Jacob Axel Josephson (1818-1880)


Jacob Axel Josephson, born in Stockholm on 27 March 1818, died in Uppsala 29 March 1880, was a composer and conductor. He was Director musices at Uppsala University (1849−80), choir conductor for Allmänna sången (1850−52) and Orphei Drängar (1854−80), and cathedral organist in Uppsala (1864−80). Josephson founded the Uppsala Cathedral Choir (1867) and led the Stockholm Harmonic Society (1847−1849). He primarily composed songs, although his oeuvre also contains large format vocal works and a symphony. He became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1857.


Childhood and student years

Jacob Axel Josephson was born in Stockholm to Beata Josephson and her husband Salomon, a wholesaler and amateur violinist who was said to have found more fortune in music than in finance. The Josephsons are known for their contributions to Swedish culture: Jacob’s brother Ludvig was a theatre director in Stockholm, his sister Vilhelmina was a prominent pianist and Jacob’s first piano teacher, and his nephew Ernst would go on to be one of the most significant Swedish painters of the 19th century.

In 1835, on leaving school, where his musical talents had not gone unnoticed, Jacob Josephson started on a course of study at Uppsala University while also working as a private tutor. His musical and literary acumen soon brought him into social orbit around Malla Silverstolpe, County Governor von Kræmer and his family, and Erik Gustaf Geijer. One of his best friends at university was poet and composer Gunnar Wennerberg.

Josephson’s skills at the piano and the songs he now started to compose were well-received in these environments, and the first collection of his songs, dedicated to Jenny Lind, was published in 1841. That year, Jacob converted from Judaism to the Christianity that he had warmly embraced, had himself baptized and took Axel as his middle name. He had already been active in church music and his work in this field would occupy much of his remaining life as a musician. In 1842 Josephson earned his master’s degree with a short dissertation on contemporary music, in which he criticised the lack of artistic content in modern, opera-dominated music and argued that Felix Mendelssohn’s balanced romanticism represented a ‘new rosy dawn’.

At the start of the 1840s, Josephson divided his time between teaching, both privately and at the Katedralskolan (Cathedral School) in Uppsala, and travelling around performing concerts. Thanks to the financial backing of friends Jenny Lind, Julius Günther and others he was able at last to take himself abroad, and embarked on a three-year tour of the continent in the summer of 1844. This took him first to Dresden, where he studied organ for Johann Gottlob Schneider and music theory for Julius Otto, then to Leipzig, which became his main city of residence during this time, although the winter of 1845–46 he spent in Rome. Josephson’s most important contacts in Leipzig were Moritz Hauptmann and Niels W. Gade, although he also made the acquaintance of Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Louis Spohr and Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Establishment in Uppsala

On his return to Sweden, Josephson settled back in Stockholm, where he led the Harmoniska sällskapet (Harmonic Society). In 1849, two major works by him were performed in the capital: Islossningen for soli, men’s choir and orchestra, and his symphony in E-flat major.

That same year the post of director musices at Uppsala University became available. Josephson applied for it and was accepted, beating a field of competitors that included Franz Berwald. The post, which Josephson retained until his death, suited him and marked the start of a long, successful career with the Akademiska kapellet (Royal Academic orchestra). Choral life in Uppsala was also given fresh impetus by Josephson. Back in 1841 he and some friends had started a mixed choir there called the Lilla sällskapet (Little Company) that devoted itself to ancient church music. Now, in 1849, he founded the Filharmoniska sällskapet (Philharmonic Society) and in 1854 became the director of the newly formed men’s choir Orphei Drängar, which he elevated to unprecedented heights over the coming decades.

In 1864 Josephson was appointed cathedral organist, increasing even more his powers of influence over Uppsala’s musical scene – which he was only too ready and willing to develop. In 1867 he created the Uppsala domkyrkokör (Uppsala cathedral choir), one of the first permanent church choirs in the country. Over the Pentecost seasons of the 1860s and 70s, they performed many major works for soloists, choir and orchestra in full, including Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah and Samson, Mendelssohn’s St. Paul and Elias and Joseph Haydn’s The Creation. The performers he drew from his own ensembles, from the Hovkapellet (Orchestra of the Royal Opera) and from military orchestras. These concerts were important musical events and attracted audiences from the capital and beyond.

Pedagogical work and final years

Josephson’s work in music education is also worth a mention. In 1860 he published Elementär-lära i musik (Elementary principles of music) for schools and from 1863 onwards lectured in music history at the university as part of his duties as director musices. His pedagogical commitments also extended to church music, and from 1867 to 1871 he published a periodical called Zion in which contemporary German and Swedish music was juxtaposed with that from the 17th and 18th centuries. He also continued with the ongoing revision of Hæffner’s chorale book without, however, making any real impression on the field.

