Jacob Niclas Ahlström (1805−1857)


Jacob Niclas Ahlström was born on the Swedish town of Visby on 5 June 1805 and died in Stockholm on 14 May 1857. He began working early on as a musician, first as a teacher for the Swedish church, and later as a theatre conductor. During the years 1842 to 1854 Ahlström worked at the Nya teatern in Stockholm where he wrote music in various genres for more than one hundred theatrical works. Most of his musical output is connected to his theatre work. In addition, he wrote music mainly for male choir and published song collections for private music making in the home.

Jacob Niclas Ahlström (1805-1857)


A pathway from Visby to the capital city

Jacob Niclas Ahlström was originally from Visby, a town on the island of Gotland off the east coast of Sweden. He was born there on 5 June 1805, but would come to live a large part of his life as a musician in Stockholm and Västerås. He began studying violin, piano and organ at an early age, and at the age of twelve he became substitute organist at the cathedral in Visby. He went on to study at Uppsala University, finishing his basic examinations in 1824 and his kameralexamen (general degree including fiscal management) in 1828. While at Uppsala he was active in musical life, particularly with male choirs. After finishing his examinations Ahlström returned to Gotland. In the summer of 1828, a theatre troupe, led by the actor and theatre director Wilhelm Djurström came to Visby. During the course of setting up the production, the troupe collaborated with local musicians − as was the custom − and in this way Ahlström began working with them.

When the theatre group left Gotland, Ahlström followed with them, touring with the theatre during the summer of 1830, mainly in southern Sweden. He then worked as a musician and teacher, first in Karlskrona in southern Sweden, and thereafter in Västerås, east of Stockholm. He was then invited to be the orchestra conductor at the Nya teatern in Stockholm. Ahlström was responsible for the music there until 1854, when the theatre changed owners and leadership of the orchestra was taken over by August Söderman. From the autumn of 1854 until his death on 14 May 1857, Ahlström worked as a choir leader and organist. In 1856 he was engaged as the conductor for the newly-founded Ladugårdslandsteatern, but had barely begun the job when he died. He was voted into the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1857.

An emerging bourgeois music life

Jacob Niclas Ahlström had no formal music education, but received the title of music director of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien in 1831, based on his compositions and on recommendations. The possibility of obtaining professional music training was small in Sweden at that time, and a continuous music education at the academy was not initiated until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Throughout his working life, Ahlström held many different jobs and positions. He began his career in the Swedish church and at schools. Moving to Stockholm meant that he was able to get a job in a new, privately financed theatre that stood outside of the royal cultural circles. The Nya teatern challenged the royal theatre, both because of its choice of repertoire and its organisation. Ahlström is a clear example of the expansion of the music life among the bourgeois, which made it possible for a person to work as a musician and composer even outside of the royally financed institutions.


Alongside the musical theatre

Ahlström produced an extensive group of both vocal and instrumental works within the various contexts in which he worked. Already during his student years in Uppsala he was mentioned as a composer of a polonaise and a trio, but this music is not extant. During his time as organist and music teacher in Västerås, he also arranged concerts, in which he often participated as a pianist − sometimes with his own compositions such as a concerto for piano and orchestra in A major (op. 30), dedicated to Crown Prince Oscar. Singing in male quartets was a common activity in all of the places where Ahlström worked and he wrote a large number of works for both male quartet and male choir. One of these choral works is ‘Hyllningssång till H.M. Konungen’ (a tribute song to His Majesty the King), which Ahlström composed for Frimurarlogen (a Freemason’s lodge) in Stockholm in 1848.

Activities as theatre conductor

The majority of Ahlström’s productivity from 1842 to 1854 was related to his work as a theatre orchestra conductor. It was an orchestra leader’s job to provide music for theatrical productions and Ahlström composed and arranged music for over one hundred different plays. Music for the comedies consisted mostly of songs, while the musical elements for the serious plays were more varied, with instrumental pieces as well as choral and vocal ensemble works. Existing melodies were often reused and then arranged for the current play and ensemble. Purely instrumental music took the form of ‘melodramas’, marches, dances and similar music that performed a clear function within the action of the plays.

Ahlström’s compositional options were determined entirely by each play’s repertoire. Songs from the plays could even be performed outside of the theatre, but generally the musical pieces could not stand alone, being dependent upon the context of the play. If the production was not a success, it was put onstage a few times and thus the music was only played on a few occasions. The need for new music to all of these productions was immense and only occasionally was Ahlström able to concentrate on larger works. It is also possible that without a formal music education he did not have the knowledge required to compose extensive works. One musical comedy, Alfred den store, was begun in 1840, but never completed.

