Bror Beckman, b. 10 February 1866 in Kristinehamn, d. 22 July 1929 in Ljungskile. In 1884 he began working in Julius Bagge's music store in Stockholm and studying harmony under Bagge's tuition. Between 1885−90 he studied counterpoint and composition privately under Johan Lindegren. In 1888 he became an insurance clerk with the Fylgia insurance company, a post which he retained for upwards of 20 years, conjointly with music studies, teaching and, later on, composing. His career as a composer was in practice curtailed by his appointment in 1909 as treasurer to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and, the following year, principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music (as from 1911 with professorial standing).
Early years and studies
Bror Beckman was the son of Bror Adolf Beckman (1832−1911) and Anna Augusta Beckman, née Holm, and the grandson of Johan Wilhelm Beckman (1792−1873), priest and hymn writer. His father Adolf Beckman was director of music in the Värmlands Fältjägare (Värmland Rangers) regiment, as well as being, not only a music teacher and composer but also an insurance inspector, which probably accounts for Bror Beckman himself later electing to finance his composition studies by working for an insurance company.
Opportunities for music-making at home were so propitious that Bror Beckman started composing when he was only 7 years old. In 1876 he entered Karlstad Grammar School, where his father taught music. His parents could not afford further music education for him, and so, after matriculating in the spring of 1884, Bror Beckman worked for a few months in K. Warmuth’s music shop in Kristiania (Oslo). In the late autumn of that year he became an assistant in Julius Bagge’s music shop in Stockholm, combining this employment with harmony studies under Bagge’s tuition.
Further music studies while working
Beckman continued working in Bagge’s music shop until the end of 1887. On Bagge’s recommendation, he had already begun taking counterpoint and composition lessons from Johan Lindegren, church musician and teacher of counterpoint, early in 1885. Those studies continued until 1890. The important lessons Beckman learned from Lindegren are evident, not least, from the mastery of counterpoint which permeates most of his compositions.
In 1888 Beckman became an insurance clerk with the Fylgia insurance company in Stockholm, a post which, for over 20 years, he combined, first with music studies and later with teaching and composition. In the same year as he concluded his studies with Lindegren, Beckman became a teacher of counterpoint at Sigrid Carlheim-Gyllensköld’s music institute in Stockholm. He held that post between 1890 and 1902.
Early compositions and composer scholarship
Beckman’s first compositions comprise songs with piano accompaniment, plus minor works for piano and for violin and piano. While studying under Lindegren, he formed lifelong friendships with some of the other students: Sigurd von Koch, Harald Fryklöf and Knut Håkansson. In particular, Harald Fryklöf and Beckman became inseparable friends later on when they were both on the staff of the conservatory of Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music).
As a composer, however, Beckman soon began going his own way. William Seymer (1890−1964), composer and critic, quotes, in his recollections of Beckman, a review of his Ingalill och andra sånger op. 2 (1893): ‘Mr B. possesses no mean degree of originality, compared with several of our other song composers, who otherwise follow well-trodden paths. B. even has a certain style, or the makings of one.’ This independence is also apparent in such early works as Sonata for violin and piano op. 1 (1893) and I sommarnätter. Två stycken för stråkorkester op. 3 (1890).
Between 1894−96 Beckman held a state scholarship for young composers. He spent the first year in Berlin, studying orchestration under Franz Mannstädt, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Beckman’s first major orchestral work, his Symphony in F op. 6, dates from these two years. It was premiered by Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) in the spring of 1902. The dating of his second major orchestral composition, Om lyckan op. 10, is less certain. It may already have been completed by 1902.
Following his election, in 1904, to membership of Kungliga Musikaliska akademien, Beckman became increasingly involved in the running of its affairs. In 1907 he began serving on the committee for state composer scholarships, and in 1908 he joined the board of governors of the academy’s educational institution.
Advocate of the harmonium as a house instrument
From 1907 onwards, Beckman began taking a keen interest in the harmonium, which at that time was a relatively new instrument. In Harmonium: Några meddelanden, he enthuses over the instrument as being suitable, both for professional musicians and for ordinary people’s domestic music-making. True, the piano has its appointed place in music-making, but ‘Many people must at times have wished the piano more capable of producing a sustained note or sound which can be sensitively combined with crescendo and diminuendo, played with tremolo and made to express rejoicing or suffering. In this quality […], coupled with a considerable wealth of tone colours, consists the very strength of the harmonium’, as he writes in the brief explanatory booklet.