All these musical endeavours restricted Josephson’s own compositional output, although he did continue to compose solo songs. Much of his other compositions were works for various academic occasions, like conferment ceremonies, commemorations and jubilees, including music for the university’s 400th anniversary in 1877, to which he set lyrics by poets Carl David af Wirsén and Viktor Rydberg.

Josephson was voted into the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (Royal Academy of Music) in 1857. In 1874 he was made professor. With his sense of commitment and energy, he was a much loved celebrity in Uppsala and was grandly feted on his 50th and 60th birthdays. He died of pneumonia at the age of 62.


The songs

Josephson is still represented on the repertoire, above all by some of his 153 solo songs, many of which are juvenile works, and pieces for men’s choir. The songs are well-written and rooted in the early 19th century song tradition, having Adolf Fredrik Lindblad and Mendelssohn as their approximate point of emulation with their sensitive textual interpretations; subjectivism and the greater Schummanian sense of freedom leave no deep impressions on Josephson’s music. His songs formed part of the Swedish repertoire that Jenny Lind took out into the world, and sometimes evince a Swedish folk tone with their polska rhythms and melancholy minor tonality. The form is often strophic, or almost strophic, although it has to be said that Josephson was no stranger to dramatic climaxes either.

German poets like Heinrich Heine, Friedrich Rückert and Emanuel Geibel provided some of the textual material, Swedish poets Carl Wilhelm Böttiger and Johan Ludvig Runeberg as well. Many of the lyrics were, however, Josephson’s own and commonly embody nature-idealising Romantic themes and philosophical observation. Some of the songs, including ‘Stjärnklart’, ‘Serenad’ and ‘Längtan från havet’, enjoyed long-lived popularity.

Other works

Music for men’s choir is also typical for Josephson’s musical era, and some of these works, such as ‘Stjärnorna tindra re’n’ and ‘Vårliga vindar draga’ also retain repertory status. The cantata Islossningen from the 1840s for soloists, men’s choir and orchestra and to lyrics of his own penning is another occasionally performed work.

Josephson’s soli, choir and orchestra catalogue also includes Korsriddarne utanför Jerusalem and Quando corpus morietur (both premiered in 1851), Arion (composed for the 25th anniversary of the Orphei Drängar in 1878) and the works he wrote as director musices: music for various conferment ceremonies, a funeral cantata for King Charles XV and the aforementioned music for the university’s jubilee in 1877. The composer’s confident mastery of orchestration, harmony and voicing is consistently evident in these works.

This is also true of Josephson’s only symphony, one of the few contemporary Swedish examples of this genre, which he composed during his sojourn in Leipzig. It has the classic four-movement form and as a whole is more lyrical than dramatically tense.

Josephson did not write much for the piano, but the works he did produce for this instrument are marked by his characteristically moderate romantic style and technical assuredness.

Anders Edling © 2016
trans. Neil Betteridge

Publications by the composer

Några momenter till en karakteristik af den nyaste musiken, diss., Uppsala, 1842.
Elementar-lära i musik. En handbok för lärare och lärjungar,
Uppsala, 1860.
En- och flerstämmiga sångstycken till begagnande vid undervisningen i elementar- och folkskolor, 13, Uppsala, 1873.
Förslag till ändringar vid Hæffners 1819 utg. koralbok, Stockholm, 1877
‘Ludvig Norman’, in: Teater och musik, Stockholm: Lindblad, 1876, pp. 58 f.
‘Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt’, in: Teater och musik, Stockholm: Lindblad, 1876, pp. 8287.
‘Johan Christian Fredrik Haeffner’, in: Läsning för folket. N F, vol. 12, Stockholm, 1880, pp. 267278.
Zion, andlig musik för hemmet, skolan och kyrkan
, 14, Uppsala: Edquist & Berglund, 186768.
100 äldre och nyare svenska sånger
(together with Fritz Arlberg), Stockholm 1873.
Sånger i Sion
, Stockholm: Haeggström, 1880.


