Ellen Heijkorn (1869−1950)

Ellen Paulina Heijkorn, born in Järna on 12 May 1869 and died in Stockholm on 6 December 1950, was a music teacher and song composer. She completed degrees in both organ and music teaching at the Royal Conservatory of Music and during a large part of her work life was a music teacher at the Gustav Vasa Elementary School in Stockholm. ‘Mor, lilla mor’ and ‘Julvisa’ (‘Nu så kommer julen...’) are two of her most popular songs.

Life

Background and student years

Ellen Heijkorn is part of an exclusive group of composers, namely those who composed works that are significantly better known than their creators. Ellen Heijkorn wrote the music to two genuine successes – the song ‘Mor, lilla mor’ and the Christmas song ‘Nu så kommer julen’. She herself is much less well-known than these contributions to the treasury of Swedish songs.

Ellen Paulina Heijkorn (1869−1950) was the daughter of Josefina Heijkorn, née Engström (1828−1920) and Johan Fredrik Heijkorn (1816−1878). The couple had no fewer than twelve children – all daughters. Master butcher Johan Fredrik Heijkorn, son to a customs inspector, ran a butcher shop in Stockholm, which he, however, closed down in 1859. The family then moved to Moräng’s farm in Järna, just outside of Södertälje. It was there that Ellen Heijkorn was born. In 1872 the family moved back to Stockholm. Six years later her father died, leaving full responsibility for the large family in her mother’s hands. Josefina Heijkorn was ‘an exceptionally powerful person who, above all, understood how to garner respect and veneration’, as one newspaper obituary notes (Svenska Dagbladet 19/2 1920). Information states that the daughters were, despite the situation, given the opportunity to study. Several of them chose teaching careers.

Dual degrees and professional activities

After studying at the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) Ellen Heijkorn completed her organ degree there in 1891 and three years later completed her music teaching degree. One source states that her studies were financed by a generous person outside of the family. She was first employed as a music teacher at Katarina Folkskola and thereafter at Adolf Fredrik’s Western Folkskola (it was renamed Gustav Vasa Folkskola after the formation of the Gustav Vasa congregation in 1905), which was situated in an area of central Stockholm that was experiencing a large growth at the time. For the most part, the students came from simple conditions that must have effected the requirements of her teaching. She remained at the school for the rest of her career. The subject that she taught was called, not without reason, ‘Song’: ‘Particular importance is placed on correct vocal production and accurate intonation’, read a report on the activities within the city of Stockholm’s schools in 1914, drawn up by Frans von Schéele (1914).

The same description noted that the city of Stockholm’s elementary schools in that year employed only nine permanent singing teachers, which can be compared to the 879 teachers in the so-called reading subjects. In addition, this small number of singing teachers had a beginning salary that was less than 70 percent of the beginning salary for teachers in the reading subjects. These figures voice clearly that Heijkorn and her colleagues had a hard, and remuneration-wise, poorly appreciated task.

Ellen Heijkorn remained unmarried and lived for a long time with her unmarried sisters and her mother. She retired in 1939 and died in Stockholm in 1950.

Works

Activities as a composer

Parallel to her wearisome teaching duties, Ellen Heijkorn devoted herself to composing songs. She composed over a long period, with some fifteen songs published − the first in 1905 when she was 36 years old, while the last known song written by her own hand was published in 1931. It is unknown whether she wrote other types of music since no archive of her works exists. Only one single song is preserved in manuscript form. She could have possibly composed more works than those that are extant, perhaps music other than songs. The obvious skilfulness that lies behind her published work speaks to this possibility.

It is difficult to determine if Ellen Heijkorn should be called a song composer or a composer of visor (popular songs or folk ballads). She is definitely a song composer if one considers that she wrote both melody and a developed piano part. On the other hand, several of her songs have been published with only the melody and other arrangers have added accompaniment of various kinds. This applies to, not least of all, her most successful works that are also given out in numerous printed collections of visor in which the accompaniment is usually missing. Thus, there is reason to hesitate between both of these categories of her musical creativity.

Although her professional life revolved around children and music, the composer Ellen Heijkorn did not devote herself to writing children’s songs. It would, on a superficial level, have seemed natural for a music teacher in the educational system to do so. Instead her songs are clearly aimed at adult performers and an adult audience. As a composer she seems to have worked within a musical arena that is not as clearly coded as female as is the creation of children’ songs. Regarding the male-female divide, it should be pointed out that she most often used the texts of female authors for her songs.