Particular works within the theatre music

Included among the plays that were most successful at the time − and in which the music played a large role − were Positivhataren from 1843 and Urdur eller Neckens dotter from 1850. Positivhataren (the barrel organ hater), with text written by dramatist August Blanche, was a success from its premier in the spring of 1843. It alluded to a contemporary topic, namely the occurrence of organ grinders on the city’s streets. It was followed by several more plays with a clear connection to social issues, in which Blanche and Ahlström collaborated on the texts and music. All of the musical pieces in Positivhataren were newly written with a great deal of variation including not only strophic couplets, but also vocal ensemble pieces as well as purely instrumental pieces. The importance of the music was acknowledged by the contemporary press and Positivhataren was perceived by the many as a musical comedy in the classical Viennese tradition.

The extensive music for the play Urdur eller Neckens dotter was also newly written, with text from a translation of a Danish play by the author Thomas Overskou. The action in the play has characteristics found in fairy tales with supernatural elements such as elves and magical beings, which the audiences of the time also appreciated. The play includes an unusually large number of instrumental interludes. No fewer than five interludes are played between acts and function as short overtures in which small sections of melodies from the upcoming act are presented. Beside these instrumentals there are also a long string of songs, for both soloists and ensembles. Stylistically, Ahlström stayed with the same classical framework as in previous works.

Dissemination and importance

During his lifetime, some of Ahlström’s compositions spread to the homes of the bourgeois where music was an important social element. Above all, many of his songs from plays became popular for singing at home and Ahlström compiled several collections of such couplets. Likewise he printed popular folk songs with simple piano accompaniment, not based on compilations of his own songs, but on popular songs already extensively established in the music life of the bourgeois.

Ahlström’s importance can be said mainly to have been his role within the public, bourgeois music making, which he was active in throughout his working life. He helped build a musical repertoire, which also spread to the lesser-known music life within the home. His own compositions were, for the most part, tied to the theatrical repertoire. When this repertoire of plays was no longer produced during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the possibility of hearing Ahlström’s music was also gone

Karin Hallgren © 2014
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

Melodierna till de, vid den allmänna gudstjänsten, mest brukliga choralerna, upptecknade för skolungdomen, Västerås, 1839.
Musikalisk fickordbok till tjenst för tonkonstnärer och musikvänner
, Göteborg, 1843.
Valda svenska folksånger, folkdansar och folklekar, 1845, tillsammans med Per Conrad Boman
300 nordiska folkvisor. Harmoniskt behandlade för en röst och piano-forte, 1878.


Anrep-Nordin, Birger: 'Jacob Niclas Ahlström', in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 1, 1918.
Blanche, August
: Minnesbilder, Stockholm, 1872.
Dahlgren, Fredrik August: Anteckningar om Stockholms theatrar, Stockholm: Norstedts, 1866.
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik. Uppsala 2006: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, p. 300
Hallgren, Karin: Borgerlighetens teater: Om verksamhet, musiker och repertoar vid Mindre Teatern i Stockholm 1842−1863, Diss. Uppsala: Musicology, 2000, pp. 81−88.
Hemming, Sture: Musiken i Västerås: 1570−1995. Västerås 1996.
Lindfors, Per: J. N. Ahlström, in Svenska män och kvinnor, vol. 1, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1942.
Nyström, Pia & Elmquist, Anne-Marie: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien: Matrikel 1771−1995, Stockholm: Musikaliska akademien 1996
Rosén, J M: Några minnesblad, Stockholm: F. & G. Beijer, 1877.
Stolt, Lars C.: Marscher med historia. 19−20, in Marschnytt, 1999, no. 109/110, pp. 14−16
Stölting, Ingrid Sabine: Schwedishe Bühnenwerke mit Musik: Schauspielmusik des 19. Jahrhunderts. Magisterarbeit Freiburg im Breisgau: Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, 2005/2006.
Sundström, Einar: Jacob Niclas Ahlström − biografisk skiss, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, 1939.
Sundström, Einar: Jacob Niclas Ahlström, in Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 1, p. 70, 1975.
Tegen, Martin: Teatermusiken, in [Leif Jonsson & Martin Tegen (eds),] Musiken i Sverige III. Den nationella identiteten 1810−1920, Stockholm: Fischer, 1992, pp. 283−306.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket

Summary list of works

Incidental music (over 100 plays, among them Positivhataren and Urdur eller Neckens dotter), piano concertos, songs, vocal music.

