Carl Abraham Mankell (1802−1868)


Carl Abraham Mankell was born on 16 April 1802 in Christiansfeld in Southern Jutland, Denmark, and died on 27 October 1868 in Stockholm. He was a composer, organist, teacher and music scholar, and by the mid-19th century was one of the most important contributors to early Swedish music scholarship. His chief interest as a historian of music his was vocal music, a preoccupation that shows through in his own compositions. He was elected into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1837.

Drawing by Maria Röhl, 1835. (Kungl. Biblioteket)

From Denmark to Stockholm

Carl Abraham Mankell belonged to a German musical family that can be traced back, under the name of Mangold, to a town piper who lived in Umstadt, Hessen, in the first half of the 18th century. Abraham’s father, Johann Hermann (who adopted the surname Mankell) was an organist and music teacher in the Moravian parish in Christiansfeld and later the director of music for the Swedish navy in Karlskrona; his mother, Johanna Maria Keyser, was a Stockholm-born Swede.

Mankell, who received his musical schooling from his father, arrived in Sweden in 1823. He initially ran a varnisher’s workshop in Stockholm and between 1824 and 1827 held a franchise as a manufakturist (a guildsman artisan), but he also devoted some of his time to piano rental and tuning. In 1825 he became the German parish’s organist and a cantor in its school. Mankell received his singing teacher’s and precentorship degree from the educational institution of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademiens (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in January 1826, shortly afterwards becoming cantor for the Klara parish church and school, and, in 1828, its organist. From the 1830s onwards, he held several posts related to music teaching (including at the academy’s educational institution from 1834 to 41) and was a music critic for Svenska tidningen for five years from 1851. In 1838 he formed the Sångförening för kyrkomusik (Singing association for church music), which mainly performed a cappella, and two years later a similar society, Concordia, devoted to profane music sung to the accompaniment of a string orchestra.

His brother, Gustaf Mankell (1812−1880), arrived in Stockholm in 1833 and was made organist for St James’s Church in 1836; before long he was considered one of the nation’s leading organists, and was made organ teacher at the educational institution of the music academy in 1853. In 1835, the brothers held a series of soirées performing older music as members of Sällskapet Tonkonstens vänner (the Society of the Friends of Music). One of their half-brother Emil Theodor Mankell’s sons was the pianist and composer Henning Mankell (1868−1930).

A focus on singing

Abraham Mankell was, above all, an enthusiastic − and enthusing − singing teacher, who used his passion and broad general knowledge to edify people about music of all eras. He took numerous songs and chorales for choirs and arranged them for the classroom, catering for the needs of boys’ schools by using three treble parts (one alto instead of tenor) and a bass in order to exploit the younger boys’ lowest register in a four-part setting.

In the 1830s and 40s, he held ‘spiritual’ or ‘historical’ concerts with his church choir, reviving older church music and promoting so-called ‘rhythmic chorales’. In 1847, he gave a series of public lectures on the history and aesthetics of music, and in 1854 submitted to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien a ‘Proposal for a music-literary class in the capital’, advocating for a thorough education in the long-neglected subjects of music history and aesthetics.

Music-historical works

Mankell’s earliest writings are mainly based on his teaching, with Berättelser ur kyrkomusikens historia (1841) being a kind of supplement to his historical concerts. However, in Blickar i musikens helgedom (1849) he starts to discuss the tension between the simple melody and the artistry of current music, a polarisation that in Sveriges tonkonst och melodiska national-dikt (1853) is affirmed with the words: ‘The art of music is splitting into two very different branches. The one expresses the sensibilities of the heart and vents itself in melody, the other pursues speculation in the realm of the mathematical: it creates contrapuntal works.’ Henceforth, Mankell takes the side of the former ‘branch’ and is thus able to hold composers such as Johan Nordblom, Eric Arrhén von Kapfelman and Erik Gustaf Geijer the equal of, if not superior to, the likes of Mozart or Beethoven. This position he cements in Om sann och falsk deklamation (1862) when declaring, ‘A song’s lyrics −−− are able to place the very language of the music infinitely higher than it otherwise is, in and of itself.’ In his 1865 chorale book he asserts more categorically that ‘in song, the idea expressed, provided that the words are borne aloft with dignity by the music, reaches a height that is unattainable by instrumental music, whatever its nature be.’

This fundamental thesis of Mankell informs almost all his musical works, which are generally compilatory but vigorously written and evincive of his considerable cultivation. His last magnus opus, the three-volume Musikens historia which was published in 1864 − the same year as our first real music encyclopaedia, Leonard Höijer’s − contains a lengthy section on Swedish music, which he treats with striking objectivity and a certain understanding of instrumental works. Typically, however, Franz Berwald is chiefly lauded for his adoption of folk music in Erinnerung an die norwegischen Alpen and his orchestration.

