Hilda Thegerström (1838-1907)

Hilda Thegerström, b. 17 September 1838, d. 6 December 1907, was one of the most important Swedish pianists during the second half of the 19th century. She made her mark through concert performances, which soon attracted press coverage, and was a highly influential piano teacher. For 32 years she was principal piano teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music. As a composer, her output was limited, but two piano pieces of hers were published in Germany.

Early youth

Hilda Thegerström had a relatively humble background, namely that of a Stockholm grocer’s family which she was born into on 17 September 1838.  Her piano studies began at the Adolf Fredrik Lindblad Piano Institute, after which she apparently studied for a time under Jan van Boom, until Franz Berwald became her mentor. In this way Berwald became her piano teacher without himself being a pianist, just as, later on, he tutored Christina Nilsson in singing without himself being a singer. Her contact with Berwald made a big difference to Thegerström’s life. Aside from musical education, he also helped her financially and through personal contacts and recommendations. Two of his compositions − the piano concerto and the piano quintet in C minor op. 5 − were dedicated to Thegerström.

When she was 18, Thegerström performed with the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) and Jacopo Foroni at the De la Croix salon in Stockholm (1 April 1856). The programme featured the second and third movements of Chopin’s F minor concerto, Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ sonata, a fantasy by Liszt and a couple of short piano pieces. This music was to typify her subsequent concert appearances.  Even as a young pianist, the main emphasis of her repertoire was on Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn − central names in the new concert canon which evolved in the second half of the 19th century. 

Compositions

At the age of 19, Thegerström had two piano compositions published by the Kistner music publishers in Leipzig. These were advertised in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and in Hofmeister’s Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht in the autumn of 1857, and both carry the exoticising heading Souvenirs Suédois.

Op. 1, characteristically entitled La naïveté, is based on an initially simple theme with interesting twists and turns of harmony building on shifts between major and minor versions of one and the same chord. The piece is a rondo, with recapitulations of the theme varied by means of virtuosic piano figurations. It is dedicated to Alette Due, a Norwegian composer and vocalist, and wife of the country’s prime minister. In op. 2, Nocturne et Rondoletto, the two contrasting sections are joined together into a wider context through a cyclical concept of form − the nocturne is followed attacca by the rondoletto but then returns as a brief reminiscence in the closing bars of the composition.

In Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (6 April 1860), the reviewer C. Petersen wrote: ‘The charm of grace hovers over both pieces [op. 1 and 2].’ The composer is commended for a ‘distinctive melody and harmonic maturity’, though at the same time the reviewer would like her in the future to show more restraint in the matter of ornaments in her compositions, because they tend to divert attention from the main point. Thegerström played at least one of her compositions at concerts in Stockholm on 27 March and 24 April 1860 at the De la Croix salon.

International influences

In 1857, the year when her piano compositions were published, Thegerström went abroad.  First she spent a few months in Paris, taking piano lessons with Antoine-François Marmontel, a highly esteemed piano teacher at the conservatory. Later that year she moved to Weimar, to study with Franz Liszt, remaining there until the summer of 1859. A few years back home were followed by a second period of studies in Berlin (c. 1865−68) under the Liszt pupil and virtuoso Carl Tausig, who was three years younger than his Swedish pupil.

Through her foreign travels Thegerström gained important musical experience which would hardly have been obtainable to the same extent in Sweden. In addition to having three eminent teachers, she was able, through her membership of Liszt’s circle, to hear and meet a large number of important musicians of the age. Between 1−4 June 1859 the Leipziger Tonkünstlerversammlung enabled her to perform Berwald’s duo for piano and cello together with Friedrich Grützmacher, solo cellist in the Gewandhaus Orchestra. The same festival included performances by Liszt, by the pianist-composers Hans von Bülow, Ignaz Moscheles, Alfred Jaëll and Hans von Bronsart, and by the violinist-composer Ferdinand David. Soon afterwards, Thegerström also gave concert performances in Weimar, e.g. at the court of the Grand Duke Carl Alexander.

Pianist and educator

Thegerström did not write any more compositions after the two published piano pieces and her initial stay abroad, except for a piano-tutor publication in 1859: Några elementar-piano-fingeröfningar jemte skalorna uti rythmisk taktindelning. The first four examples in this publication are easy exercises with curious fingerings allegedly ‘as intimated by Fz: Liszt’.

Teaching gradually came to occupy an increasing part of Thegerström’s life. Starting in 1859, she gave regular piano performances in Stockholm, Gothenburg and other Swedish towns and cities − and also, several times, in Munich during the 1860s − but after succeeding Jan van Boom as senior piano teacher at the Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) in 1872, her public appearances dwindled. Her last concert took place on 5 December 1889, when she played the piano in the piano quintet which Berwald had dedicated to her.   

Thegerström’s tenure as a teacher at the conservatory lasted for 32 years, until 1904. Of her numerous pupils, the pianist and composer Lennart Lundberg seems to have been on particularly close terms with her. He was one of the beneficiaries in Thegerström’s will (she never married), following her death on 6 December 1907, and it was he who succeeded her as piano teacher at the Musikkonservatoriet. To her he dedicated his concert étude in A minor, Toccata. The Polish pianist and composer Zygmunt Stojowski also dedicated a composition to Thegerström, namely his mazurka op. 5 no. 4 in Quatre morceaux (1894).

