Tobias Wilhelmi (1885−1944)

The violinist and composer Johan Tobias Jakob Wilhelmi was born in Amsterdam on 7 April 1885 and died on 24 October 1944 in Stockholm. He came to Stockholm in 1914 where he was the concertmaster of the Stockholm Concert Society orchestra 1915−1921, and he was the second concertmaster of the Royal Court Orchestra from 1921. As a member of the social order Par Bricole, he became its music director and choir director in 1927. He was also the founder of the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra in 1931 and became its artistic director the same year. As a composer he wrote in a traditional style for the time, with elements of Swedish folk music.

From Amsterdam to Stockholm

Tobias Wilhelmi was born in Amsterdam on 7 April 1885 as the son of a shopkeeper, and was a distant relative of the famous violinist August Wilhelmj (1845−1908). He received his education around 1900 from André Spoor, Bram Eldering and Bernard Zweers at the conservatory in Amsterdam, where in 1906 he completed his examination with great success by interpreting the Brahms violin concerto, as well as conducting with Fritz Steinbach in Cologne. He then became associated with the symphony orchestra of Koblenz, and during 1907−12 held the position of first concertmaster in Bonn, and thereafter in Leipzig in 1912 and in Riga in 1913.

After arriving in Stockholm in 1914, and his marriage there to Elisabet Nordling, he became concertmaster of the Konsertföreningen (the Stockholm Concert Society) orchestra in 1915. During the years 1921−29 he was the second chair for the violin section of the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra), and from 1929−44 he held a permanent position there as alternating first chair and concertmaster alongside Giovanni Turicchia. In the 1931 season he was also a guest conductor for the Hovkapellet, during which he premiered his second symphony and thevocal piece ‘Efter vespersången’ in the concert hall of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music).

Soloist with a fondness for Swedish works

As an orchestral soloist Wilhelmi often appeared in Swedish works, for which he also campaigned as a guest artist during performances abroad: among them the important Swedish music festivals in Kiel in 1926 and Frankfurt am Main in 1927, and at concerts in Berlin (1921) and London. At the Nordiska musikfesten (the Nordic Music Festival) in Stockholm in 1927, he premiered Hilding Rosenberg’s first violin concerto, which was both radical for its time and demanding.

A contemporary snapshot from his time in the Konsertföreningen is given in 1916 by Alf Nyman, who also seeks to characterise Wilhelmi's playing:

In addition, the Konsertföreningen’s own concertmasters have successfully been on the front lines, Richard Burgin with Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Tobias Wilhelmi as an interpreter of Mozart on violin and viola. The two violinists complement each other and perhaps would, if consolidated into one, result in the ideal type of violin player; Burgin with his striking, fiery style, his intensively metallic tone, and Wilhelmi with his delicate, bright violin timbre and his fine line and heartfelt stylistic instinct. But it is precisely those oppositional aspects of excellence that are never allowed in the world to become united and perhaps, if united, only become blunt and polarize each other.

The chamber musician with his own trio

Wilhelmi also made significant contributions as a chamber musician, including by founding the Wilhelmi trio (that existed from 1915 to 1925), with cellist Carl Christiansen (1890−1947) and pianist Märtha af Klintberg (1880−1940) as the other members, both of whom were well-known profiles in the contemporary Swedish music scene. The trio focused not least on the launching of young Swedish composers. Alf Nyman reports: ‘A new chamber trio - misters Wilhelmi, Christiansen and missus af Klintberg - have joined the ranks of the productive forces. Judging by the fresh melodiousness, with which the Brahms’ Trio opus 87 was presented, as well as the way in which the picturesque was set apart from the temperamental bowing technique in the dark humour filled scherzo movement, the trio starts off with good prospects and solid intent.’

A quartet with Wilhelmi as the first violinist also seems to have appeared in 1920 with David Hait, John Hylbom and Carl Thelin as members. During the 1920s Wilhelmi also presented regular music evenings in the form of so-called lecture concerts in competition with Sven Kjellström, Lars Zetterquist and others.

The conductor, organizer and inspirer

Wilhelmi appeared as a conductor already during his years with the Konsertföreningen. In 1931 he founded the Stockholms kammarorkester (the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra), which he led to a high artistic and technical level, and which became an important element within the Stockholm music scene, including at the National Museum concerts he initiated.

Wilhelmi also worked as a teacher during his time as concertmaster in Bonn and Riga and in Stockholm he had, among others, Lille Bror Söderlundh as a student. Wilhelmi is also said to have been the one who inspired Dag Wirén to write his famous Serenade for string orchestra op. 11, first performed by the Stockholms kammarorkester in 1937. Wilhelmi also arranged smaller piano pieces by the likes of Nils Björkander for orchestra.

In John Schuberth’s ‘Mina musik- och musikerminnen’, written during 1944−46, Wilhelmi figures among the many who appeared over the years in the home of the influential music advocate, Erik Lidforss, in Saltsjö-Storängen.

Wilhelmi was awarded the royal Litteris et artibus medal in 1929. He died in Stockholm on 24 October 1944.

The composer Wilhelmi

Wilhelmi's creativity seems impressive, even though one can hardly speak about any lasting success, given his many other engagements as a violinist and conductor. His compositions keep to a style traditional for the time, with a progressive increase in the use of elements of Swedish folk music. ‘Their well-planned Romantic-Classical approach does not rule out his own careful style, which also received its nourishment from the lyricism of Swedish folk melodies,’ writes musicologist Lennart Hedwall. Moses Pergament’s review of the first performance of the Second symphony in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet from the spring of 1931 sees ‘German Romanticism, French Impressionism, and what one might call a turn of the century melodic Scandinavism’ united with and tracing a certain kinship with Sibelius in the serious second movement’s ‘high-arching, dim glowing poem of grief.’ The work’s fundamental tone is melancholic and resigned.

