Emilie Holmberg (1821−1854)


Emilie (Emelie) Augusta Christina Holmberg was born on 6 May 1821 in Stockholm and died on 26 March 1854 in Columbia, South Carolina, USA. She was a singer, pianist, composer and founder of a music institute in Stockholm. Following her marriage in 1844 she emigrated to the United States where she became an organist in Charleston.


Emelie Holmberg was proclaimed a child prodigy and fostered by the composer Eduard Brendler (1800–1831) and his wife Ulrica. Emelie Holmberg was a skilled pianist and studied harmony with Erik Drake and singing with Johan Peter Cronhamn. Her letters reveal that she was well acquainted with Cronhamn and that she was friends with Drake. She published her first song collection at age fourteen, and in 1838 at the age of seventeen she arranged a musical soirée for the benefit of the hungry and needy in Dalarna. That same year, she presented a musical soirée in Linköping and she performed in several concerts in Stockholm the following year. From early on she achieved a prominent position in the Stockholm music scene, and she was elected to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) already in 1841.

The same year Emelie Holmberg founded a music school in Stockholm. In 1843 she travelled together with the writer Julia Nyberg (known under the pseudonym ‘Euphrosyne’) to Paris, where she studied with the pianist Henri Herz. After returning to Stockholm in 1844 she married Peder Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, but after he became ‘financially insolvent’ the couple emigrated to the United States. In February of 1845 she had already arranged a vocal and instrumental concert at the Armory Hall in Washington, in which the then very famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull also took part. Following this successful concert, she toured several major cities in North America including New Orleans, where she received very good reviews. Emelie Holmberg then became organist at St Peter’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where she also founded a philharmonic society. Emelie Holmberg died in Columbia, South Carolina in 1854.

The Holmberg-Hammarskjöld couple had four children, all of which were born in the United States. Two of the daughters were musicians, following in their mother’s footsteps in America. Interestingly, one of the daughters, Heddie Hammarskjöld from Lincoln County, completed her degree as an organist at the educational institution of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien in Stockholm in January of 1859. The justification for approving her examination was that this knowledge could be further used in North America.


Within her genre, Emelie Holmberg was a skilful composer. Only the compositions she published in Sweden are preserved: between 1835 and 1843 five books of songs with piano accompaniment were published. She had a very practical approach to composition. In one of the preserved poems she writes ‘My songs, my tones / are dear children for but a second / they invite pleasantly to the zones of heaven / but die away in a moment (...) Tones on the Lyre sound / to my heart’s peace and comfort / they reach their purpose if they bring / response from another breast / Eternal shall its echo stream / when I myself lie down mute / That if loftier songs dream / in that quiet place of rest.’

In order to ensure the popularity of her songs, Holmberg strove to acquire a universal musical expression. In a letter to Drake, she tells him that she listened to birds so that she could learn ‘their melodies and to try and imitate them in my songs.’

Emelie Holmberg’s songs were written to appeal to the salons of the bourgeois and the young bourgeois girls who after only a few years at a boarding school passed their time with activities such as singing and playing the piano. Thus it was not permissible for the songs to be comprised of difficult piano or vocal parts. Her songs are short, strophic and consist of regular cyclic forms, simple harmonies and accompaniment. Songs such as Pensionsflickorna (Boarding School Girls) and Skolgossarne (The School Boys) reveal Emelie Holmberg’s audience and her view of the sexes. Pensionsflickorna is a solo song in which the singing girl in the text tells of her future life and upcoming marriage. Skolgossarne is a duet, a symbol of a life where the boys work together collectively with other men. The text portrays them in the present, they play and have fun, they learn to ‘spell, read, write, count − only heaven knows what troubles will come’ all to prepare them for their lives as adults outside the home. The songs are characterised by the simple melodies of Swedish songs; several songs include progressions similar to that of folk tunes.

According to the book on notable Sweden women, Anteckningar om svenska qvinnor (1864−66), Emelie Holmberg published seven collections of songs. Only five, however, have been discovered.

Eva Öhrström © 2016
Trans. Thalia Thunander


Berg, P. G. & Stålberg, Wilhelmina: Anteckningar om svenska qvinnor, Stockholm: P.G.Berg, 1864−66.
Elgenstierna, Gustaf: Den introducerade svenska adelns ättartavlor, vol. 3, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1927.
”Emilie Holmberg”, in: Tobias NorlindAllmänt musiklexikon, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1916.
”Emelie Holmberg, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1948−52, 1975−79.
”Emilie Holmberg”, in: Svenska män och kvinnor. Biografisk uppslagsbok, vol. 3, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1946.
Erdmann, Nils: August Blanche och hans samtid, Stockholm, 1892.
Helmer, Axel: Svensk solosång 1850−1890, vol. 1, En genrehistorisk studie, diss., Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1972.
Schmidt, Pia: Kvinnliga tonsättare i Sverige 1800−1935. En verkförteckning, Specialarbete, Högskolan i Borås, 1982.
Ulfsäter-Troell, Agneta: Famna livet - en svensk familjesaga, Stockholm, 1991.
Öhrström, Eva: Borgerliga kvinnors musicerande i 1800-talets Sverige, diss. Göteborg, musikvetenskapliga institutionen, 1987.
Öhrström, Eva: ”Om sociala könsstrukturer i den högre musikutbildningen. En översikt”, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 75, no. 2, 1993, pp. 55−82.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stockholm
Lo I:70:1,2,3,4.

Summary list of works

Songs with piano (e.g. Till skogs en liten fogel flög).

Collected works

Songs for one or more voices composed with accompaniment for Piano-Forte,  dedicated to Mrs. Ulrica Brendler. Stockholm: Björkman, 1835.
New songs with accompaniment composed for Piano-Forte, dedicated to Singer of the Songs with Royal Court, Mr. I Berg Wördandsfullt. Stockholm: Björkman, 1839.
Songs with accompaniment for PIano-forte, composed by Emilie Holmberg and reverently dedicated to Professor at the Royal Swedish Academy of Musik, the revered Mr. E. Drake. Third book. [year of publication missing].
Songs at the Pianoforte by Emilie Holmberg, fourth book. Stockholm: Hirsch 1841.
Nine songs at the Piano-Forte by Emilie Holmberg, Stockholm: Hedbom, 1843.

Works by Emilie Holmberg

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

Number of works: 58