The Leipzig composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert took note of Beckman’s compositions for the harmonium and in 1907 wrote an appreciative article about them for Das Harmonium: Zeitschrift für Hausmusik. Two short preludes were published as a supplement to the issue concerned.
Principal of the music conservatory in Stockholm
In 1909 Bror Beckman resigned from the Fylgia insurance company and instead became Treasurer to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien. The following year he was appointed principal of the academy’s conservatory, and as such was given professorial standing in 1911. In addition, he served, between 1915 and 1923, as National Board of Education inspector and adviser for music teaching in elementary schools and high schools, and played an active part in founding a popular school of choral singing in Stockholm in 1919. As principal of the music conservatory he introduced rhythmic gymnastics and ear training in keeping with the ideas of Jaques Dalcrozes and created a special study programme in conducting. His sense of duty, industry, organising ability and great interest in teaching methods are particularly mentioned in tributes following his sudden death, from heart failure, in the summer of 1929.
Towards the end of his life, Beckman experienced a sudden upsurge of interest in his one and only symphony, written in 1895. It was now premiered in many parts of Sweden in 1927−28, in Helsinki in 1928, in Karlsbad in 1928 and, finally, in Copenhagen in 1929, and was very well received in most places. The words written by him about the symphony in a covering letter sent with the score to his friend Carl Nielsen for the performance in the Tivoli concert hall on 22 June 1929 illustrate the modest, reserved attitude he adopted where his own compositions were concerned: ‘This spring the symphony has been performed under Kajanus in Helsinki, under Principal Lind in Örebro and under Lidner in Helsingborg and Landskrona. I find this remarkable, understanding as I do, more than well, what rubbish it is. I nevertheless enclose a copy of the score, simply as a token of my gratitude for all you have given me. Say nothing about it, simply pardon this youthful indiscretion, bearing in mind that it was written 34 years ago.’
Bror Beckman was a great admirer of Nielsen’s music. They knew each other well and corresponded regularly from 1894 onwards. Much of their correspondence is available in Carl Nielsen’s published letters (Brevudgaven). In his introduction to the first volume, the editor, John Fellow, conveys an insight into Nielsen’s lifelong correspondence with Bror Beckman: ‘in which Bror Beckman, living alone with his mother and as a homosexual, has quite different love-life problems from paterfamilias Carl Nielsen, and in which the two of them discuss one another’s compositions as well as music and culture in their two countries.’
The relatively few compositions which Beckman left behind him invariably testify to deft craftsmanship, an unswerving sense of form and a superb command of contrapuntal writing. Stylistically he followed on from such earlier composers as Berwald, Grieg and Svendsen, but at the same time was profoundly influenced by the music of Carl Nielsen.
In some works, especially those for the harmonium, Beckman shows a striking boldness of harmony and pursued a wealth of tone colour, though without relaxing his insistence on clarity of form and balanced proportions. Karg-Elert, in the article already mentioned, writes very appreciatively concerning several of the harmonium compositions. He commends, not least, the second ballad in D minor in Drei sinfonischen Balladen op. 14: ‘A profound gravity and a certain pessimism permeate the whole piece, which I personally rate one of the best works in the entire harmonium repertoire.’
Some piano pieces in smaller format − Strängaspel op. 12 and Örtagårdsblomster op. 20 − have won the appreciation of many performers and are within the grasp of amateur players. Both these works have been recorded on CD and have been several times broadcasted on the radio. In these, Beckman strikes a soft-spoken, humorous note in such aphoristic introductions as ‘Midday sun by the forest tarn. The artist was busy painting and had a fearful toothache’ (no. 1 in Örtagårdsblomster) or ‘Fireside evening in my cottage. It’s raining’ (no. 4 in the same collection).
The Symphony in F major, composed during Beckman’s years of intensive study in the mid-1890s, is in more ways than one a tour de force. Its four movements are unified by a confident mastery of form, and he is in full control of the forces which a big orchestra can offer. In the dance-like third movement, additionally, he contrives to impart a Nordic folk idiom which does not in any way feel extraneous or artificial. To this are added thematic inventiveness and sensitive harmonies. The whole composition radiates vitality, playfulness, humour and glowing happiness. When, after several years of neglect, the symphony was revived in 1927, several reviewers, the composer Moses Pergament among them, regretted that Beckman had not gone on writing symphonies. He if anyone could have enriched the Swedish symphonic repertoire.
Boel Lindberg © 2014
Trans. Roger Tanner
Publications by the composer
Harmonium. Några meddelanden, Stockholm, 1907.
