Isidor Dannström (1812−1897)


Johan Isidor Dannström, b. 15 December 1812, d. 17 October 1897, was an important singer and teacher who was also a composer. He was considered, alongside Jenny Lind, as the leading singer at the Royal Opera in the years 1841−44. He was a singing teacher in Stockholm from 1845−86. His book Sång-metod (published 1849, revised 1876) drew considerable attention. His best-known pupils include the opera singers Louise Michaëli and Signe Hebbe. He was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1851. He composed many songs, and one of his collections was awarded a prize by the Swedish Art Music Society in 1876.

(Svenskt Porträttarkiv)

Early years and studies in Sweden

Johan Isidor Dannström was born on 15 December 1812 in Stockholm. His parents were the appraiser Anders Dannström and his wife Charlotta Lovisa Rönnqvist. Skills in music came from his mother’s side of the family, and Isidor Dannström grew up with three brothers and two sisters in a musical home. Dannström’s good singing voice and skills in music were first noticed when he was a pupil at Jakobs högre apologistskola (his lower secondary school in Stockholm) from 1821−25. As a fourteen year old he began classes at the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) including harmony and counterpoint with Erik Drake and singing with Johan Nordblom (1826−29). In addition, Dannström played the guitar, the lute, and the flute.

In 1829 Dannström’s father, against his son’s will, decided that Isidor should dedicate himself to a career in business. Dannström spent four tough years working in an office. At the same time he taught singing, guitar and flute. In this way, he made enough money and clients to resign from his post, despite his father’s protests, and devote himself to music. He resumed his lessons in harmony and counterpoint with Drake and started to study singing with Isak Berg, the Kungliga Teatern’s sångmästare (head of singing at the Royal Opera). In 1836 he published his first song, ‘Romance’. In the same year he published two songs in a collection. These compositions paid such good dividends that he was able to begin an educational trip to Europe which would last for four years.

Studies on the Continent, and being a part of the Kungliga Teatern’s golden age

In the years 1837−38 Dannström studied harmony and counterpoint with Siegfried Dehn in Berlin, and joined the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin as a soloist and chorister. In Berlin he also became acquainted with Felix Mendelssohn. In 1839 Dannström studied at the music conservatoire in Bergamo where he trained as a singing teacher with Girolamo Forini. At the same time he gave lessons himself and gave performances as both singer and conductor in predominantly Roman Catholic churches to maintain his travel funds. From Bergamo he travelled to Paris to study Italian art song at the Théâtre Italien. Dannström particularly admired the tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, but also named the singers Giulia Grisi, Fanny Persiani, and Luisi Lablache as significant sources of inspiration. He then gave an acclaimed series of concerts in Warsaw and Krakow, before returning home in 1841 to a position as a singer with the Kungliga Teatern in Stockholm.

Dannström can be counted among the elite artists of the golden age of the Kungliga Teatern in 1841−44, along with Jenny Lind, Mathilda Gelhaar, Giovanni Belletti, and Julius Günther. In January 1893 the editor and publisher of the Swedish music journal Svensk Musiktidning gave the following judgment of Dannström’s operatic career: ‘Dannström’s baritone was neither great nor wide-ranging but even and sonorous, extremely well schooled and thus capable of the finest modulations; any song part, which he always executed artistically, won universal approval; his acting prowess was likewise extraordinarily outstanding. [...] He even succeeded in comic roles.’

Further training: towards Sång-metod

Dannström left the Kungliga Teatern in 1844, at the same time as Jenny Lind. Inspired by her, he made his way to Paris to train with one of the era’s foremost singing teachers, Manuel García (1805−1906). Dannström was greatly influenced by García and when he returned to Stockholm after one year it was principally in order to teach and compose, activities which he continued until 1886. From that time on, he travelled approximately once a year in order to keep himself up to date with developments in singing in Europe.

In 1849 his Sång-metod (singing method) was published for the first time. He continued to work on it, and an enlarged edition was published in 1876. This was considered at the time to be the most thorough singing textbook to have been written in Swedish. He spent some short stints working as a music critic for various Swedish newspapers: for Dagligt Allehanda and Aftonposten in 1848−49, and for Aftonbladet in 1854−55. In 1851 he was elected to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien. In 1853 he married Betty Natalia Boije af Gennäs (1822−1854). In the same year the couple set out on a long voyage to the USA where Dannström gave a concert tour and taught singing. After a year he was forced to cut the trip short due to his wife’s becoming ill. She died soon after their return to Sweden.