Mankell’s emphasis on the all-overshadowing melodic conceit is evident, for instance, in the paragraph on ‘Sweden’s present song composers’ in which, after his apostrophising of Josephson, Sjögren, Blidberg, Randel, Mathilda Gyllenhaal, Bauck and Isak Berg, he writes:

Even Abr. Mankell has occasionally received by way of gift a real song melody, for example in the hymn to spring ‘Den blida vår är inne’, the songs ‘Du som ej rum på jorden finner’ and ‘Säg, hvar är den vårens ros’ etc. There is no self-vaunting in the above words, for, as has already been noted, a melody is something no man can create or ‘compose’ through his own art or labour; the new motif is a free gift from the kingdom of beauty, and the composer receives it through no merit or worth of his own: one must, indeed, be thankful for such favour.

Musical works

It is no wonder, then, that Mankell’s fairly limited oeuvre is dominated by vocal pieces; although it should, perhaps, be stressed that his many song and choral arrangements in particular derive from his belief in the life-giving and social significance of music and song. This he no doubt inherited from Moravianism, a movement in which music played an essential part. This relationship is all too evident in his sacred songs, both in the cantata Guds lof to lyrics by Johan Olof Wallin with the pastoral hymn-like ‘Då sänkte sig den stilla dal’ and in the similarly hymnic ‘Vid Frälsarens krubba’ (after Matthias Claudius) and ‘Bön’ (‘Du som ej rum …’, Bengt Lidner). The already mentioned hymn to the spring possesses a compelling drive and ‘Hugsvalelsens Källa’ (G.H. Mellin) an optimistic tone, while the brief and almost schematic choral movements included in his Mass betray his interest in older music and even actually contain a kind of rudimentary counterpoint. His few unpublished instrumental works reveal − as do his song accompaniments − a natural self-assurance in the strictly constrained musical form.

However, Mankell’s solo songs were never especially unique. Now in a simple folk-song minor key, now with a slightly fashionable elegance with fioritura, they could never lay claim to any deliberate textual interpretation. This said, he could achieve a degree of intimacy, as in the above-quoted ‘Vår-rosen’ (Mellin) and ‘Wårlängtan’ (F.M. Franzén), while even more neutral melodies to, for example, Wilhelm Bauck’s translation of J.W. von Goethe’s ‘Nähe des Geliebten’ (‘Nearness of the beloved’), Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Thekla’ in A.A. Grafström’s translation, and P.D.A. Atterbom’s ‘Appelgården’ serve their purpose well. In Erik Johan Stagnelius’s ‘Stjernorna’ Mankell surprises with an almost trippingly rapid diction, and with its affected textual underlay the song may be seen more as an original experiment by a composer who otherwise adheres to a highly conventional, orderly phrasing.