Collected works

Incidental music (composed or arranged)
1844−1845, scenic work in one act (A. Blanche), 1845.
Agne, tradegy (Per-Henrik Ling), 1842.
Allas gudsons komedi, comedy in 4 acts (Souvestre, trans. F.N. Berg), 1847.
Arfvet eller Bröder och kusiner, drama in 5 acts (Dennery & Cormon, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1848.
Bellman i Mariefred, vaudeville in 1 act, 1842.
Benjowsky, drama in 5 acts (Kotzebue, trans. O.U. Torsslow), 1852.
Betjenten professor, comedy with song in 2 acts (Angely, trans. H. Sandström), 1846.
Blekingeflickan, dramatic idyll with song (A. Krook), 1854.
Chevalier de Maison Rouge, drama in 5 acts (Dumas & Maquet, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1847.
Den döde gästen, comedy with song (Zschokke, trans. W. Stålberg), 1854.
Den hundraåriga gubben, dramatic sketcg in 1 act (Théaulon, Francis & Dartois, trans. Quippe), 1848.
Det var inte hon!, comedy with song (C.G. Michal), 1856.
Don Cesar de Bazano, drama in 5 acts (Dumanoir & Dennery, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1844.
Duellanterna, comedy with song in 1 act, 1850.
Döden fadder, comedy in 3 acts (Haffner, trans. A. Blanche) , 1850.
Dörr-intrigen, comedy with song (Varin & Lhérie, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1851.
En afton i Humlegården, comedy (F. Hedberg), 1853.
En butelj champagne, comedy with song (Melesville & Brazier, trans. G.W. Blachet), 1853, 1856.
En efterhängsen vän, comedy (Labiche & Jolly, trans. A. Lindeberg), 1855.
En födelsedag på gäldstugan, comedy with choirs couplets (Th. Overskou, trans. A. Blanche), 1846.
En hufvudpassion, comedy with song (Kotzebue, trans. F. Hedberg), 1847.
En natts väntan, monologue vaudeville in 1 act, 1846.
En nyårsnattsdröm, comedy with song (A. Blanche & F. Hedberg), 1854.
En trappa upp och på nedra botten, vaudeville in 3 acts (A. Blanche), 1842.
Engelbrekt och hans dalkarlar, historical drama in 5 acts (A. Blanche), 1846.
Ett resande teatersällskap, farce with choirs and couplets in 2 acts (A. Blanche), 1854.
Ett snedsprång, comedy in 2 acts (Anicet-Bourgeois & Brisebarre, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1848.
Fabrikskamraterna, komedi med kupletter (övers. H. Ehrenstam), 1855.
Farinelli eller Kungen och sångarna, comedy with song (Saint-Georg & de Leuven, trans. A. Lindeberg), 1844.
Faust och Margaretha, fantasy drama in 3 acts (Carré, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1850.
Femhundra riksdaler banko, vaudeville in 2 acts (Cramaer), 1845.
Formoso eller Pudret, comedy in 1 act (Labiche, Lefranc & Nyon, trans. A.E. Afzelius), 1848.
Frieri med stormsteg, comedy (Decourcelle, Barrière & Morand, trans. O. Hycker)t, 1855.
Grekiska Historien eller Iphigenia den andra (Parodie), opéra comique in 3 acts, 1843.
Gubben Noach, comedy with song (A. Säfström), 1856.
Gubbens maka eller Brunnsläkaren, drama in 5 acts (von Holtei, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1852.
Herr Dardanell och hans upptåg på landet, comedy with choirs and couplets in 4 acts (Nestroy, trans. A. Blanche & L.A. Malmgren), 1846.
Hofvet i Biberack, vaudeville in 1 act (Vermond, Lafargue & Siraudin, trans. F.N. Berg), 1847.
Hos oss! eller En motbild till Onkel Toms stuga, drama in 4 acts (J. Granberg), 1853.
I Bohuslänska skärgården, comedy with song in 1 act (Nielsen, trans. J. Philipsson), 1852.
Inte en smula jaloux!, comedy with song, after a Danish arrangement, 1856.
Jenny Lind-enthusiasten, comedy in 1 act (Virgin), 1847.
Klostret Castro, drama in 5 acts (Dinaux & Lemoine, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1848.
Kröningsdagen, comedy with choirs and couplets in 1 act (A. Blanche), 1844.
Lucretia Borgia, drama in 4 acts (Hugo, trans. A. Lindeberg), 1843.
Lumpsamlaren, drama in 5 acts (Pyat, trans. L. A. Malmgren), 1849.
Min granne i omnibusen, comedy with song in 1 act (Albitte & Dugard, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1846.
Min vän löjtnanten, comedy with song in 2 acts (Hedberg), 1852.
Nu ska vi roa oss!, comedy with song in 4 acts (Nestroy, trans. F. Berg), 1844.
Polkander i Stockholm, comedy with song in 1 act (Moqvist), 1849.
Positivhataren, comedy with song in 4 acts (A. Blanche), 1843.
Raymond eller Hvem var Jernmasken?, drama in 3 acts (Rosier & De Leuven), 1853.
Rik på kärlek men fattig på mynt, comedy in 1 act (Xavier, Duvert & Lauzanne), 1847.
Ringaren i Notre-Dame, romantic drama in 5 acts (Hugo, trans. A. Lindeberg), 1843.
Spanjorer och portugisare eller Slottet de Viana, drama in 3 acts (Lemoine & Gonbaux, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1849.
Sällhet på flaskor, comedy in 1 act (Marc-Michel, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1847.
Sådan onkel har jag!, comedy (Mélesville & Carmouche, trans. F.N. Berg), 1854.
Tre älskare, comedy with song in 2 acts (Rosier, trans. A.E. Afzelius), 1847.
Underprefekten roar sig, comedy in 2 acts (Bayard & Varnier, trans. L.A. Malmgren), 1851.
Urdur eller Neckens dotter, fairy drama with song in 3 acts (Thomas Overskou & Arnesen, trans. J. Granberg), 1850.
Års-revyn eller Det afbrutna ordenskapitlet, comedy in 1 act (Cramær), 1847.

