John Jacobsson (1835−1909)


John (Jacques) Jacobsson, born on 2 August 1835 in Stockholm and died in the same place on 4 June 1919, was a music dealer, composer and organist. He was employed at Edvard Josephson’s music business in 1849, was the owner of that business during 1861−1876 as well as Edvard Josephson’s piano and organ store from 1870 until 1898. He became a music dealer for the royal court in 1870 and was an organist at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm during 1870−1890. As a composer he was recognised during his lifetime for his numerous songs. In 1866 he was awarded the Swedish royal medal Litteris et artibus, and in 1888 he became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

Background, studies and time as a music dealer

John Jacobsson was the son of the clothing manufacturer, Herman Jacobsson and his wife Sare (neé Assur), and grew up in a Jewish home with strong musical interests. He received his basic music education from his mother who was a singer – having been the student of the singing master for the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera), Carl Magnus Craelius. In 1849 he was employed at Edvard Josephson’s music and piano store. Josephson introduced Jacobsson to Ludvig Norman who gave him lessons in composition, harmony and piano. Jacobsson also studied organ with Gustaf Mankell and, for a short time, was a composition student of Franz Berwald. Because he was working, he was not able to study at the conservatory and so pursued his music studies privately.

John Jacobsson eventually took over and successfully ran the whole of Josephson’s music business; the music dealership in 1861 and the piano store in 1870. Beginning in 1870 he was also named a music dealer for the Swedish royal court. His yearly music business trips abroad gave him the opportunity to familiarise himself with contemporary music trends on the European continent. During trips to Germany he also pursued his studies in composition with the orchestra conductor, Gustav Schmidt. In 1876 Jacobsson sold his music business to Georges Wilhelm Beer, but retained the piano store.

Work for the Mosaic congregation

During 1870−90 John Jacobsson was the organist and choir leader for the Mosaic (Jewish) congregation in Stockholm where he composed liturgical music for Jewish worship services. At the time, most of Stockholm’s Jewish families had roots in Germany. Through these family connections and professional networks within German-speaking Europe, they had an important role as purveyors of cultural trends from the continent to Sweden. Jacobsson was the first organist for the new synagogue, located on Stockholm’s Wahrendorffsgatan, and he composed a cantata for the 1870 inauguration.

The Jewish congregation in Stockholm was strongly reform-oriented, closely linked to the liberal German-Jewish reform movement of the time. The organ, which has no place in traditional ‘orthodox’ synagogues, was a powerful symbol for the efforts of modernization that were aimed at developing a liturgy that used art music as a starting point – often in stark contrast to the esthetic of traditional cantorial singing. Jacobsson seems to have associated himself to the liturgical forms that were influenced by the famous Viennese cantor, Salomon Sulzer, which the congregation considered exemplary. After twenty years of service, Jacobsson was dismissed on 2 March 1890 after a dispute with a choir member. The congregation’s records show that Jacobsson had long had tense relationships with the leadership as well other associates in the congregation.

Besides these facts about Jacobsson’s career, information about him as a person and a musician is scant. He was a member of the Par Bricole society, which suggests that he willingly participated in a musical social life. However, in general it seems that he lived a withdrawn life as a bachelor, mainly devoting himself to his many musical activities – with which, not the least through his music business, he had an important role in the musical life of Stockholm.

The Composer Jacobsson

John Jacobsson’s creative productivity reflects many of the stylistic impulses that reached Swedish music life after the middle of the 19th century – mainly from Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann – but also from contemporary Scandinavian composers. Perhaps his least remarkable compositions are his chamber music works, which are well done, but fairly conventionally formulated. Jacobsson became known largely through his songs. In these songs, his versatility and ability to create a renewed expression comes out. Development of style, among others a deepened application of Schumman’s stylistic tools, can be followed in the reworking of certain works.

Virtually all branches of the genre are represented in Jacobsson’s output: songs written in folk style, comic songs, large arranged ballad works, mood-creating emotional songs. To a large extent, he used texts from German authors. Not least of all, through his focus on contemporary German music and through his transformations of impulses from that direction in his work, Jacobsson is one of the most representative agents for the wide spreading of trends in music of his time. This also applies to his activities within the Stora synagogan in Stockholm. It can be noted here that Jacobsson also composed Catholic sacred music – a mass and a musical setting of a passage from Stabat mater (‘Quando morietur …’).

Anders Hammarlund © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Helmer, Axel: Svensk solosång 1850−1890, diss., Stockholm: Svenskt musikhistoriskt arkiv, 1972.
Helmer, Axel: ‘John Jacobsson’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 20, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1973−75.
Glimstedt, Herman: ‘John Jacobsson’, in: Svenska män och kvinnor, vol. 4, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1948.
‘John Jacobsson’ [obituary], Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 29, 1909.
Wiberg, Albert: Den svenska musikhandelns historia, Stockholm: Svenska musikhandlareföreningen, 1955.
Åkerberg, Erik: Musiklifvet inom Par Bricole 1779−1890: biografiska skizzer och anteckningar, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1910.