Lennart Hedwall © 2015
Trans. Neil Betteridge

Publications by the composer

Harmonia. Anteckningar till befrämjande af en allmännare bildning i musikaliska ämnen, Stockholm: Norstedts, 1833.
Lärobok i musiken, med särskildt afseende på sång, för högre och lägre undervisningsverk,
Upsala 1835, 2nd considerably extended and improved edition, Stockholm, 1857.
Strödda tankar öfver musiken. Ur namnkunniga tyska komponisters och andra konstförfattares skrifter, samlade och utgifna,
Stockholm: Thomson, 1835.
Musikalier till begagnande vid sångundervisningen i skolor och gymnasier,
Stockholm: Lublin, 1835.
Enkla, melodiösa sångstycken för alt- eller låg sopranröst med ett lätt pianoaccompagnement,
Stockholm, 1835.
Kort repetitorium af de ämnen, som förekommit i sånglektionerna,
Stockholm, 1839 [new ed. 1845 and 1856].
Berättelser ur kyrkomusikens historia från kristna tideräkningens början till Händels och Sebastian Bachs period,
Stockholm: Hierta, 1841.
Musikbilagor till Berättelser ur kyrkomusikens historia,
Stockholm, 1844.
Koralbok för folkskolor eller Det förenklade psalmodikon,
Stockholm: Looström, 1844 [later another 7 editions until 1889].
Antik konsert: En melodisk anthologi ifrån århundraden näst före och under medeltiden, i S:t Klara kyrka 1845,
Stockholm, 1845.
W. A. Mozart, Ett bref öfversatt och med några anmärkningar upplyst,
Stockholm, 1845.
Blickar i musikens inre helgedom. Ett bidrag till tonkonstens ästhetik,
Stockholm: Hörberg, 1849.
Koralbok för skolor,
Stockholm, 1849 [2nd ed. 1856].
Några ord om svenska folkvisan,
Stockholm, 1852.
Enkla melodier af prins Gustaf, satta för en sångstämma med pianoforte-accompagnement,
Stockholm, 1852.
Sveriges tonkonst och melodiska national-dikt,
Stockholm: Beckman, 1853.
Enkla melodiska sånger för alt eller lägre sopranröst,
2 books, Stockholm, 1853.
Tonkonstens äldsta häfder, eller musiken hos forntidens hinduer, kineser, egyptier, ebreer, greker och romare,
Stockholm: Marcus, 1854.
‘Förslag till en musikalisk-litterär lektion i hufvudstaden, ingifvet till Kungl. Musikaliska Akademien i juni 1854’,
Stockholm, 1854.
En musiklitterär lektion,
Stockholm, 1854.
‘En återblick på minneskaldernas och mästaresångarnes musikaliska lif’, in: Rosa, vittert album, Stockholm, 1854.
Medeltidens skådespel i kyrkan och på theatern. En forskning,
Stockholm: Hörberg, 1855.
Repetitorium af de ämnen, som förekommit vid sånglektionerna i S:t Jacobs skola i Stockholm, samt 23 choralmelodier för 2 stämmor, till begagnande vid morgon- och aftonbönerna i skolan,
Stockholm, 1856.
‘Carl Michael Bellman’, in: Tidskrift for Musik, Copenhagen, 1858.
Louis Spohr. Tonsättare och virtuos. Ett äreminne,
Stockholm, 1860.
Sveriges herrliga melodier till begagnande vid lägre och högre läroverk, satta i harmoni för 2, 3 eller 4 stämmor, 14 häften,
Stockholm, 1861−84 [new editions 1862−64 and 1904].
Om sann och falsk deklamation,
Örebro: Lindh, 1862.
Den kyrkliga orgelspelningen,
Örebro: Lindh, 1862.
Musikens historia,
del I–III, Örebro: Lindh, 1864.
Svenska psalmboken förenad med dess koraler jemte andra melodiska religiösa sångstycken för kyrkan, skolan och hemmet,
Stockholm: Norstedt, 1865.
Sveriges herrliga melodier till begagnande vid högre och lägre läroverk satta i harmoni för två, tre och fyra stämmor,
Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1861−84.
Svenska folk-melodier satte för två tenor- och två basröster,
Stockholm: C.A. Westberg, n.d.
Sångöfningar af Nordblom och Mankell, med vidsatta påminnelser om ett rigtigt föredrag af licenserna,
Stockholm, n.d.


Blanche, August: ‘Abraham Mankell’, obituary, in: Ny illustrerad tidning, Stockholm, 1868.
‘Abraham Mankell’, in: Minnesbilder, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1872.
Burman, Conny
: Minnen, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1904.
Burman, Eskil
: ‘Den kyrkliga orgelspelningen’, in: Orgelforum, Borås, 1993.
Eliaeson, Åke-Norlind, Tobias
: Tegnér i musiken, Lund: Gleerup, 1946.
Forslin, Alfhild
: Runeberg i musiken, Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet, p. 320
Hedwall, Lennart
: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE-Gebers, 1983.
‘Carl Abraham Mankell’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 25, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1985−87.
Tonsättaren Erik Gustaf Geijer, Stockholm: Edition Reimers, 2001.
Tondiktaren Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, Möklinta: Gidlunds, 2014.
Helmer, Axel
: Svensk solosång 1850-1890, diss. in musicology, Uppsala University, 1972.
Lindberg, Boel
: ‘Och liten Karin tjänte’. Om den äldre episka folkviseskatten i de tidigaste skolsångböckerna’, in: Gamla visor, ballader och rap. Från muntlig förmedling till publicering på nätet. Möklinta 2013: Gidlunds, pp. 203−206.
Moberg, Carl Allan
: Kyrkomusikens historia, Stockholm: Svenska Kyrkans Diakonistyrelses Bokförlag, 1932.
Rydberg, C.H.
: ‘Abraham Mankell’, in: Svea, Stockholm, 1869.
Ternhag, Gunnar:
‘När folkvisor blev sånger för manskör’, in: ‘En alldeles egen och förträfflig National-Musik’. Nio författare om Svenska folk-visor från forntiden (1814−1818), Uppsala 2015: Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien.
Thyssen, A. Pontoppidan (ed.):
Herrnhuter-samfundet i Christiansfeld, Christianfeld, 1984.
Wiberg, Albert:
Den svenska musikhandelns historia, Stockholm: Victor Pettersson, 1955.
Wijkmark, Henning:
Från Nya Elementarskolans ungdomstid, Stockholm: 1928.
Volgsten, Ulrik
: Från snille till geni. Den svenska kompositörsrollens omvandlingar ca 1800−1950 och dess konsekvenser för synen på musik, Stockholm: Parrhesia, 2012.
‘Between Critic and Public. Listening to the Musical Work in Stockholm during the long 19th Century’, in: Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 97, 2015 / Swedish Journal of Music Research, vol. 12, 2015.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Nordiska museet

