Johan Wikmanson (1753-1800)


Johan (Johannes) Wikmanson, a composer and organist, who was born on 28 December 1753 in Stockholm where he died on 10 January 1800, was one of the premier Swedish-born musicians in the country during the 18th century. He was highly respected as an exceptional organ player and a learned theorist, and during 1771−81 he was employed as the organist at the Dutch Reformed Church, followed by the Storkyrkan. He studied for a time under Georg Joseph Vogler as well as with the composer Joseph Martin Kraus, who became his close friend. In 1788 Wikmanson became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and in 1797 was employed as the director of the academy’s educational institution.


A young, talented, amateur musician

Johan Wikmanson was born on 28 December 1753 in Stockholm where he remained throughout his life. His father, the dyer Johan Wikman, belonged to a family from the island of Gotland, and he was born there. Wikmanson’s mother, Anna Maria Brinckmann, on the other hand, had a German background and came ‘aus Hamburg’. They were married in 1741 and had five children, of which only their son Johan and his younger sister Christina Maria survived childhood.

Godparents at the baptism of their son, Johan, included a ‘Miss Sibylla Sergel’ who was the older sister of the aspiring sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. The Sergel siblings’ father was a gold and silver embroiderer for the royal court, and the Wikman and Sergel families had a long relationship, particularly through their business connection. As a silk dyer, Wikman was able to deliver the multi-colored spools of silk that court embroiderer Sergel needed. The sons of the two families, Johan Wikmanson and Johan Tobias Sergel became close friends who also spent time in the salon of the musically interested city architect, Erik Palmstedt.

But times were hard for trade and industry, particularly the textile industry, and the dyer Wikman, like so many other business owners, was forced to close down his business. Their poverty became such a burden that the family was forced to leave Johan’s younger sister with foster parents – a loving and wealthy family where, in many ways, she was better off than in her parental home.

Her brother Johan, who proved early on to be musically talented, was however signed up ‘for his 9th year’ at Klara secondary school, which was close to home. Song and music lessons were a large part of the curriculum and the students often participated in the choir for high masses and funerals at Klara Church. At the time, the organist for Klara Church was Henrik Philip Johnsen – likely German-born – who had come to Sweden in 1743 as a member of Duke Adolf Fredrik’s German royal orchestra. In Sweden he became the royal court organist and the queen’s teacher in basso continuo, and was known to be a skillful harpsichordist, a prominent improviser on organ and an esteemed teacher of organ performance and counterpoint. During his two years in secondary school Johan Wikmanson successfully followed his adroit teacher’s lessons in keyboard playing and basso continuo.

Despite young Johan’s musical talent and the musical skills he had already acquired, his parents did not dare to allow him to devote himself to music – a path that offered all too few prospects for one compelled to earn a living. Instead, in 1770 he was placed as a trainee with a mathematical instrument maker who was a friend of his father’s in Copenhagen. However, the poor apprentice received no training, suffered destitution and was beaten by his master. By giving private lessons in keyboard playing and with support from home, he was able after a while to return to his homeland.

Organist, public servant and family man

Some time after his return to Stockholm the talented and skilled young musician was employed as an organist at the Dutch Reformed Church – a job he performed so well that in 1781 he was invited to take over the organist post at the Storkyrkan (the Great Church), retaining the job until his death. He soon realized that in order for him to fulfill his duties, he needed to acquire a deeper theoretical knowledge of music. He studied C.P.E. Bach’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen intensively, something that was quickly reflected in his contrapuntal pieces and the harmonies of his keyboard pieces. Of great importance was the opportunity he had to study with two German musicians and opera composers who were part of King Gustav III’s court: organ virtuoso, music theorist and composer Georg Joseph Vogler, and the young composer and hovkapellmästare (chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra) Joseph Martin Kraus, who would become his lifelong friend. Wikmanson thus mastered a profound knowledge of music theory, which led to his being chosen for the job of translating Volger’s Clavér-schola and Giuseppe Tartini’s Trattato delle appogiature into Swedish. During the 1780s he began work on his own chorale book, in which the harmonies were written in the manner of scores – much like Samuel Scheidt’s chorales. Wikmanson even included several chorales for wind instruments that could be used both for military church services and for wind instrument performances from steeples.

Alongside his demanding organ duties Wikmanson was employed by the Kungliga Nummerlotteriet (the Royal Lottery). He was an effective and responsible civil servant and was promoted to a well-paid position as treasurer and clerk. This made it possible for him to build a family. He followed the old custom of marrying his predecessor’s widow, called konservering (widow conservation) – a way of supporting the pension-less widow and receiving a job. The previous organist at Storkyrkan was Johan Öberg, and his wife, Sara Christina Een, was only 21 years old when her husband died in 1781, having been married at most for one year. Her marriage with Wikmanson was, to all appearances, an unusually happy one, especially enriched by the birth of their daughter, Christina, who became the delight her of father’s life, and for whom he composed two four-movement works Fragmenter för min lilla flicka, among other pieces. While working at the Kungliga Nummerlotteriet, Wikmanson also became a colleague and friend of the song composer, Carl Michael Bellman, who also needed a permanent job in order to support his family. Wikmanson set a couple of Bellman’s texts to music: ‘Den oväntade kyssen’ and ‘Häckningen’.