Summary list of works

Operetta (Ungmors kusin), orchestral works (overtures, marches, celebratory music etc.), chamber music (string quartet, piano quartet, piano trio etc.), piano works, church music (Catholic mass, etc.), Jewish liturgical music, songs (ca. 130, with piano accompaniment, some with orchestra), choral works.

Collected works

Sommarminnen, overture (unprinted).
Festmarsch performed at the exposition hall 23 July 1866, printed 1866.
Förmälningspolonaise, printed 1869.
Victoria-marsch, printed 1881.
Bröllopsmarsch for the Silver wedding anniversary of their majesties King Oscar II and Queen Sophia 6 June 1882, printed 1882.
Festpolonaise for the anniversary ball for his majesty the King 22 January 1889, printed 1888.
Bayader-dans ur baletten Irma (Musik för hemmet, vol. 1, h. 8, December 1889.
Festmarsch in celebration of King Oscar II’s anniversary as regent 18 Sept 1897, printed 1897.

Chamber music
Piano quartet D minor op. 7 (n.d.).
String quartet, 1865.
Piano trio F major, 1867.
Tre stycken for clarinet, viola and piano, 1895.
Tre stycken for clarinet and piano, 1899.

Tre pianostycken op. 3, printed 1857.
Sex pianofortestycken, printed 1860.
Valse caprice, printed 1866.
Albumblad op. 13, printed 1866.
Le réve du bonheur (Nocturne romantique), printed 1867.
Tre pianofortestycken op. 22, printed 1877.
Miniatyrbilder op. 38, h. 1−2, printed ca 1893.
A few works are also printed in anthologies and magazines. There are also a number of unprinted works, sketches and arrangements.

Ungmors kusin, operetta in 1 act (E. Wallmark), performed at the Royal Opera, Stockholm 13 Oct.−26 Nov. 1868 [from this operetta Sånger … was printed, 1868].

Church music and cantatas
Catholic mass for soli, choir and organ, at the latest 1864.
Agnus dei for soprano and orchestra. n.d.
Quando corpus morietur for soli, choir and organ, dedicated to Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Sveriges fana (H. Sätherberg) for soli, men’s choir and orchestra op. 27, 1880−81.

Jewish liturgical music
Cantata (‘Ljuva äro dina boningar’), performed 16 September 1870 at the installation of the new synagogue in Stockholm.
Keduscha: Narizach venakdi …, for organ and one voice. Dedicated to the cantor G. Rosenberg 1877.
Am Sabbath Abend for 4-part choir and organ, 1884. 1. Tov lehodos ladonai, 2. Am Sabbathmorgen (‘Ki mi zion…’), Solo Qvartett Orgel ad lib. ‘Lecho ado noi …’, 3. Gesang für die Hingeschiedenen (‘Adonoi mo Odom…’).

Ca 130 solo songs, some with orchestral accompaniment. A few works were printed in anthologies and several songs with texts in Swedish, German and Hebrew are in manuscript. Printed collections:
[2] Spiritual songs h. 1 (n.d.).
[6] songs h 1, 1857.
[4] romances op. 5, 1862.
Four songs op. 6, 1864.
Four poems by C[arl] op. 8, 1864, 2nd ed. 1866.
Four songs op. 9, ca 1864.
5 songs op. 12, 1866, 2 nd ed.  1870.
Ljungblommor op. 14, h. 1, 1867, h. 2, 1868, h. 3, 1876, h. 4, 1878).
[4] new songs op. 15, 1869.
3 songs op. 16, 1869.
Gammalt och nytt, 1871.
Five songs op. 18, 1872.
[4] poems by W von Braun, 1872−73.
Four songs op. 19, 1873.
Four new songs op. 21, 1876.
Five songs op. 23, 1876.
Three songs op. 25, ca 1881.
Five new songs op. 30, 1883.
Four songs op. 31, 1883.
Three songs, 1883.
Four songs op. 33, 1885.
Two songs from Fahrendes Volk op. 36, 1887.
Saga på kämpens hög op. 36 [same opus number as the previous], 1889).
Three poems by Oscar Fredrik op. 38, 1889.
Ur min portfölj, 1892).
7 selected songs and melodies, 1892.
Two melodies by M B-d [M Berwald], 1876−77?

Hemliga budskap (E. von Qvanten) and Tonen (B. Bjørnson) op. 39 for women’s choir and piano.
[4 choir melodies:] 1. Minne-lied, 2. Kom tillbaka (B.E. Malmström), 3. Vore en fågel jag och Källan (A.T. Gellerstedt), 4. Till en fågel (J.L. Runeberg; dat. 1880). Printed in Damernas musikblad 1903, h. 3, also as a solo song op. 21:2.
Våren, 4 tone images for mixed choir and solo with piano, printed Kristiania n.d.
4 songs, for men’s voices, 1872. Eight four-part songs for men’s voices op. 27. 1882.
A number of works in manuscript, including pieces entered into compositions under the pseudonymn ‘Ola Stengrimson’.

Works by John Jacobsson

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

Number of works: 13