Jacob Struve (1767−1826)


Jacob Bernhard Struve, born in Stockholm 14 October 1767, died in the same city 27 July 1826. Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1797, where he was supervisor and recurrent director of the academy’s singing school from 1805 on. Organist for the German Church in Norrköping during the 1810s. Outside Sweden he made his name as a composer and a botanist, while at home he was known primarily for his comic operas. He was very active in the Harmonic Society in Stockholm, for which many of his later works were written.


Jacob Bernhard Struve was the first child of pharmacist Frans Ulrik Struve, who was of German descent, and Anna Elisabeth, née Hassenbalk.

Struve arrived at Uppsala University as a preparatory student in 1779, becoming matriculated in 1781. He graduated pro exercitio in 1785 and pro gradu in 1788, both times with botanical dissertations. Struve continued his natural science researches at Kiel University, Germany, from 1791, originally hoping to become a doctor of medicine but switching on the advice of his professor to doctor historiae naturalis, a degree that did not exist in Sweden at the time.

In the early 1790s, Struve studied harmony, composition and counterpoint, first for Adalbert Gyrowetz in Vienna, and then, according to contemporary sources, for a number of unidentified teachers in Paris and England. After 1795, it seems as if he put aside his scientific endeavours to work on some major compositional commissions, one of which was the instrumental interludes to the coronation music for King Gustaf IV Adolf in 1800, for which Johann Christian Friedrich Haeffner wrote the vocal and choral movements.

In 1797 Struve was voted unanimously into the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music), and in 1805 was appointed first the supervisor, then director of its singing school. There is, however, no evidence for the claim made repeatedly in the modern literature that he served as the president of the academy from 1805 to 1811. His service in the singing school and his occasional appearance as deputy piano teacher overlapped with the sometimes extensive private tuition he gave in several musical disciplines. A memoir in the twice-weekly Stockholm journal Kometen from 1826 claims that he was approached privately by a great many pupils, and often put ten hours’ work a day into these commitments alongside his own compositional efforts and performing. In 1818 Struve applied for the post of permanent teacher in the piano and organ class, which, however, went by ballot to Thomas Byström. When a combination of political factors led to a nadir in the activity of the academy in 1810, Struve moved to Norrköping to take up the position of organist in its German Church. He returned to Stockholm in 1817, where he remained until his death in 1826 as an active part of the city’s music scene, most notably as a member of the Harmoniska sällskapet (the Harmonic Society), which was formed in 1820. He died on 27 July and was buried at Maria Magdalena Church on 9 August.  

To the Harmoniska sällskapet, Struve left his piano, his music library and a cash sum of a thousand riksdaler. The society subsequently made over these bequests in 1865 to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien, by which time the sum had accrued a significant amount of interest.

On several occasions, Struve strove to emulate the ways of earlier generations and either paid, or declined a salary, to gain a position, from which it may be inferred that he had both a pre-Gustavian understanding of the concept of office and a relatively solid financial position. In the instance of his application to the post of piano teacher at the academy in 1818, voices of protest were raised against his offer to cede part of his salary to the former incumbent’s widow, while he more successfully gained the position of organist in Norrköping with a personal contribution of a thousand riksdaler and his own salaried assistant, against the promise of 6 per cent annual interest on the same sum.


On the whole, Struve’s comic operas, many of which are  compilations of new compositions and recycled passages from the existing repertoire and popular melodies, display a breadth of compositional and stylistic types, often put to original use. Some arias and ensembles achieved a degree of popularity through chamber music concerts and in the salon culture of and after his day. By and large they share many of the characteristics of contemporary German Singspiel, in contrast to the otherwise French operetta that dominated the Stockholm scenes during Edouard Du Puy’s second term as hovkapellmästare (chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra).

Notable amongst his comic operas is Den ondsinta hustrun, which is based on a play by Charles-Guillaume Étiennes and which was staged on more than ninety occasions at the Kungliga Operan (the Royal Opera) in Stockholm, even after the composer’s death. In the final scene, the discord between husband and wife is described with lecture-like thoroughness in terms of tempo and sound, with instructions that go far beyond the notation (for example, ‘Carolina sings and sets a moderate pace’), which also provides illuminating insight into performance practice and characterisation in the idiosyncratic comic opera genre. Struve was considered by his contemporaries to be ‘nigh on the only native Swede to compose for the theatre’.