The last decades

In 1855 Dannström published a book of advice for emigrating Swedes. In 1858 he married Gustava Rosalie Åkerman (1834−1902). In 1856 Dannström founded a musical instrument business, and from then on had less time for his composing which became restricted to the summer months. In 1876 he was awarded the Musikaliska konstföreningen (the Swedish Art Music Society) prize for one of his song collections. Between 1857 and 1892 he was a fellow of the Dramatiska och musikaliska artisternas pensionsförening (the Swedish association for retired dramatic and musical performers). In 1876 he was awarded the Vasaorden (the Order of Vasa, an award of merit conferred by the Swedish monarch). Dannström retired from both his instrument business and his work as a singing teacher in 1886. His autobiography Minnesanteckningar (memoranda) was published in 1896, a year before his death on 17 October 1897 in Stockholm.

Works: songs

Dannström wrote several comic operas and operettas. Skomakaren och hans fru premiered at the Mindre teatern in 1847, Herr och fru Tapperman at the Djurgårdsteatern in 1848. Doktor Tartaglia was written for the Kungliga Teatern in 1851. This operetta was later turned into Crispinos giftermål and premiered at the Stora teatern in Gothenburg in 1878. In 1861 his Lordens rock was performed at Djurgårdsteatern. Dannström had little success with his music-theatrical works, however. He himself wrote: ‘For the stage I have left but a few insignificant works.’

He had greater success with his individual songs and works for solo singers, duets, or small ensembles. ‘As a singer himself, his work as a composer principally leaned towards songs’, wrote Frans Huss in his obituary of Dannström in Svensk Musiktidning in November 1897. Dannström himself observed in his memoirs that ‘the human voice is the most perfect of all musical instruments’. And it can be clearly seen in his compositions that he himself was a singer. He has a feel for the song phrase, both in text and melody, and on high notes he principally uses the vowels a, ä, and ö which are relatively easy to sing high without going sharp. García’s strong influence on Dannström is perhaps most visible in Sång-metod. Several of Dannström’s practice exercises are essentially identical with García’s.

Dannström leaned towards the Swedish song tradition of his time which was inspired by the German Lied tradition. Several of Dannström’s songs are simple, both harmonically and melodically, in a manner which makes them suitable for the amateur performers of the time. His work also shows influences from the Italian bel canto tradition. His harmonic language is likewise typical of his time: the expressive melodies with small harmonic deviations where dissonances often comprise of passing accidentals and chromaticisms are also found in operatic works of the nineteenth century, as are broken chords in the accompaniments which are typical of Bellini’s operas.

Vocally, several of his songs require a comparatively large range and the tessitura is considered relatively high. Dannström was able to apply simple means to make a song appear virtuosic. He used large leaps, small cadences, and turns, and his melodies build up towards a high point with the upper tones sounding at the end. In the cadence to the duet ‘Rataplan’ both voices take turns but finish together, which requires precision from the performers. Several of Dannström’s songs are miniature dramas, as with other vocal music of the era. Operatic works and salon music are often intimately connected in nineteenth-century vocal music, and in this Dannström is typical of his time.

Ingela Tägil © 2014
Trans. Kate Maxwell

Publications by the composer

Sång-method innefattande etuder, skalor, arpeggier m. m. dels ny-komponerade, dels samlade utur de förnämsta europeiska sånglärarnas arbeten, jemte beskrifning om dessa öfningars ändamålsenliga användande, Utarbetad af Isidor Dannström, Stockholm: Norstedts, 1849 [revised and extended edition Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1876].
Från Sverige till Amerika. Råd och upplysningar för landsmän som ämna utflytta till den nya verlden; dels bearbetade från tyskan, dels efter egna iakttagelser samlade under en resa i norra Amerika åren 1853−1854, Stockholm: Beckman, 1855.
Några blad ur Isidor Dannströms minnes-anteckningar, Stockholm: Centraltryckeriet, 1896.