Two successes

Ellen Heijkorn’s biggest success came with ‘Mor, lilla mor’, which was first published in 1917 and came to be, more than any other song, a Mother’s Day song – ‘the most beautiful song about mother’ as the publisher stated in their advertisements when the song was introduced. The song has also long been popular at funerals. The words were written by Heijkorn’s friend, Astrid Gullstrand (1874−1952), who was an artist and an author who published the poem in the collection På stjärnestig (1912). The text is certainly sentimental and this expression is enhanced by the composer’s choice of tempo designation for her waltz melody – Andantino espressivo. The song was immediately incorporated into published song collections.  It also can be found in arrangements for various instrumentations and on many sound recordings – of which some twenty were done early in Sweden during the 1920s. The text has been translated, at the very least, into English, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish and the song has been recorded in these languages multiple times.

Her other public success was ‘Julvisa’ (‘Nu så kommer julen…’), to a text by Zacharias Topelius − a text that also attracted several other composers. The song was published for the first time in 1920. It also quickly found its way into a string of song collections with Christmas melodies, where it has become a standard number. The song is written – like many other widely spread Swedish Christmas songs – in the uniquely accented Swedish polska dance rhythm in ¾ metre, which perhaps contributed to its inclusion in the Christmas repertoire.

Otherwise, most of the texts to her songs have been written by Sonja Hedberg (1891−1974), an insurance officer and an author of children’s books and plays.

Ellen Heijkorn could clearly create well-written and singable melodies – otherwise she could hardly have composed two highly popular works within her, after all, limited artistic output. Both of these songs were, in other words, not unexpected successes. Her songs are not musically innovative, which certainly was not her goal. They are instead creations that hit home within the tastes of the time, and which most surely received the immediate appreciation of their users.

Gunnar Ternhag © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

Lindhjem, Anna: Kvinnelige komponister i Skandinavien, Fredriksstad Centraltrykkeri AS, 1931.

Sources

Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.

Summary list of works

Songs with piano (Mor lilla mor and Nu så kommer julen etc.).

Collected works

Voice and piano
Liten Karins vaggvisa (‘Vyss, vyss, vyss liten vän!’, K.A. Melin). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1904. Autograph in Marianne Mörner’s collection, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
Julvisa (‘Nu så kommer julen’, Z. Topelius). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1920.
Ängsblommornas visa (‘Vi äro så blyga’, Z. Topelius). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1922. Autograph in Marianne Mörner’s collection, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
Rida rankeben! (‘Hopp, rida, rida rankeben!’,  C.M. Ekbohrn). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1924. Autograph in Marianne Mörner’s collection, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
Mormors blommor (‘Lilla mormor, några blommor från ängarnas sol’, Siri Dahlquist). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1924.
Därhemma (‘Nu blommar i täppan och liden därhemma’, S. Hedberg). Voice with piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1926.
Linnéan. Tillägnan (‘Linnéan i skogen jag liknar dig’, S. Hedberg).  For voice and piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1926.
Solskensvisa (‘O Gud, Du vare lovad’, A.M. Roos), for voice and piano by Ellen Heijkorn. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1928.
Lill-barnet sover (‘Sov, du lilla, mörkret’, S. Hedberg). For voice and piano by Ellen Heijkorn. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1931.
Vallflickans visa (‘Jag sjunger för solen och lammen, de små’, Anna H.M. Preinitz), for solo voice with piano by Ellen Heijkorn. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1901.
Mor, lilla mor (A. Gullstrand). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1917?.
Du mitt land (‘Minnes du landet, där furorna susa’, S. Hedberg), for one or two voices and piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1929.
Två julsånger, for solo voice and piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1931. 1. Betlehems stjärna (‘Du strålande Betlehems stjärna’, tonsättaren?), 2. Det klingar en ton öfver frusen sjö (Aster).
Odalbonden (‘Å bergig ås’, E.G. Geijer). Autograph in Marianne Mörner’s collection, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
Snälla jord, lost work (named in Aftonbladet 3/12 1924).
Blommornas gudstjänst (Sonja Hedberg), lost work (named in Svenska Dagbladet 6/12 1938).