Bengtsson, Ingmar: ‘Tonsättaren Geijer’, in: Geijerstudier, 3, Uppsala, 1958.
Bohlin, Folke
: Melodier till julepisteln i svensk tradition, Lund: Gleerup, 1970.
--- och Anna Johnson:
Jacob Axel Josephson’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 20, Stockholm 1973−75.
Bucht, Torsten
: Härnösands musiksällskap 18421942, Härnösand, 1942.
Dahlgren, Lotten
: Ransäter, Stockholm, 1905.
Grannarna på Kungsängsgatan, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1914.
‘'Ecco Roma!' En svensk tondiktares Roma-minnen. Brev och dagboksblad från 1840-talet’, in: Ord och bild, 1916.
Ur Ransäters familjearkiv. Dagboks- och brefutdrag, 3rd ed., Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1923.
Efvergren, Carl
: Svenska tondiktare, Stockholm: Folkskolans barntidning, 1925.
Forslin, Alfhild
: Runeberg i musiken, Helsingfors, 1958.
Hamilton Geete, Agnes
: I solnedgången. Minnen och bilder från Erik Gustaf Geijers senaste år. 1−3, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1910−12.
Gnospelius, Wilhelm
: Också ett ord i choralfrågan. Granskning av prof Josephsons Förslag till ändringar vid Haeffners Choralbok, Lund: Gleerup, 1880.
Haglund, Ejnar:
‘Några drag ur studenternas musikliv’, in: Uppsalastudenten genom tiderna. Uppsala: Lundequistska, 1950.
Helmer, Axel: Svensk solosång 18501890. 1−2, Stockholm: Svenskt musikhistoriskt arkiv, 1972.
Herdin, Karl Wilhelm
: ‘Kring Gunnar Wennerberg o uppsalavännerna på hans studenttid’, in: the same, Gammalt och nytt, Uppsala, 1937.
Holland, Henry Scott et. al
: Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt. Hennes tidigare lif och bana som dramatisk konstnär och sångerska 18201851, Stockholm, 1891.
Horn, Vivin:
De små Knösarna. Ett romantiskt Uppsalahem, Stockholm: Geber, 1921.
Hultén, Sam-Ragnar:
‘Jacob Axel Josephson’, in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 7, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1958.
---: Stilen i J.A. Josephsons sånger [unpublished thesis], Uppsala University, 1951.
Jeanson, Gunnar
: Gunnar Wennerberg som musiker, Stockholm: Geber, 1929.
Jonsson, Leif:
Ljusets riddarvakt. 1800-talets studentsång utövad som offentlig samhällskonst, diss. Uppsala, 1990
Josephson, Hilda:
‘Från barndomshem och barndomsdagar’, in: Hågkomster och livsintryck, vol. 17, Uppsala, 1936.
‘Minnen’, in: Kyrkosångsförbundet, 1947.
Kallstenius, Gottfrid
: Blad ur uppsalasångens historia, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1913.
Kjellén, Rudolf:
Jacob Axel Josephson. Prolog vid OD:s minnesfest den 27 mars 1918, Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1918.
Lagerbielke, Lina
: Svenska tonsättare under nittonde århundradet, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1908.
Lindgren, Adolf
: ‘Jacob Axel Josephson’, in: Nordisk musik-tidende, 1, 1880.
Martling, Carl Henrik och Henry Weman:
Uppsala domkyrkokör 100 år, Uppsala: Kören, 1967.
Moberg, Carl-Allan
: Kyrkomusikens historia, Stockholm: Svenska kyrkans diakonistyrelses förlag, 1932.
‘Från Abbé Vogler till John Morén. Ledande idéer i 1800-talets svenska koralverk’, in: Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift, 35, 1935.
Morales, Olallo och Tobias Norlind
: Musikaliska Akademien 1771-1921, Stockholm: Lagerström, 1921.
Neander, Anders (red.)
: Uppsala-studenternes sånger, Uppsala: Esaias Edquist, 1874.
Nodermann, Preben
: Studier i svensk hymnologi, Lund: Sydsvenska bok- och musikförlaget, 1911.
Norlind, Tobias
: Erik Gustaf Geijer som musiker, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1919.
‘Musiken i Uppsala på Gunnar Wennerbergs tid’, in: Musica 1947.
Nyblom, Carl Rupert
: ‘Jacob Axel Josephson’, in: Teater och musik, Stockholm: Lindblad, 1876.
En sjuttioårings minnen, 1-3. Stockholm: Bonnier, 1908.
Nyblom, Knut
: ‘Jacob Axel Josephson’, in: the same, ‘Uppsala är bäst’. Skolpojks- och studentminnen, Stockholm: Skoglund, 1908.
Hör, I Orphei Drängar! Skildringar ur sångsällskapet O.D:s sextioåriga lefnad 1853-1913, Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1913.
---: Jakob Axel Josephson, Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1926
Palmgren, Björn
: J.A. Josephson - ett bortglömt musikgeni, Jönköping: Collegium musicum, 1968.
Rendahl, Claes Wilhelm
: De antika tonarterna. Kritiska studier med serskild hänsyn till Haeffners och Josephsons koralbearbetningar, Karlstad, 1878.
Rudin, Waldemar
: Minnesord vid J.A. Josephsons likbegängelse, Uppsala, 1880.
Schück, Berna:
‘Från Jac. Axel Josephsons ungdom’, in: Minnenas bok, Stockholm: Dahlberg, 1916.
von Sydow, Carl-Otto
: ‘Viktor Rydbergs och J.A. Josephsons kantat 1877’, in: Uppsala domkyrka. Katedral genom sekler, Uppsala: Domkapitlet, 1982.
Taube, Gurlin:
Musik, dans, språk o andra akademiska färdigheter i Uppsala. Uppsala universitet, 1963.
Valentin, Karl
: ‘Jacob Axel Josephson’, in: Svensk musiktidning 1900.
Wennerberg, Gunnar
: Bref och minnen, 1-3. Stockholm: Geber, 1913-16.
Wiberg, Albert
: Den svenska musikhandelns historia. Stockholm: Svenska musikhandlareföreningen, 1955.
Vid Filharmoniska sällskapets i Uppsala 50-årsfest den 13 november 1900. Uppsala: Akademiska boktryckeriet, 1900.
Ödman, Pelle
: ‘Josephson, Geijer och Lindblad. Ur en minnesteckning över J.A. Josephson’, in: Svea 1884.
Ur en svensk tonsättares lif. En minnesteckning öfver J.A. Josephson. 1-2. Stockholm: Haeggström, 1885-86.