Bohlin, Folke: Dannström, (Johan) Isidor, in The new Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 5, London: Macmillian Publisher Limited, 1980, p. 230.
Dahlgren, Fredrik August
: Johan Isidor Dannström, in Anteckningar om Stockholms theatrar, Förteckning öfver svenska skådespel uppförda på Stockholms theatrar 1737−1863 och Kongl. theatrarnes personal 1773−1863, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1866, p. 487.
Enquist, Inger
: Stamböcker i Musikmuseets arkiv, in Dokumenterat : bulletin från Statens musikbibliotek. 2008 (no. 40), pp. 16−29.
Helmer, Axel
: Svensk solosång 1850–1890, vol. 1, En genrehistorisk studie, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1972.
Svensk solosång 1850−1890, vol. 2, Sångförteckning, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1972, pp. 18−21.
Huss, Frans J.
: Isidor Dannström, in Svensk Musiktidning, 2 Jan. 1893, Stockholm: Bergs boktryckeri 1893.
Isidor Dannström, in Svensk Musiktidning, 1 Nov. 1897, Stockholm: Kôersners Boktryckeri-Aktiebolag, 1897.
Lewenhaupt, Inga
: Sångstudier för Isidor Dannström och Dannströms sångmetod, in Signe Hebbe (1837−1925) Skådespelerska operasångerska pedagog, diss. in performance studies, Stockholms universitet, 1988, pp. 22−23 and pp. 23−26.
Liljas Juvas, Marianne
: 'Vad månde blifva af dessa barnen?' En studie av David Björlings pedagogik och dess bakgrund i äldre sångundervisningstraditioner, diss. i musikpedagogik, Stockholms universitet och Kungl. Musikhögskolan, 2007, pp. 150−151.
Norlind, Tobias
: Dannström, Johan Isidor, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 10, Stockholm: Albert Bonniers förlag, 1931, pp. 268−276.
Dannström, Johan Isidor, in Allmänt Musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm, 1916, pp. 180−181.
Dannström, Johan Isidor, in Allmänt Musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1927, pp. 255−256.
Sundström, Einar
: Dannström, Johan Isidor, in Sohlmans musiklexikon vol. 2, Stockholm: Sohlmans förlag, 1948, pp. 1037−1038.
Dannström, Johan Isidor, in Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Sohlmans förlag, 1975, p. 196.
Svensk biografiskt lexikon, new progression, vol. 3, Örebro: N. M. Lindhs boktryckeri, 1859−60, pp. 168−169.
Tägil, Ingela
: Jenny Lind, Röstens betydelse för hennes mediala identitet. En studie av hennes konstnärskap 1838−49, diss. in musicology, Örebro universitet, pp. 87−106.
Åhlén, Carl-Gunnar:
 Operasång på svenska − en studie i de svenska sångskolornas utvecklingshistoria, i Operan − Röster från Stockholmsoperan under 100 år. Stockholm: Kungliga Teatern, 1977, pp. 17−21.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket

Summary list of works

4 operettas (Skomakaren och hans fru, Herr och fru Tapperman, Doktor Tartaglia, Lordens rock), songs (including Duellanterna for bass, tenor and piano).

Collected works

Skomakaren och hans fru. First performed at Mindre teatern, Stockholm, 1847.
Herr och fru Tapperman. First performed at. Djurgårdsteatern, Stockholm, 1848.
Doktor Tartaglia. First performed at Kungl. Teatern, 1851, rev. under the title Crispinos giftermål, Nya Teatern in Gothenburg, 1878.
Gibby, 1850s. Destroyed.
Lordens rock. First performed at Djurgårdsteatern, Stockholm, 1861.

Other stage works
Lordens rock, comedy with song. First performed at Djurgårdsteatern, Stockholm, 1861.

Piano works
Favorit march. Stockholm: Engelbrecht, n.d.
Axevalla march. Stockholm, n.d.
La sympathie. Grande valse et deux mazurques favorites op. 11. Stockholm, n.d.
La parisienne. Mazurka op. 18. Stockholm, n.d.
Souvenir de Varsovie. Deux polonaises et quatré mazurques. Stockholmn, n.d.

