Erik Drake (1788−1870)


Erik Drake af Hagelsrum, born on 8 January 1788 and died on 9 June 1870, was one of Sweden’s most prominent mid-19th century music administrators. He was the secretary and librarian for the Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1841 to 1859. He was professor of music theory and composition during 1830−59, as well as inspector for the academy’s educational institution in 1834−59. In 1852 he was awarded a knightship in the Royal Order of Vasa. As a composer he wrote vocal and chamber music, and besides being a music theorist, he was an author and editor for a number of important journals and documents within the music life of Sweden.


Family background, childhood and education

The noble family Drake af Hagelsrum originated from the Västergötland region in south western Sweden during the 16th century. Erik Drake is considered the head of a younger branch of this noble family. Drake was born on 8 January 1788 [most likely in Kisa]. He wed Elisabet Katarina Printzenskiöld in 1820 and they had six children. He died on 9 June 1870 in Stockholm.

During his student years at the university in Uppsala from 1804 to1809 he cemented close relationships with a number of colleagues from Östergötland’s nation (university students are organised into societies or ‘nations’ according to the region they come from and which are a focal point for student activities). These contacts would come to mean much for his later career activities as a composer, music theorist, author and administrator. Several of these colleagues were members of the society Vitterhetens vänner (friends of the belles-lettres), which was clearly influenced by the German Sturm und Drang movement. The society included poets such as Samuel Hedborn, Lorenzo Hammarsköld, Clas Livijn and P.D.A. Atterbom together with antiquities’ scholars Vilhelm Fredrik Palmblad och Leonard Rääf. During the early part of the 1810s, these same people became involved in ‘phosphorism’ patterned after romanticism, and which, among other activities, published the controversial periodical Phosphoros, issued by Palmblad’s printing company. In terms of these publishing efforts, Drake stood in the background and managed to avoid being drawn into the turmoil of personal conflicts that ensued at Uppsala University, where several of the phosphorists later held positions. However, within this same circle of people, he continued to be seen as the foremost authority on music. His later position within Swedish musical life would have an overall importance for those in the romantic circles as, early on, this movement turned against the authorities established in the Gustavian era. Erik Drake would later replace some of these administrators in a string of important positions within the music scene, especially within the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music).

Composition and administration

After completing his civil service examination, Erik Drake took on a short-term administrative position in Stockholm. At the same time he immersed himself in harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation for his friend, Joachim Nicolas Eggert who was then hovkapellmästare (chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra). Beginning in 1810 Eggert occasionally lived at the country homes in southern Östergötland of both Drake and Leonard Rääf, and in 1813 passed away at Tomestorp, Rääf’s country home. Throughout his life, Drake described Eggert as his sole important composition teacher. On the basis of the so-called Kirnberger line, Drake figured that he himself stood in the line of succession of Johann Sebastian Bach’s students (Bach−Kirnberger−Fleischer−Eggert). That Erik Drake emphasised how important Eggert was, even after his death, can also be connected with Drake’s critical attitude toward the French musical tradition that Eduard Du Puy brought to Swedish musical life when he replaced Eggert as hovkapellmästare in 1811. Music scholar and librarian Johan Peter Cronhamn states that Drake also received composition lessons from Karl Schwencke, who sometimes lived at Drake’s home in Föllingsö, however, this was long after Eggert’s death.

Erik Drake was inducted as an associé (an associate member with no voting rights) in the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien in 1818 and in 1822 he became full member. In 1826 he became Pehr Frigel’s assistant as a teacher of music theory and composition at the educational institution of Musikaliska akademien, and in 1830 was permanently employed in the same job with the title of professor. He became the inspector for education in 1834 and in 1841 he took over Frigel’s position as secretary of the academy. In practice, he was already the academy’s librarian during Frigel’s time, which is seen in the acquisition and cataloguing work, as well as his extensive foreign correspondence. Drake did not formally take over the function of librarian until 1849. In 1859, due to failing eyesight, he resigned from his positions and in 1861 was given a yearly pension of 2000 Swedish kronor. During his time at the Musikaliska akademien he taught somewhere around 2000 students in music theory and composition. This means that the greater part of Swedish composers, musicians, church musicians and music teachers during the 19th century had some sort of student-teacher relationship with Erik Drake. In addition, his systematic and complete cataloguing in 1839 of the academy’s music and literature is of great historical significance for understanding how the collections were built up and used during the 19th century. According to publicist and composer Johan Magnus Rosén, Drake, as Frigel’s successor in all of his many roles, could justifiably say, ‘l’académie, c’est moi’. Drake’s huge amount of work within higher music education and the academy’s administration went largely unpaid and he lived, periodically, under somewhat difficult economic conditions.

Drake, the author and theorist

Erik Drake left behind an extensive body of literature, writing on music history, aesthetics and music theory. Among these that deserve special mention is Biografiska anteckningar öfver namnkunnige tonkonstnärer (biographical notes on renowned composers). This manuscript consists of 171 biographical articles of various lengths, possibly intended for publication, but of particular internal importance for the Musikaliska akademien. Aside from the available encyclopaedic information from Mattheson, Gerber, Burney, Forkel and others, many other sources indicate the kind of reception and reputation that these engaged composers received locally in Sweden during the 1820s.