Wilhelmi's orchestral works astonish Hedwall with their ‘deep empathy for his new homeland’s musical roots, as reflected in our folk music, and thus this continentally educated musician is shown to be one of our more decidedly 'National Classicists!’ As a vocal composer Wilhelmi left behind songs, cantatas and choral works, which together cover the entire spectrum, from in-depth reflection to subtle humour.

Jan Kask © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Gebers, 1983, pp. 281−283.
Nyman, Alf: ‘Stockholmska muser. Musikrevy september−december 1916’, Ord och Bild 1917, pp. 107−109.
Percy, Gösta: ‘Wilhelmi, Tobias’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 4, Stockholm: Sohlmans, 1952, p. 1484−85.
Percy, Gösta: ‘Wilhelmi, Tobias’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 5, Stockholm: Sohlmans, 1979, p. 813.
Reimers, Lennart: ‘Serenaden’, in: 12 kapitel om Dag Wirén, Stockholm: Edition Reimers, 1995, pp. 141, 148.
Sundkvist, Axel V: Sven Kjellström-Institutet för rikskonserter, Umeå: self-published, 1978, pp. 14, 32, 72.
Svenska Dagbladets årsbok, vol. 22, 1944, p. 271.
‘Wilhelmi, Tobias’, in: Nordisk familjebok, 2nd ed., vol. 32, 1921, p. 487.
‘Wilhelmi, Tobias’, in: Vem är det: Svensk biografisk handbok, 1943, p. 909.
‘Wilhelmi, Tobias’, in: Vem är det: Svensk biografisk handbok, 1957, p. 1155.

Sources

Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Svensk Musik.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (2 symphonies, 1 violin concerto, the orchestral suite Östergötland), chamber music (quartet, piano trio, violin sonata, etc.), vocal works with orchestra (cantatas, Himlens blå for men’s choir and orchestra), songs (with piano and other accompaniment).

Collected works

Orchestra
Symphony no. 1 (not accessible).
Symphony no. 2, 1927−29.
Symphony no. 3, 1944 (incomplete).
Gitanjali, song 20 for orchestra, symphonic poem after R. Tagore, 1915.
Violin concerto, 1920−21; 1926.
Suite for string orchestra, 1932.
Little suite for oboe and orchestra, 1929/35.
Östergötland, suite for orchestra, 1934.

Cantatas
Bellmanskantat (A. Berggren) for tenor, baritone, recitation, men’s choir and orchestra, 1939.
Crux fidelis. Cantata on a biblical theme in three sections (B. Giertz) for soprano, baritone, mixed choir, organ and orchestra, 1941−42.
Hymn till sockenkyrkan, cantata (G. Tranér) for soprano, bass, mixed choir, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, organ and strings, 1939.
Minnesfest-Kantat (A. Lindh) for tenor, baritone, orchestra, organ and choir.

Chamber music
String quartet, 1923.
Trio for piano, violin and cello.
Sonata for violin and piano, 1925/33.
Berceuse for violin and piano, ca 1921.
Burlesk dans for violin and piano, 1920.

Piano music
En skiss för piano, 1937.

Songs
Avsked (M. von Mirbach) for voice and piano.
D’ä unnlit mä sola te våra (N. L. Waange) for voice and string orchestra, 1936.
Du bad mig (M. von Mirbach) for voice and piano.
Du skriver (E. Malm) for voice and piano.
Efter vespersången (V. Rydberg) for voice and orchestra, 1926.
Gitanjali. Tre sånger (R. Tagore) for voice and string orchestra, 1943: 1. Jag vet ej från hvilken fjärran tidpunkt, 2. Från din tron steg du ned. 3. Sömnen som sväfvar.
I fjärran dis av silvergrå oxid (S. Siwertz) for voice and string orchestra, 1927.
Juligök (T. Wilhelmi) for voice and piano, 1937, for voice and string orchestra, 1939.
Jungfru Maria i rosengård (V. Rydberg) for women’s quartet and string quartet, 1926.
Korpen (N.L. Waange) for voice and string orchestra, 1936.
Modern (V. Rydberg) for voice and piano, 1927.
Sju Östgötasånger (N.L. Waange) for voice and piano, 1936, for voice and string orchestra, 1937: 1. Ävighetstunna, 2. E rar vise, 3. Blunnpussen, 4. Sola, 5. Önskevise, 6. Sömmernatt, 7. Hymn till hembygden.
Skall man böja sig (E. Malm) for voice and piano.
En sommerstump (N.L. Waange) for voice and piano.
Tonande kväll (S. Siwertz) for voice and string orchestra, 1927.
Tre engelska visor (trad.) for voice and string orchestra: 1. My lovely Cecilia, 2. Phyllis has such charming graces, 3. A pastoral.
Ur askan i elden. Six songs (E. Malm) for voice and orchestra, 1938.
Väntan (E. Malm) for voice and piano, 1944.
Även denna smärtas udd skall brytas (S. Siwertz) for voice, piano and violin, 1927.
Öschötasång (N.L. Waange) for voice and piano, 1936.
Öschöter ä’ vi (N. L. Waange) for voice and piano.

Choir
Himlens blå (V. Rydberg) for men’s choir and orchestra, 1927.
Aftonpsalm i Sommebygden (G. Lindeberg) for mixed choir.
Nyårslåt (G. Fröding) for men’s choir.