Works for voice (s) and piano

Romance ('Älskade flicka'). Stockholm: Hedbom, 1843 [latest].
Ett råd i dansen ('Flickor glädtigt yra'), n.d.
Three songs op. 5. Stockholm: Hedbom, 1837. 1. Förändringen ('Ack, hur var min dag ej öde'), 2.  Jägaren och Mjölkflickan ('Än rörs ej flitens hand på plogen'), 3. Till Sångmön ('Om på ängen rosen mig förtjusar').
Four songs op. 7, Stockholm: Hirsch, 1843 [latest]. 1. God och ond ('Retande flicka! Du småler så sött'), 2. Den älskades öga ('Ack låt mig i ditt milda öga skåda'), 3. Erotiskt svärmeri ('Du ger mig lifvet, du ger mig döden'), 4. Gondolier Sång ('Upp Sjöman till hafs nu skynda dig').
Songs op. 9, Stockholm: Hirsch, 1848 [latest]. 1. Romance from Maria Tudor ('När du bredvid mig sitter'), 2. Motgången ('Malins milda öga'), 3. Farväl till Hilma ('Farväl, farväl! O, om jag finge'), 4. Den blinde violinspelaren ('Hör på hur violen klingar'), 5. Duo på hafvet ('Solen i hafvets våg').
Songs op. 12. Stockholm: Hirsch, 1843/44? 1. Sången ('Hör hur tonerna sig höja'), 2. De tre kyssarne ('På den klara fensterrutan'), 3. Den döende Grenadieren ('Rundt omkring nejden der striden sågs rasa'), 4. Då jag dig ser och hör ('Om jag mitt öga höjer'), 5. Bekännelsen ('Ständigt söker ditt öga mig').
Newer songs op. 15. Stockholm: Rylander, 1846? 1. Amor och flickan ('Se liten Amor bland blomstren'), 2. Skomakarens visa ('Det finns en man bland stadens män'), 3. Den övergifna ('Han grymt mig bedrog'), 4. Duo ('Wår sällhet och vår trefnad').
Songs op. 15, book 7, Stockholm: Hirsch, 1848? 1. Wore jag en blomma ('Vore jag en blomma, ack huru gerna'), 2. Här vill jag dö med dig ('På dessa stränder Ack!'), 3. Med henne på Wågen. Barcarolle ('Julle uppå fjärden'), 4. Hösten ('Blommorna vissna och löfven ses falla'), 5. L'Inqiétude ('Que peut-elle faire?').
Four songs op. 19, book 8. Stockholm: Hirsch, 1849. 1. Ave Maria ('Ave Maria. Fläckfri och ren'), 2. Tyrolarens hemkomst ('Ljufliga toner. Hur I berusen'), 3. Gamla Minnen ('Lulilej! Just idag'), 4. Flickor, jag beder, akten blott eder.
Newest songs op. 22, book 9. Stockholm: Rylander, 1850? 1. Eternellen ('Wår och ungdom kransar binda'), 2. Wisa ('Skomakrens handtverk är likväl'), 3. Toffeltaktiken ('Ja hustrun bör minsann, som lätt man kan begripa'), 4. Romans och Duo ('Allt slumrar stilla, naturen tider').
Songs op. 23, Stockholm: Rylander, 1850? 1. Otålighet ('Den grymme! Än han dröjer'), 2. Es tu la saeur des anges ('Du englars milda syster'), 3. Fiskare-Sång ('Lustigt framåt på gungande stråt'), 4. Wandraren ('I den molndigra natt'), 5. Warningen ('Flickor sakta!').
Songs, words and music by Isidor Dannström, book 11. Stockholm: Rylander & komp., [after 1849]. 1. Till den döende Blomman ('Blomma, din fägring tjuste mig'), 2. Slumrerskan efter Balen ('Låt mig slumra, låt mig drömma'), 3. Serenaden ('Blomman så lugnt omsider').
Sång vid Högtsalig prins Gustafs död (Prinds Gustafs Hjemgang) ('Höstens tårar se de falla'). Stockholm: Norstedt, 1852.
Vier Lieder, op. 25, book 2. Berlin och Breslau: Bote & Bock, ca 1852. 1. Liebesnoth ('Malchens milde Augen'), compare op. 9:2, 2. Der blinde Geigenspieler ('Hört zu! Wie die Geige klinget!'), compare op. 9:4, 3. Heimkehr ('Heimat der Lieben'), compare op. 19:2, 4. Wie so schön! ('Dich möcht' ich immer fragen'), compare op. 23:2.
Svärmeri ('Här uti skygd af de grönskande lunder'), 1859.