Concert in A major for piano and orchestra op. 30. Dedication: His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden and Norway. [Before 1842, from the time in Västerås.]


Hemlandstoner, potpourri of Nordic folk melodies for piano.
Song pieces from the operetta Farinelli arrangeed for pianoforte.
Andante religioso for piano.

Voice and piano

Blommorna af F. Th. Hedberg, 9 songs with piano accompaniment (F. Hedberg). Stockholm: Abr. Lundqvist, 1864. 1. Blåsippan ('Hörde jag ej kvitter från gren'), 2. Nattviolen ('Månen speglar sakta'), 3. Rosen ('Stolt prunkar jag'), 4. Sensitivan ('Se ej åt mig'), 5. Förgät mig ej ('Hörde du ej lärkans sång'), 6. Gullvifvan ('På ängens tufva blyg jag står'), 7. Blåklinten ('Redan skördarnes gull'), 8. Hyacinthen ('Stormen viner, solen skiner'), 9. Linnea Borealis ('Jag obemärkt stod i grönskande skog').
Songs at the piano (J.L. Runeberg). Stockholm: L. Gust. Rylander. 1. Mitt lif ('Strid på bredden av en graf'), 2. Till lyckan ('Lycka, leende Gudinna'), 3. Hjertats morgon ('Mörker rådde i mitt sinne'), 4. Blomman ('När sig våren återföder'), 5. Söndagsskörden ('Högt strålar morgonsolen'), 6. Tanken ('Tanke, se hur fogeln svingar').
Song at the piano, composed by J.N. Ahlström. Stockholm: Abr. Hirsch. 1. Till sångens ursprung ('Dig gode Ande!') (K. A. Nicander), 2. Blomman på grafven ('Uppå den huldas mull'), 3. Den öfvergifvnes tröst ('Stilla dig mitt brustna hjerta!'), 4. Wallflickan ('Så glad och nöjd jag förer min hjord'), 5. Rosorna ('En majdag bandt Selma')
Glädjens ögonblick ('Sörj ej den gryende dagen förut'). Printed ni Det sjungande Sverige, 2, p. 76.
Sjung, sjung ('Sjung, sjung, sorlande våg'). Printed in Det sjungande Sverige, 2, p. 135.
Chosen Swedish folk songs, folk dances and folk games svenska folksånger, folkdansar och folklekar, published by J.N. Ahlström and P.C. Boman, 1845.
300 Nordic folk songs, arrangements, 1855.

Male quartet/choir
Forntida minnen, frihet och ära, masch.
Tågom fram uti striden, march.
O ljuva lugn!
I dalens gömda hydda.
Den underbara harpan.
Complimentary song to His Majesty the King. [Composed for the Freemason's lodge in Stockholm 1848.]

Works by Jacob Niclas Ahlström

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

Number of works: 10