When Johan Wikmanson began his duties as the organist at the Storkyrkan he consistently stressed that the church’s old organ had been in deplorable shape for a long time. He put all of his energy into a thorough refurbishment, but it soon became clear that few of the old organ parts could be used. Instead of costly repairs, a newly built organ was a much better alternative. The Church council then decided that if a new organ were to be built, it ought to be a worthy adornment of the city’s largest church. The formidable responsibility of building this distinguished and expansive instrument was entrusted to the experienced organ builder, Olof Schwan, while the city architect, Erik Palmstedt, designed the organ’s facade. Supervision for the building of the project was given to the Church’s trusted and versatile organist and organ expert, Johan Wikmanson. During the building of the organ he also presented several suggestions for improvements, new construction methods and increasing the number of stops to 56 – which, despite the dramatic increase to the cost, was narrowly approved by the Church council. The Storkyrkan thereby came to have the city’s largest and most distinguished organ.

Through his friendship with the city architect Palmstedt and his social circles, Wikmanson also came to know several of the Gustavian era’s foremost cultural personalities, writers, artists and musicians. Some of his nearest friends included the brothers Fredrik Samuel and Gustaf Abraham Silverstolpe. These contacts led to Wikmanson being elected as a member of the Utile Dulci – one of Sweden’s foremost social orders of the 18th century that was divided into a literary and a musical section (‘Areopagus’). The musical section included a nearly complete symphony orchestra that occasionally shaped gatherings into actual concerts. Within the musical section there was also intense discussion about possible activities that would promote Swedish musical life, which became something of a precursor to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music). Wikmanson was later also elected into the social order, Nytta och Nöje, for which he wrote occasional music, including popular songs and dances, and incidental music for plays.

Wikmanson’s versatility and extraordinary skill as a musician, composer and music theoretician meant that at the end of his life he earned a growing acknowledgement within the musical life of the Gustavian era. In 1788 he became a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien and in 1797 was appointed director of the academy’s educational institution. Music theory, harmony and composition had become pet subjects for the academy and Wikmanson was chosen as the music theory teacher. The teaching of these subjects began in 1797, however Wikmanson unfortunately died shortly thereafter, in 1800. After his death the teaching was focused for the most part on singing classes up until 1814.


Considering all of his duties, Wikmanson had little time left for his own composing. Even so he managed to create a rich output of both instrumental and vocal music. After the murder of King Gustav III, focus on major operas decreased, and they were more often replaced with comic operas that were frequently filled with popular songs. The 18th century, in general, was a time in which a rich variety of popular songs blossomed – songs with new texts set to well known melodies. During visits to Germany, Italy and France, Martin Kraus had become acquainted with a new approach. Poets had earlier written new texts to known melodies – now new melodies were being composed to well known texts. Earlier, one often sang melodies without accompaniment – now the melody was accompanied by a simple arrangement for keyboard. This made popular song more suitable for the music-cultivating bourgeoisie. Kraus was captivated by this new genre and composed about fifty songs, most with German texts, during his visit abroad.

When Olof Åhlström started his music publishing company in 1783, he was primarily interested in larger genres such as opera and sonata forms. The music publication, Musikaliskt tidsfördrif that he began in 1789 was still printing arias and overtures, but was also offering variety with dance music, popular and art songs. In actuality, there were no newly composed popular Swedish songs to publish in 1789, but several composers started to become interested in the genre. Three of the more important song composers – Wikmanson, Åhlström and Johan Fredrik Palm – wrote their first songs in 1789. At that time Åhlström began a special series of publications containing solely newly composed popular songs, Skaldestycken satte i music, whose first instalment was published in 1794.

The reasons for this success are several. These songs required a keyboard instrument, and the bourgeoisie and nobility were now a large public who had access to the instrument. In addition, excellent song texts were available to Swedish composers thanks to Frans Michael Franzén, Johan Henric Kellgren and above all Anna Maria Lenngren, who anonymously published a number of texts in the newspaper Stockholms Posten.

Music publisher Åhlström realized that the keyboard instrument’s relatively common presence in the home served exceptionally well for more modest entertainment. As a test of this trend within his customer base, he wrote a string of unostentatious sonatas and sonatinas for solo piano or with violin. Kraus left behind two voluminous keyboard sonatas intended for fortepiano and Wikmanson made several contributions to keyboard music. Included among them are two sonatas as well as the three-movement Divertissement på Söderfors (the Grill family, owners of the property in Söderfors and wholesale suppliers, were among Wikmanson’s patrons). The most remarkable were the two four-movement pieces, Fragmenter för min lilla flicka, written for his daughter Christina. ‘Fragmenterna’ are in reality sonatas that are stylistically close to Viennese classicism; they are not particularly formulated for keyboard, however, thematically and structurally, they are well crafted.