Songs, book 12, Stockholm: Hirsch, 1855. 1. Zigeunar sång ('Usveralulili'), 2. Gurli, jag varnar dig! ('Om du i tysta natten vill gå till berget ner'), 3. En blick tillbaka. Melodien af Fru Betty Dannström, född Boye ('När i vaggan första gången'), 4. Du vet väl hvem, du vet väl hvad? ('Glänste morgon öfver sunden'), 5. Den unge munken ('Ja, jag dig svor att allt försaka'), 6. Rataplan, Duo.
Tre skogsblommor från Finland af W. Stockholm, 1861 (reprinted with the title Drei Waldblumen von Finland, Berlin, 1866−67). 1. Hemlängtan ('När natthimlen är blå'), 2. Huru länge skall jag vänta dig? ('På högan berg, i djupan dal'), 3. Wallflickans sång ('Hör hornet hur det skallar').
Songs, new edition with an added new songs, book 1. Stockholm: Hirsch 1861. 1. Stadts-Fången ('O Fosterland! Det högsta Gud mig gifvit'), 2. Den älskades öga, compare op. 7:2, 3. Erotiskt svärmeri, compare op. 7:3, 4. Gondolier sång, compare op. 7:4.
Slummersång ('O slumra, natten är när'), i Ny illustrerad tidning, 1870.
Songs, Stockholm: Musikaliska Konstföreningen, 1875. 1. Än mörkrets furste ägde makt, 2. En Peri ('Förd af en magisk kraft'), 3. Stjärnan ('Säg ljufva vind i qvällen'), for tenor solo and choir (SATB).
Waldblumen von Finland. Vier Lieder aus dem Schwedischen übertragen von W. Bauck. Berlin & Posen: Bote & Bock, ca 1875. 1. Auf dem Saimen ('Wenn die sanften Wogen des Saimens'), På Saimen ('När Saimens lekande vågor'), 2. Gedanken und Herzensschlag ('Die Vögelein in den Lüften wohl nimmer weilen'), 3. Tanken ilar hjärtat slår ('Som foglar små i rymden förutan hvila'), 4. Sehnsucht ('Wenn goldend strahlend Sonne glühet'), Längtan ('När solen bara en stund med Eder'), 5. Birkala ('Wohin ich mich wende auf unserem Erdenrund'), Birkala ('Hvart hän jag må vandra på jordens hela rund').
6 polskas arranged by I. Dannström. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1885. 1. Tröste-Polska ('Lindarne löfvas, foglarne små'), 2. Det är så underliga ställen ('Så högt deruppe mellan fjällen'), 3. Polska från Upland ('Klara stjernor med de ögon snälle'), 4. Värends-Polska ('I Sverige ligger en skogig trakt'), 5. Dal-Polska ('Trala... Kon du lilla vännen'), 6. Långt i fjerran hörs eko svara, polska.
Ensam vandrar jag allt under skogens granar, polska motif. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1886.
Björken grönskar, häggen blommar, polska. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1886.
Herrligt är när skogen ståndar grön, polska motif. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht 1886.
Låt nu sorgen fly, polska motif. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1886.
Så skön med de röda rosor, polska motif. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1886.
Gossar här finnes godt om, polska. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1887.
Den unge munken ('Ja, jag dig svor att allt försaka'), aria för baryton och piano. Stockholm: Hirsch, 1889 (revised version of Songs, book 12, no. 5).
Jag tror jag får börja öfverge att sörja. Sångpolska sjungen af Fru Fischof-Arnoldson och sångerskan vänskapsfullt tillegnad. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1892.
Till liten sångare i skog, romans ('Du skogens sångare som arla morgonstund'). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1880s.
Du liten Bard på lätta vingar ('Fogel som i lunden'). Printed in Några blad ur Isidor Dannströms minnesanteckningar, pp. 92−95, 1896.

Works by Isidor Dannström

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

Number of works: 32