Atterberg, Kurt: Bror Beckman avliden, in Stockholmstidningen, 23 July 1929.
Connor, Herbert: Bror Beckman (1866−1929), in: Herbert Connor (ed.), 100 år svensk pianomusik, Stockholm: Edition Suecia, 1982, p. 14.
Englund, David: Svensk originalmusik för harmonium, in Orgelforum, vol. 13, no. 2, 1991, pp. 6−9.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 1983, pp. 209−211.
Karg-Elert, Sigfrid: Bror Beckman als Harmonium-Komponist, in Das Harmonium. Zeitschrift für Hausmusik, vol. 7, no. 7, 1909, pp. 105−108.
Lindfors, Per: Beckman, Bror, in: Nils Bohman (ed.), Svenska män och kvinnor: Biografisk uppslagsbok, vol. 1, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1942, pp. 194.
Morales, Olallo: Parentation över Bror Beckman i Kungl. Musikaliska akademiens årsberättelse 1929, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 11, 1929, pp. 222−224.
Nielsen, Carl, Brevudgaven, John Fellow (ed.), vol. 1−10, Köpenhamn: Multivers, 2005−2013.
Nielsen, Carl: 'Bror Beckmans symfoni i Tivoli', in Politiken, 29 juni 1929 [introduction to a performance in Copenhage, retailed in John Fellow (ed.): Carl Nielsen til sin samtid: artikler, foredrag, interview, presseindlæg, værknoter og manuskripter, vol. 2 (1926−1931), Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1999, p. 521].
Norlind, Tobias: Bror Beckman, in: Allmänt musiklexikon, vol. 1, 2., rev. ed., Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1927, p. 10.
Pergament, Moses: 'Bror Beckman död', in Svenska Dagbladet, 23 July 1929.
Peterson-Berger, Wilhelm: 'Bror Beckman död', in Dagens Nyheter, 23 July 1929.
Rabe, Julius: Beckman, Bror, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1922.
Seymer, William: Fyra nyromantiker (Bror Beckman, Sigurd von Koch, Harald Fryklöf, Knut Håkanson), in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 23, 1941, pp. 56−72.
–––: En Bach i svensk vadmalsdräkt, in: Folke H. Törnblom (ed.), Hågkomster och livsintryck av svenska män och kvinnor, [saml.] 24, Musikmänniskor: personliga minnen av bortgångna svenska tonsättare, Uppsala, 1943, pp. 299−318.
Tobeck, Christina: 'Johan Lindegren − inte bara kontrapunktlärare', in: Årsskrift / Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 2007, pp. 46−52.
Tykesson, Anders: Bror Beckman, in liner notes to the CD Pianolyrik, Stockholm: Musica Sveciae, MSCD 628, 1993, pp. 5−7.
Reviews in daily press of first performances of works by Bror Beckman (in chronological order)
Signature 'J.A.': Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, 17 Oct. 1907 (Göteborgs Orkesterförening: Om lyckan op. 10).
Signature '–t–': Göteborgsposten, 17 Oct. 1907, p. 3 (Göteborgs Orkesterförening: Om lyckan op. 10).
Signature 'J.A.': Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, 29 Apr. 1909 (Göteborgs orkesterförening: Gambla gastar, ballad for bass-baritone and orchestra op. 7).
Signature 'Mac': Dagens Nyheter , 5 Jun. 1911 p. 5 (Musikfesten i Uppsala första dagen: Om lyckan op. 10).
Signature 'M.S.': Stockholms Dagblad, 6 Oct. 1927 (Konsertföreningen, Stockholm: Gambla gastar, ballad for bass-baritone and orchestra op. 7).
Signature 'B.L–r': Stockholms Tidningen, 6 Oct. 1927 (Konsertföreningen, Stockholm: Gambla gastar, ballad for bass-baritone and orchestra op. 7).
Signature 'E.M.S.': Social-Demokraten, 6 Oct. 1927 (Konsertföreningen, Stockholm: Gambla gastar, ballad for bass-baritone and orchestra op. 7).
Signature 'N.A.': Arbetaren, 6 Oct. 1927 (Konsertföreningen, Stockholm: Gambla gastar, ballad for bass-baritone and orchestra op. 7).
Atterberg, Kurt: Stockholms Tidningen, 27 Feb. 1928 (Konsertföreningen's Sunday matine: Symphony in F major op. 6).
Pergament, Moses: Svenska Dagbladet, 27 Feb. 1928 (Konsertföreningen's Sunday matine: Symphony in F major op. 6).