Summary list of works

Works for choir and orchestra (Mass, Guds lof), piano works (2 and 4 hands), organ works (preludes), songs for one or several voices with piano, choral works.

Collected works

Printed compositions
Three [Swedish] romantic songs with piano-forte accompaniment, dedicated to Ad. Lindblad, ca 1830. 1. Gerdas sang (Grundtvig), 2. Emma (Ling), 3. Vår-rosen (Mellin). [Vår-rosen also in the anthology Enkla melodiska sånger, 1853.]
Mixed songs for soprano, alto, tenor and bass without accompaniment, ca 1830. 1. Choral: Jag vill i all min lefnads gång, 2. Choral: Sälla äro de som sofva, Wiegenlied (‘Friede und Ruh’), 3. Minnet (‘På dig jag tänker’, Goethe, ‘Ich denke dein’), 4. Sorg och hopp (‘Mildt glänser daggen’), 5. Ur en bordssång (‘Glädjen sig speglar’), 6. Källan (‘Du lilla källa’), 7. Andenken (‘Im Sonnenschimmer’), 8. Hoppet (‘Förtrogna hopp!’), 9. Bortresan (‘Om jag far bort’, Choraeus), 10. Dansk visa (‘Midnatsklokken i Taarnet slaaer’).
Three songs with piano accompaniment, 1830s. 1. Har du den glömt? (Grafström), 2. Svärmeri (Wallin), 3. Bön (Lidner).
Poems by Wallin, Franzén and Stagnelius, composed to music, ca 1838. 1. Hemsjukan (Wallin), 2. Wårlängtan (Franzén), 3. Stjernorna (Stagnelius), 4. Fragments from a larger composition (Wallin, Guds lof).
Collected songs at the piano, partly for one, partly for several voices. 1. Vid Frelsarens krubba (after Claudius), 2. Thekla (Grafström after Schiller), 3. Hemsjukan, 4. Hugsvalelsens källa (Mellin), 5. Bortresan, 6. Den bedragnes sång, 7. Emma, 8. Vårhymn, 9. Kyrie, 10. Agnus Dei, 11. Bön.
Hösten, den gröna, den sköna, for song and fortepiano, in: Musikaliskt veckoblad, 1833.
Sång vid demoiselle Sophia B. Bibaus jordfästning i Clara den 10 november (‘Bruten är stafven’, E. Lindberg), 1845.
Vårhymn, i Sveriges herrliga melodier till begagnande vid lägre och högre läroverk, 1870?
Marie Bebådelsehymn (Lidner), Långfredagshymn, Påskhymn och Midsommarhymn, i Svenska psalmboken förenad med dess koraler jemte andra melodiska religiösa sångstycken för kyrkan, skolan och hemmet, 1865.
På Marie bebådelsedag och Bön, in: Album för kyrkosång, publ. by J. Wibergh, 1900.
Påskhymn, in: Ny hymnsamling by F Hjort and H Kabner, 1903.
Fem hymner, in: Hymnarium för SMF, publ. by C. Bohlin 1924
Koralsättningar i Koralbok by Albert Lindström, 1892.

Unprinted compositions
Kleine Orgelpraeludien (also transcriptions).
Quintour, arr. f. piano 4 h., 1832.
Five pieces for orchestra, arr. f. piano 4 h., beginning of 1830s.
Theme of Winter, variations f. piano 4 h., beginning of 1830s.
Variations over a Dalecarlian song, f. piano 4 h., beginning of 1830s.
Adagio religioso for piano and clarinet, 1860.
En liten välment Quartett tillegnad Anna Mankell vid hennes första nattvardsgång [quartet], 1864.
Vierstimmige Gesänge, n.d.
Mass, piano reduction, n.d.
Guds lof, cantata for soli, choir and orchestra (Wallin), score, n.d.