Wikmanson’s most important compositions include his string quartets. Most notable from an artistic point of view is the String quartet no. 1 in D minor. The slow movement has an imposing grandeur, behind which are influences from Haydn and even Gluck. Kraus was impressed by Gluck’s music and may have transmitted it to Wikmanson.

Of Wikmanson’s five or six string quartets, three were given out posthumously in 1801 by his old friend, G.A. Silverstolpe. It is likely that the pieces were written while the composer was still developing his skills as they are somewhat uneven, despite the fact that technically and structurally the movements are all generally formulated very well. Haydn stands as a role model, exemplified in different ways, and Wikmanson has in fact managed to replicate the progressions of Austrian ländler dance music.

The skillfully executed slow variations in the String quartet no. 2 in E minor were likely written with Haydn’s ‘Emperor’ as a model, which would hardly be apparent to the normal listener. This becomes clear only through a comparative analysis. Haydn’s as yet unpublished variations were probably conveyed to Wikmanson through his patron, Fredrik Samuel Silverstolpe, who was in Vienna as a diplomat.

Anna Ivarsdotter 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Emmoth, MarkWikmansons A-durkvartett och dess relation till opus 1: autenticitet, kronologi och kvalitet, 10-point thesis in musicology at the 60-point level, Stockholm University, Musikvetenskap, 2001.
Eppstein, Hans: ‘Om Wikmansons stråkkvartetter’, in: Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 53, 1971.
−−−: ‘Instrumentalmusiken’, in: Musiken i Sverige II, Stockholm: Fischer & Co., 1993.
Hammar, Bonnie & Eppstein, Hans: ‘Om Johan Wikmansons återfunna stråkkvartett i A-dur’, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 60:2, 1978.
Lessing, Walter: Drei Schwedische Komponisten: Franz Berwald, Johan Wikmanson, Wilhelm Stenhammar, Baden-Baden, 1990.
Ljung, Håkan: Förklassik för knäppinstrument: en studie kring en sonat för cittra av Johan Wikmanson, thesis in musicology, Uppsala University, 2008.
Mörner, C.-G. Stellan: Johan Wikmanson und die Bruder Silverstolpe: einige Stockholmer Persönlichkeiten im Musikleben des Gustavianischen Zeitalters, diss. (lic. avhandling) in musicology, Uppsala University, 1953.
Silverstolpe, Gustaf Abraham: Åminnelse-tal öfver Johan Wikmanson kamererare vid kongl. numer-lotteriet /…/ Hållet i kongl. Musikaliska akademiens sammankomst den 15 febr. 1801, Stockholm, 1801.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Kungl. Biblioteket Stockholm, Uppsala University Library.

Summary list of works

Incidental music, orchestral works (Menuetto allegro), chamber music (5 string quartets, 2 string duets), piano music (2 sonatas, Divertissement på Söderfors Fragmenter för min lilla flicka, etc.), songs, etc.

Collected works

Menuetto allegro for orchestra

String duets
Solo af Vikmansson, C major
Solo af Vikmansson, D major

String quartet
String quartet in B-flat major [G minor?] [only the viola part is preserved].
String quartet in D minor (from Tre Quartetter för Två violiner, Alt och Violoncelle. Dedicated to Joseph Haydn. Composed by Johan Wikmanson Musikälskare Op. 1 [op. 1 no. 1).
String quartet in B-flat major (from Tre Quartetter för Två violiner, Alt och Violoncelle. Dedicated to Joseph Haydn. Composed by Johan Wikmanson Musikälskare Op. 1 [op. 1 no. 3]).
String quartet in E minor (from Tre Quartetter för Två violiner, Alt och Violoncelle. Dedicated to Joseph Haydn. Composed by Johan Wikmanson Musikälskare Op.1 [op. 1 no. 2).
String quartet in A major pour Deux Violons, Alto et Violoncelle.

Divertissement på Söderforss, dedicated to Mrs. A.J. Grill. 1784.
Fragmenter för min lilla flicka, 2 vol., ca 1790.
Romance, (= movement 2 from the string quartet in op.1 no. 3).
Theme (with 7 variations).
Thema senza variationi, incomplete.
Sonata C major [last movement of Hönshuset]
Sonata B minor.

Organ or keyboard

Cittra /= Swedish lute/
Sonate för En Zittra Solo

Incidental music
Offer choeur for the operetta Äfventyraren, 1790, 1791
Final for the operetta Eremiten, 1798
Recitative and aria from the music for a play for Nytta och nöje, 1799
Syskon af vänskapens heliga röst, choir with string orchestra
Menuetto allegro for orchestra

Songs with keyboard
Sammelsurium af Wisor och Små Sångstycken (= Visboken). Includes Den oväntade kyssen (C.M. Bellman), 1791, Häckningen (C.M. Bellman), 1792
Also melodies and songs to texts by A.M. Lenngren, F.M. Franzén and German and French poets, some printed in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif 1789, 1793 and 1806 and in Skaldestycken satte i musik, no. 4, 1795, including Jorden af Skaparen nydanad låg, Lärde med fåfäng kunskap blänka, Han, som en dag skall verlden döma, Det bör ej någon plåga ge.

Works by Johan Wikmanson

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

Number of works: 11