Rangström, Ture: Stockholms Dagblad, 27 Feb. 1928 (Konsertföreningen's Sunday matine: Symphony in F major op. 6).
Signature 'N.A.': Arbetaren, 27 Feb. 1928 (Konsertföreningen's Sunday matine: Symphony in F major op. 6).
Signature 'S.D.': Dagens Nyheter, 27 Feb. 1928 (Konsertföreningen's Sunday matine: Symphony in F major op. 6).
Vretblad, Patrik: Social-Demokraten, 27 Feb. 1928 (Konsertföreningen's Sunday matine: Symphony in F major op. 6).
Atterberg, Kurt: Stockholms Tidningen, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday programme: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Pergament, Moses: Svenska Dagbladet, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday programme: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Rangström, Ture: Stockholms Dagblad, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday programme: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Seymer, William: Nya Dagligt Allehanda, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday matine: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Signature 'H. G–t', Aftonbladet, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday matine: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Signature 'N.A.': Arbetaren, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday matine: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Signature '–ström': Dagens Nyheter, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday matine: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Vretblad, Patrik: Social-Demokraten, 19 Nov. 1928 (Konsertföreingen's Sunday matine: Divertimento giacoso for small orchestra).
Kungl. Biblioteket, Musik- och teater museet, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stiftelsen Musiklivets Främjande (Nydahlsamlingen), Stockholms stadsarkiv, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Kungl. Musikaliska akademien (ledamotformulär nr 23)
Summary list of works
Music for 2 dramas (En lyckoriddare, Ingjald Illråde), orchestral music (symphony, Om lyckan, divertimento for small orchestra, 2 stycken för stråkorkester [2 pieces for string orchestra], 2 verk för en röst och orkester [2 pieces for voice and orchestra]), chamber music (2 works for violin and piano), piano music (sonata, 20-odd short pieces), harmonium pieces (15 compositions), songs (upwards of 40 songs and ballads with piano accompaniment), choral music (unaccompanied mixed choir, male voice choir with soloists and piano).
The information about year of composition is uncertain.
En lyckoriddare (H. Molander) op. 11, 1900.
Ingjald Illråde (E. Didring), 1903.
I sommarnätter, two pieces for string orchestra op. 3, 1890.
Symphony in F major op. 6, 1895.
Om lyckan, tone piece for orchestra op. 10, 1905.
Divertimento giocoso for small orchestra, 1908 [instrumentation 1928].
Works for voice and orchestra
Flodsånger for once voice and orchestra op. 5, 3 songs (G. Kallstenius), 1897.
Gambla gastar, ballad for bass-baritone and orchestra op. 7, 1897.
Kantat vid sällskapet Iduns 50-årsfest den 22 november 1922, cantata for soli, male choir and piano.
Sonata in A minor for violin and piano op. 1, 1891.
Erkers polska och Carl Johanssons polska, two hambo-polskas for piano, 1892.
Glädjens blomster for piano op. 9, 1898.
Fjälltankar in E major for piano, 1902.
Strängaspel for piano op. 12, 1903.
Vid Abiskojokk den 19 aug. 1903 for piano.
Vier Humoresquen in Form einer Suite for piano op. 13b, 1907.
Örtagårdsblomster I−V for piano op. 20, 1906−20.
Works for harmonium
Suite in D major für Kunstharmonium op. 13a, 1907.
Drei sinfonische Balladen für Kunstharmonium op. 14, 1907.
Zwei Vorspiele für Harmonium, 1909.
Vorspiel und Prozession für Kunstharmonium op. 15, 1910.
Zwei Stücke [Scherzo, Ständchen] für Kunstharmonium op. 16, 1910.
Wolken-gedichte für Kunsharmonium op. 17, 1910.
Preludio funebre for harmonium or piano, 1919.
Suite in satirischer Art, four movements for harmonium or piano op. 13, 1909.
Ingalill and other songs for once voice and piano op. 2, 1893.
Flodsånger for one voice and piano, 6 songs (G. Kallstenius och G. Fröding), 1895.
Six songs for one voir and piano op. 18 (J. L. Runeberg, G. Fröding, J. Roosval, S. Michaëlis, A. Borge), 1910.
Four Songs at the Piano op. 19 (text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, H. Wallander, G. E.), 1910.
Arioso for one voice and harmonium, for the inaugeration of the Masonic Lodge in Växjö 1908.
Bön vid lågorna (V. von Heidenstam) for mixed choir a cappella op. 22, 1928.
Also occational movements for string quartet, violin and piano, piano, organ, minor songs and ditties.