Fredrika Stenhammar (née Andrée) was born on 19 September 1836 in Visby and died on 7 October 1880 in Stockholm. She was the sister of composer Elfrida Andrée. As a soprano she received her vocal education in Leipzig and was employed from 1855 until her death at the Royal Opera, with some short interruptions. During the 1860s she was one of the opera’s most multifaceted and most notable prima donnas. As a composer she wrote songs.
Early years and education in Leipzig
Fredrika Stenhammar’s (née Andrée) parents were the politically liberal provincial doctor, Andreas Andrée of Visby, and his wife Lovisa Lyth. Fredrika’s musical talent was discovered early on and her father trained her from the time she was small to write down her musical ideas. There are two notebooks of her childhood compositions preserved from her years in Visby. Together with her younger sister, Elfrida Andrée (1841−1929), who would later become a composer, Fredrika had a classic upper bourgeoisie upbringing with an emphasis on music and elements of her father’s radical social outlook. The sisters’ education included languages, violin, and harp and they performed early on at the soirées of the Musikaliska sällskapet (Music Society) in Visby.
Since the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) had not yet opened its doors to female students, Fredrika travelled to Leipzig to study at the music conservatory founded by Felix Mendelssohn. She arrived there in the autumn of 1851, studying piano with Ignaz Moscheles and Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel, composition under Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Friedrich Richter and song with ‘Madame’ Schäfer until the spring of 1853. Andreas Andrée had hopes that she would settle on composition, however, already during her second year in Leipzig she spent more of her time on singing and finished her studies at the conservatory in the spring of 1853. She then remained in Leipzig and studied at Schäfer’s opera school. For a short period during 1854−55 she was employed at the opera in Dessau and gave guest performances for the opera companies in both Kassel and Leipzig.
Debut in Stockholm and becoming established
In June of 1855 Fredrika Stenhammar debuted at the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera) in Stockholm in the role of Lady Harriet in the opera Martha by Friedrich von Flotow. During the following year she sang a string of leading roles in the contemporary repertory works by Mozart, Weber, Meyerbeer, Boieldieu and Rossini. She was trained in the German vocal tradition and had an intimate, well-groomed soprano voice that was perfect for the German art songs and German opera. On the other hand, she had problems singing the coloratura of the Italian operas, and in the winter of 1857−58 she spent time in Paris where she studied singing and declamation under Gilbert Duprez and Manuel Garcia’s student Isabelle Bur. She then sought an engagement at the operas in Vienna and Berlin, but without success.
In the autumn of 1859 she was back at the Kungliga Teatern where she sang several major roles, primarily in the German and Italian repertoires, but also others including the role of Estrella in Franz Berwalds Estrella di Soria.
In 1863 she married the opera singer, later a customs officer, Oscar Fredrik Stenhammar (1834−1884), thus joining a large cultural family. Oscar Fredrik’s uncle was the composer Adolf Fredrik Lindblad (1801−1878) and Oscar Fredrik’s brother, the architect Per Ulrik Stenhammar (1829−1875), was the father of composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871−1927). Her employment at the Kungliga Teatern and her marriage to Stenhammar gave Fredrika an important position in Stockholm’s music scene. In 1866 she gave birth to the twins, Elsa och Sigfrid, and Elsa (1866−1960) later came to have a prominent role in the music life of Gothenburg. Fredrika Stenhammar spent the opera season 1867−68 in Copenhagen due to a schism with the leadership of the Kungliga Teatern.
Fredrika Stenhammar’s friends included Ludvig Norman, August Söderman, Halfdan Kjerulf and Edvard Grieg whose songs she performed. However, it was her interpretations of Robert Schumann’s songs that drew the most attention. From the end of the 1860s until her premature death, she had forty to fifty roles in her repertoire. Unlike several of her colleagues at the Kungliga Teatern she reacted positively toward Richard Wagner’s music and during the 1870s became the first Swedish interpreter of the roles of Senta, Elsa and Elisabeth in The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser.
By the end of the 1870s, Fredrika Stenhammar’s voice was exhausted, but despite that she was faithful to the opera and her students. She taught singers such as Olefine Moe, Mathilda Grabow and Gina Oselio. When, on 24 September 1880 Verdi’s Il trovatore was to be performed, despite being ill, she went and sang in order to rescue two debutants from the cancelling of the opera. She died a few weeks later.
Her musical output
Of Fredrika Stenhammar’s creative output as a composer, only five songs were published (by Abr. Lundquist, 1869), and one additional song was printed in the weekly newspaper, Ny illustrerad tidning. A large number of autographs, created both as a child and as an adult, are preserved in the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden) in Stockholm. The five published songs were dedicated to one of her friends, Laura Netzel (1839−1927), who later became a well-known composer. They were probably composed during Fredrika Stenhammar’s time in Leipzig. She chose texts by Heinrich Heine, Emanuel Geibel and Karl Immermann – all German poets, which reinforces the idea that the songs were meant for a German public. Despite the fact that they can be considered compositions from her youth, they are composed in a fully mature Lied style with the same qualities as early songs by Halfdan Kjerulf, Edvard Grieg and August Söderman. The songs have a quality of musical drama that was on a more professional level than several other young women’s compositions from the same time period. Above all one finds a relationship to Söderman’s songs. Söderman also dedicated his collection Digte og Sange from 1871 to Fredrika Stenhammar, which reveals their close friendship.
In 1864 Fredrika Stenhammar became a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) and in 1876 she was awarded the Swedish royal medal, Litteris et artibus.
Eva Öhrström © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson
Hedberg, Frans: Svenska operasångare, Stockholm, 1885.
Helmer, Axel: Svensk solosång 1850−1890. En genrehistorisk studie I−II, diss., Stockholm: Svenskt musikhistoriskt arkiv, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1972.
Norlind, Tobias: Fredrik Stenhammar, in Allmänt Musiklexikon, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1916.
Rootzén, Kajsa: Kvinnorna och musiken, in Ellen Liliedahl (ed.) Svensk yrkeskvinna, Göteborg: Kulturhistoriska förlaget, 1950.
Stenhammar, Fredrika: Brev, Uppsala: Gebers Förlag, 1958.
Stålberg, Carolina Wilhelmina & Per Gustaf Berg: Anteckningar om svenska quinnor, Stockholm: P.G. Berg, 1864.
Öhrström, Eva: Fredrika Stenhammar, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 33, Stockholm 2007−2011.
Öhrström, Eva: Borgerliga kvinnors musicerande i 1800-talets Sverige, diss. Göteborgs universitet, 1987.
Öhrström, Eva: Elfrida Andrée. Ett levnadsöde, Stockholm: Bokförlaget Prisma, 1999.
Summary list of works
Only printed works
Voice and piano
Dalens blomma, 1844. Published in Ny Illustrerad Tidning, 1880, no. 43.
Fem sånger vid piano komponerade af Fredrika Stenhammar, Stockholm: Abr Lundquist, 1869. 1. Granen (Heinrich Heine), 2. Hjertesorg (Emanuel Geibel), 3. Drömmen (Heinrich Heine), 4. Längtan (Karl Immermann), 5. Oförstådd kärlek (Heinrich Heine).