Landsarkivet Göteborg, Göteborgs universitetsbibliotek, Helsingfors universitetsbibliotek, Landsarkivet Härnösand, Kungliga Biblioteket, Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Nasjonalbiblioteket Oslo, Riksarkivet, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stockholms stadsarkiv, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Örebro stadsbibliotek.
Portrait: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, Nationalmuseum, Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek, Svenska porträttarkivet.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (symphony, festive march in G major), works for choir and orchestra (Islossningen etc.), works for piano, songs (approx. 150 songs with piano accompaniment and for voice and orchestra), choral works, men’s quartets. verk, manskvartetter.

Collected works

This list is based on the compilation of works in the article on the composer by Folke Bohlin and Anna Johnson in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon.


Symfony E-flat major.


Fantasy piece op. 11.
Four pieces for pianoforte op. 30.
2 Albumblade.
Fantasy on Du gamla, du friska.
Intermezzo / Ljusning (Musical album) op. 19.
Three lyrcal tone poems

Voice and piano

Songs op. 1.
Från vandringsåren, op. 2, vol. 1−3.
Songs op. 5.
Romances and songs op. 6.
Three songs with violin obbligato op. 7.
Lieder und Gesänge op. 8.
Six songs op. 10.
Nre songs op. 15.
Drei Gesänge op. 18.
Six songs op. 19.
Drei Gesänge op. 22.
Four songs op. 24.
Songs op 25.
Songs for Selma op. 26.
Songs op. 27.
Den gamle klockarens visor, vol. 1, op. 28.
Seven songs op. 31.
Three songs, Nordstjernan, 1859.
6 songs op. 32.
Trenne psalmer ur Psaltaren op. 33.
Melodies to Finnish tones op. 36.
Aftontanke vid hafvet, in: Teater och musik, 1876.
Den gamle klockarens visor, vol. 2, op. 38.
Five songs op. 39.
Lofoffer, in: Zion, andliga songs för hemmet, vol. 1, no. 39, 1867.
Lärkan, in: Sången, samling af romanser, series 1:10.

Voice and orchestra

Cavatina op. 17.


Three duets for soprano and baritone op. 16.
Duet op. 19, in: Musikaliskt album, 1852.

Choir and orchestra

Islossningen op. 9.
Korsriddarne utanför Jerusalem op. 13.
Quando corpus morietur op. 20.
Funeral cantata at Uppsala University’s memorial service for the deceased King Carl XV d 29 Nov 1873 op. 35.
At Uppsala University’s jubilee celebration 5 September 1877 op. 40.
Cantata at the jubilee celebration in Uppsala [6 September 1877] op. 41.
Arion op. 42.

Men’s choir a cappella

Am Bergquell / Waldlied, in: Orpheus. Sammlung von Liedern und Gesängen, Leipzig, [1846?].
Seven four-part songs for men’s voices op. 3.
Serenad / Hjemkomst op. 19, in: Musikaliskt album, 1852.
Seven four-part songs for men’s voices op. 29.
Stridssång, in: 100 äldre och nyare svenska sånger, 1873.
Till de finska bröderna, in: Ny illustrerad tidning, no. 29 1875.
Hell Sverige, in: Manskören, 1897.

Mixed choir a cappella

Sechs vierstimmige Lieder für Sopran, Alt, Tenor und Bass op. 12.
Julsång, in: Zion, vol. 3, no. 48, 1868.

Works by Jacob Axel Josephson

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

Number of works: 75