Maria Frykholm (1832−1871)


Maria Barbara Frykholm was born 20 March 1832 in Älvsbacka, Värmland. She died in Paris in 1871, shortly before a planned trip to the United States. She was primarily an author but also composed songs and music for the theatre. She also transcribed folk tunes from Värmland and Östergötland.

It is not entirely correct to say that Maria Frykholm (1832−1871) was a composer, even if she certainly composed. The word ‘composer’ has connotations which in her case can be misleading. Maria Frykholm was if anything an artist: an author, dramatist and translator who, in addition to writing texts, also composed.


Maria Barbara Frykholm grew up on the Älgå factory, located west of Arvika, close to Glafsfjorden − a small iron works with a nail smithy and trip hammer. Her father was the industrialist Olof Frykholm, part owner of the iron works, who grew up in Frykerud as the son of a bell ringer and teacher at the church. Olof Frykholm was married to Maria Christina (née Rothstein) who came from Kristinehamn. Growing up in the factory’s manor house was probably a stimulating environment for Maria. One of her brothers, Nils Fredrik, became district manager of Statens järnvägar (the national railroad company); another brother, Johan Ludvig, advanced to the position of maritime director and manager of the engineering department at the navy’s port in Stockholm. One can certainly imagine that her parents’ home was filled with cultural influences, most likely music, but probably also different forms of literature.

Biographical details about Maria Frykholm are otherwise few and elusive. More is known about her works than about her person, which as such appears rather enigmatic. Much archival research remains before her life can be portrayed in more detail.

After growing up in Älgå she appears to have moved directly to Stockholm. Her parents had left Älgå at the end of the 1840’s, moving to Arvika for several years, where her father had a (less successful) rope-making business. They joined Maria in Stockholm as late as in 1853. In the census registry she is listed as a ‘litteratrice’ (authoress), which implies that she supported herself as an author − most likely an unusual occupation for an unmarried woman during this time. She was probably able to live as an author due to support from her father. But on the other hand she worked hard, if not frenetically.

No information exists as to how Maria Frykholm was taught music. But one can assume that she learned to play the piano when she was young. Considering her compositions, she must have taken music theory lessons, presumably after she moved to Stockholm.

There are claims that Maria Frykholm lived for periods of time in both Paris and New York, information which is difficult to confirm. She also may have lived in Norrköping for a period. According to the Svenskt boklexikon (Swedish book of reference) she married, taking on the last name Frisk. In addition to works published under several pseudonyms, she is also listed as Maria Frykholm. She died in Paris in 1871, 39 years old, on a trip to New York.


Like many other composers during this period, Maria Frykholm had an interest in folk music, in her case folk tunes. She also wrote tunes herself, although the circumstances as to how she went about composing music are unknown. Also, she arranged her own works for voice and piano, a common practice at the time. She had two collections published by Abraham Hirsch − one with folk tunes from her home county Värmland (1854) and another from Östergötland (1860). The folk tune texts in the Värmland collection are in both Swedish and German. The German translations were completed by Wilhelm Bauck, who was a leading figure in Stockholm’s music circles at the time. It is unknown if the translator was engaged by Maria Frykholm or by the publisher. If Frykholm was the initiator of the parallel German text, this reveals in any case a glimpse of her personal connections to Stockholm’s musical circles.

But her main interest was a literary one, and she started early. Her first published text appeared in the anthology Rosa of 1854, which includes many of the distinguished cultural figures of the time. At approximately the same time, when she was only 22 years old, she wrote the comedy En god uppfostran (A good upbringing) under the name Arima − for many years it was common for women to appear under a pseudonym as authors and composers. Her one act play had its premier on 23 February 1855 at Mindre teatern in Stockholm.