Erik Drake’s writings on harmony and counterpoint were the first textbooks in Sweden that were directly related to a formalised course of study, namely the different classes at the school of the Musikaliska akademien. These textbooks were printed and used in a string of new editions, long after Drake’s passing.


Most of Drake’s vocal and chamber music pieces were written during the period between 1810 and 1820. He collected many of these works in a bound autograph volume, written down in Stockholm in 1834. As a composer, Drake remained faithful to his youthful classical ideal and is considered by Cronhamn to have produced ‘cantabile and natural melodies’ and a technically accomplished manner of writing in all styles known at the time. Drake was according to coeval records held to be one of the greatest contrapuntists of his time, but no extensive and thoroughly contrapuntal work from his hand has survived. The final fugue in his Stabat mater, for example, lacks the kind of obligatory counterpoint that one could expect in a more ambitious work.

Two string quartets, one preserved only as a fragment, were thought to have been written by Drake, according to Wilhelm Bauck, his successor in the library. However, current research (as of 2014) considers both works to be composed by Joachim Nicolas Eggert.

In many cases, historical evidence about the reception of Drake’s piano music and songs written for solo voice is lacking. These pieces were associated with the learned salons of the time. Texts were often borrowed from within the salons’ own circles, written by authors such as Geijer, Atterbom and Hammarsköld, and generally dedicated to friends, students and benefactors. Drake left no major dedicatory or commissioned works behind.

Several of Erik Drake’s larger works can be linked to detailed studies of earlier works in a given genre. Stabat mater has a structure that was somewhat unique to Sweden at the time. It is comprised of an alternatim or antiphonal setting where only the odd-numbered verses of the medieval sequence text were set to music, and the even verses are meant to be sung in unison on the sequence melody. This is a clearly historicised practice that reflects Drake’s studies of older church music, as well as his contact with people from the circle of German Catholic cleric and proponent of earlier sacred polyphonic music, Karl Proske in Regensburg, Bavaria. The only documented performance of the work is the commemoration of Drake’s death in a formal gathering at the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien in 1871. One of the most idiosyncratic genres of the early 19th century is the deklamatorium (declamatory text with music), to which Drake’s ‘Sappho’, with text penned by the literary radical G.A. Silverstolpe, is an interesting contribution.

Drake collaborated with Eggert, Rääf, and Arvid August Afzelius, collecting and editing and reworking folksongs. The contributions of Drake and Eggert gave credibility to Rääf’s folk music collecting within music circles, something that was missing from most of the larger publishing projects. ‘Who in Sweden would raise their voice against the names Eggert and Drake, placed beside my experience with folksongs...’ was how Rääf expressed it in a letter written in 1813. This illustrates Drake’s renown long before he obtained his various positions at the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien.

Drake’s work on the melodies set to the poetry of popular 18th-century poet Carl Michael Bellman was published in Per Adolf Sondén’s Bellmans valda skrifter (Bellman’s selected writings). This effort demonstrates Erik Drake’s thorough research on the origins of Bellman’s melodies, which laid the groundwork for later research on Bellman.

Mattias Lundberg © 2014
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

Allmänna grunder i musik- och clavérspelning, 1830.
Elementar-cours i harmonie-läran, three editions 1851−1857.
Läran om contrapunkten, 1845.
Frågor i harmoni-läran, till besvarande i organistexamen, 2nd edition 1849.
Gollmicks Kritisk terminologi, translation.
Zöllners Orgelskola, translation.


Cronhamn, J.P.: Erik Drake [Minnesord], in Kongl. Musikaliska Akademiens Handlingar 1870−71, Stockholm: Marcus, 1872, pp. 53−56.
Höijer, Leonard: Musik-lexikon, Stockholm: Abraham Lundquist, 1864, p. 106.
Lomnäs, Bonnie: Eggert, J, in Musik in der Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2 rev. ed., L. Finscher (ed.), Personenteil VI, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2001, coll. 111−112.
Lundberg, Mattias: 'The First Hundred Years of Musical Librarianship at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music: 1771−1871', in Fontes artis musicae 57/3, 2010, pp. 236−249.
−−−: Preface to the edition of Drakes Stabat Mater, Stockholm: Gehrman, 2009.
Nisser, Carl: Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830, Stockholm: Gothia, 1943.
Rosén, Johan Magnus [signed 'J. M. R-n']: Minnesblad, in Svensk musiktidning 2/22, 1882, pp. 172−173.
Tegen, Martin: Erik Drake, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning 25, 1943, pp. 124−157.
Vretblad, Åke: Erik Drake, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon XI, Stockholm: Samfundet för Svenskt biografiskt lexikons utgivande, 1945, p. 414.
Walin, Stig: "Den musikteoretiska undervisningen i Sverige under romantiken", in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning 15, 1933, pp. 84−137.

Summary list of works

Operetta (Bergagubben, lost), chamber music (divertimento for flute and piano, sonata for violin and piano, etc.) piano music (Trois divertissement, work for four hands, etc.), songs (song cycles, individual songs and the declamatorium Sappho), a cappella choral works (Stabat mater).