title, performed 1810−1838, to which one of its productions Grundén wrote the music].
Figaro's Wedding, wedding march and divertissement compiled to the spectacle [in the Aurora Order?] 24 October 1826.
Masken, operetta.
Rosa eller Återseendet, 1822.
Som in the fourth act of Sido-arfvingen eller Forvagnen i Joigny.
Vaudeville from Charlatanerne, comedy by Pigault-Lebrun, trans. B G Westberg.

Voice and piano

Cavatine from the operetta Masken ('Gåsse, qväv, qväv din ömma låga').
Bland glada vänner sjung, le och drick! Printe din Nyare och äldre svenska sångstycken, Stockholm, 1828, p. 235.

Piano
Sammandrag för pf utur operetten Masken. Stockholm: Stente och Müller.

Orchestra
Marchia eller Grand Introduction vid Aurora Ordens högtidsdag 1827.
Walls.

Choir and orchestra

Sveriges enighet, oratorium in two parts. Text: G. Von Schantz. 1823.
Funeral music, choir and orchestra.