Her continual engagements in Stockholm’s theatre world consisted mostly of translation assignments, or really a combination of both translations and revisions. ‘Freely translated’ is listed as a rule in the historical annals. Among these are the originally French vaudeville En af dem måste deran! (One of them must go!), performed in 1859 at Ladugårdslandsteatern. During the same year, on the same stage, another vaudeville was staged, Det sällsamma testamentet eller Också ett Parisäpple (ThepPeculiar testament or an apple of Paris). For this play Maria Frykholm, under the pseudonym Bror Casper, translated a German adaptation of the French original. But she also came up with ‘original vaudevilles’ for the play. The spring of 1860 Huller om buller (Helter-skelter), a translation of the German original, entitled ‘a joke in one act’, also had its premiere at the same theatre. The short period between these productions indicate that Maria Frykholm must have been working feverishly with her pen.

In 1860, under the pseudonym Bror Casper, she released the collection Strödda träsnitt (Scattered woodblocks) which included two ‘music supplements’: the songs ‘Friaren’ and ‘Den öfvergifna’. Comprised of poems, articles and stories, the book was part of a series entitled Godtköpsromaner (Good value books). A review in the Post- och Inrikes Tidningar newspaper reported: ‘Of the two music supplements, the first is rather beautiful’. Both of the songs were characterised by the composer as ‘an attempt in the spirit of folk music’, where Maria Frykholm thus utilises her insight acquired from collecting folk tunes. The songs are very similar to folk music: melodic and reasonably simple. In addition, each song includes a piano accompaniment that would have been within reach for most home pianists of the time.

Otherwise the book contains one particular article worth reading, entitled ‘Vårt musikaliska Sverige’ (Our musical Sweden), in which the knowledgeable and engaged author criticises the current status of the country’s music life. She turns to the mediocre dance hall music, where her richly detailed comparisons with Copenhagen show that she must have spent time there too. Furthermore, she denounces the limited choice of chamber music and opera − and at the same time gives contemporary insightful descriptions of Stockholm music life.

In 1860−61 Frykholm worked as an editor for the periodical Läsning i hemmet: När och fjärran and in 1861 her Nyårsnatten series was published in the Aftonbladet newspaper. In addition, she was responsible for translating Amtmannens döttrar, a novel by the Norwegian author Camilla Collett (originally published in 1854/55; the Swedish edition in 1863). One subject brought up in the book is how the female main character is provided with the possibility to independently choose her own husband, thus raising the visibility of societal gender roles.

Maria Frykholm is listed as the lyricist for a few tunes, where one can easily imagine how she wrote the texts in a scenic context. No melodists are listed, which leaves room for speculation that she also wrote the melodies.

Gunnar Ternhag © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Folkvisor från Wermland för en röst med accompagnement af pianoforte med svensk och tysk text samlade och utgifna av Maria Frykholm, Stockholm: Abraham Hirsch, 589.
Nya folkvisor från Östergötland upptecknade och utgivna av Maria Frykholm
, Stockholm: Abraham Hirsch, 1009.
En god uppfostran: komedi i en akt
, Stockholm, 1855. [Premiere at Mindre teatern 1855.]
Strödda träsnitt utgifvna i en samling av Bror Casper
(signatur för Maria Frykholm), Stockholm, 1860.

Summary list of works

Songs, arrangements of folk tunes.

Collected works

Voice and piano
Songs from Tännforsen by Onkel Adam composed for piano by Maria F..... 1. Strömharpan, prelude (piano), 2. Sjöfruns sång, 3. Anna vid forsen, 3. Signe från Nordhallen. Stockholm: L W Holm.
Den öfvergifna. Printed in Bror Casper (pseudonym for Maria Frykholm): Strödda träsnitt, 1860.
Friaren. Printed in Bror Casper (pseudonym for Maria Frykholm): Strödda träsnitt, 1860.

Salut-marsch for pianoforte. MTB.

Arrangement of folk tunes
Folk tunes from Wermland [Värmland] for one voice with accompaniment of piano with text in Swedish and German collected and published by Maria Frykholm. Stockholm: Abraham Hirsch, 589 (1854).
New folk tunes from Östergötland transcribed and published by Maria Frykholm. Stockholm: Abraham Hirsch, 1009 (1860).