Hilda Thegerström became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1875 and was awarded the Litteris et Artibus medal, for distinguished services to the arts, in 1895.

Martin Edin © 2014
Trans. Roger Tanner

Bibliography

Aftonbladet, 29 Mar. 1860 ('Musik').
Aftonbladet, 26 Apr. 1860 ('Mll Hilda Thegerströms soiré').
Aftonbladet, 6 Dec. 1889 ('Andra kammarmusiksoarén').
Bayerische Zeitung, 17 Jan. 1867, p. 183.
Carlsson, Anders & Ling, Jan: 'Beethoven anländer till Göteborg', in Carl-Gunnar Åhlén (ed.), Sjutton Beethoven-variationer, Stockholm: Atlantis, 2010, pp. 43−87, see pp. 78−9.
Dagens Nyheter, 6 Dec. 1889 ('Andra kammarmusik-soarén').
Hoffmann, Freia: Thegerström, Hilda, Sophie Drinker Institut.
Hillman, Adolf: Franz Berwald: En biografisk studie, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1920, pp. 83−92.
Jönköpingsbladet, 17 Dec. 1859, p. 3.
Jönköpingsbladet, 7 Oct. 1869 ('Underrättelse').
Jönköpingsbladet, 19 Oct. 1869 ('Konsert').
Jönköpingsbladet, 28 May 1872 ('Pianolärarebefattningen').
Karle, Gunhild: Kungl. hovkapellet i Stockholm och dess musiker 1818−61: med utblickar, Uppsala: Gunhild Karle, 2005, pp. 117−19 and passim.
Karle, Gunhild: Ludvig Norman och Kungl. Hovkapellet i Stockholm 1861-90: med flera, Uppsala: Gunhild Karle, 2006, pp. 388−90 and passim.
Kungliga musikaliska akademien: Matrikel 1771−1995, compiled by Pia Nyström & Anne-Marie Elmquist, Stockholm: Musikaliska akademien, 1996, p. 89.
Kungl. Musikaliska akademien's protocol, 27 Feb. 1908 with attachments, unpublished material at Musik- och teaterbiblioteket in Stockholm [Thegerström's testament].
Myers, Margaret: Blowing her own trumpet: European ladies' orchestras & other women musicians 1870−1950 in Sweden, Göteborg: Avd. för musikvetenskap, Göteborgs universitet, 1993, pp. 72−4.
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 47, no. 17, 23 Oct. 1857, p. 183.
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 50, no. 25, 17 Nun. 1859, p. 287.
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 50, no. 26, 24 Jun. 1859, p. 293.
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 52, no. 15, 6 Apr. 1860, p. 137.
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 54, no. 20, 10 May 1861, p. 179.
Norlind, Tobias: 1. Thegerström, Hilda Aurora, in Allmänt musiklexikon, 2nd rev. ed., Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1927−8, p. 501.
Ny tidning för musik, vol. 4, no. 15, 5 Apr. 1856, pp. 116−7.
Nya dagligt allehanda, 6 Dec. 1889 ('Den andra soiréen för kammarmusik').
Post- och inrikes tidningar, 27 Mar. 1856.
Ralf, Klas: 2. Thegerström, Hilda Aurora, in Torsten Dahl (ed.), Svenska män och kvinnor, vol. 7. Stockholm: Bonniers förlag, 1954, pp. 498−9.
Stiernstedt, Lars: Thegerström, Hilda, in Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol 5. Stockholm: Sohlmans, 1979, pp. 609−10.
Svensk musiktidning, vol. 12, no. 8, 19 Apr. 1892, p. 58.
Svensk musiktidning, vol. 9, no. 20, 15 Dec. 1889, pp. 156−7.
Svensk musiktidning, vol. 28, no. 1, 3 Jan. 1908, pp. 2−3.
Svenska Dagbladet, 6 Dec. 1889 ('Den andra kammarmusiksoaréen').
Thegerström, Hilda Aurora, in Arvid Ahnfelt (ed.): Europas konstnärer: Alfabetiskt ordnade biografier öfver vårt århundrades förnämsta artister, Stockholm: Oscar L. Lamms förlag, 1883, p. 586.
Unterhaltungs-Blatt der Neuesten Nachrichten, 16 Nov. 1865, p. 1104.
Uppström, Tore: 'Med Liszt och en ung svenska', in Pianister i Sverige, Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, 1973, pp. 79−92.
Upsala-posten, 2 May 1860 ('Mamsell Hilda Thegerströms musikaliska soirée').

Sources

Göteborgs universitetsbibliotek, Muisk- och teaterbiblioteket, Musik- och teatermuseet, Stockholms stadsarkiv

Summary list of works

Piano music (2 character pieces, 1 piano-tutor publication).

Collected works

La naïveté, Souvenirs Suédois op. 1, 1857.
Nocturne et Rondoletto, Souvenirs Suédois op. 2, 1857.
Några elementar-piano-fingeröfningar jemte skalorna uti rythmisk taktindelning [piano-tutor publication], 1859.