The genesis of Struve’s symphonic oeuvre is generally less well-established than his works for the stage. The Symphony in E-flat major has been described by Stig Walin as a juvenile piece, the score and parts Walin based this upon having been probably destroyed by a fire in the offices of the Musikaliska sällskapet (the Music Society) in Norrköping town hall as late as 1943. An overture in C minor must qualify as one of Struve’s more original and interesting orchestral works and is in several respects more symphonically structured and arranged than the first movement of his E-flat major symphony. One question of particular interest is the early idiomatic use of trombones in the orchestral part. The overtures to some of his comic operas are also worthy of performance as freestanding orchestral pieces.

Struve also wrote a number of chamber works, presumably intending them for performance by the Harmoniska sällskapet. The piano quartet in F minor was once attributed to Joachim Nicolas Eggert, but there is no doubt that it was composed by Struve. The string quartets evince a wit and wherewithal that far transcend the merely competent aptitude so prevalent in the quartets of the time.

Struve’s piano pieces, as well as a couple of solo songs, reaped much success and were published by Müller’s in Stockholm and Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig. A piano arrangement of the song ‘Vila vid denna källa’ was previously attributed on rather shaky grounds to Joseph Martin Kraus, but it too, judging by the style and material evidence of the source , is also by Struve.

Struve’s works for choir and orchestra include the choral cantata ‘Jorden full af Herrans ära’ and the grand Missa pro defunctis, possibly the earliest verified setting of such a Habsburgian mass by a Lutheran. The work had been completed and scored by Struve himself by the time of his death, aside from the final movement, which was added later by A.J. Grundén, albeit after a finished concept by Struve. The claim that Grundén or Erik Drake completed the work after Struve’s death is wrong. The arrangement and structure of the monothematic opening movement share certain similarities with the similarly monothematic first movement of Antonín Rejcha’s requiem, with which Struve was probably familiar. However, the thematic treatment and the compositional technique are completely independent in relation to other conceivable exemplars. In the movements of the Dies irae sequence, Rex tremendae strikes the ear by virtue of its clearly separated harmonic and compositional layers; the quasi-chorale in F major of the solo vocalists stand in sharp relief against the stretto sections of an F minor theme in tutti, which can also be interpreted as a Lutheran statement in what is otherwise a highly unusual Protestant work.

The newspaper Stockholms-Posten’s review of Struve’s requiem calls the piece ‘effective without striving for effect’ and emphasises the uniqueness of such a composition for Sweden. Piano arrangements of selected passages compiled by Drake were published by Scheele in 1826, a remarkable specimen in the flora of piano reductions that was otherwise chiefly based on popular arias, duets and overtures. Selected parts of the Requiem were performed at Struve’s funeral at the expense and by the practical arrangement of the Harmoniska sällskapet, the members of which adulated Struve ‘for the sake of his pure harmonies’, which at this time in Sweden is a common reference to contrapuntal aptitude and refinement.

Struve’s legacy

Struve was one of few Swedish-born composers to have his music regularly performed the length and breadth of the country. His comic operas and chamber music were performed in dozens of Swedish cities and towns besides Stockholm, and interest in his music was uncommonly abiding, as the reprinting of certain piano pieces far into the 1900s testifies. Alongside his pedagogical activities, he also seems to have composed in all his phases of life, and could, according to Johan Olof Wallin’s funeral oration ‘follow, untroubled and temperately, the rapture of his emotions, which alone determined his call at the time, and this became his passion and his life’. This is not to say that Struve was wealthy or able to live off his work as a composer, only that unlike many successful composers of his time he was able to devote most of his time to music, in one form or other.

Struve’s disappearance from the music scene and from the academic radar during the 20th century is hard to explain given the high esteem in which his music was held during much of the 19th. One reason might be that for many years the sources of his works remained unclear. Important research in this respect was done by Wilhelm Bauck in the 1860s and by Susanne Haglund and Anna Lena Holm in the 1990s.

Mattias Lundberg © 2015
Trans. Neil Betteridge


[Unsign.] in Kometen 1826: 63 (9 Aug.).
[Unsign.] in Stockholms-Posten 1826.
Blomkvist, Magnus
: Nöjeslivet i Stockholm 1773−1806: En förteckning via dags- och veckopressen bachelor's thesis, Institutionen för teater- och filmvetenskap, Stockholms universitet, 1972.
Haglund, Susanne
: Jacob Bernhard Struve: En biografi och verkförteckning, bachelor's thesis, Institutionen för musikvetenskap, Stockholms universitet, 1997.
Hedwall, Lennart
: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/ Geber, 1983.
: Ett Rondo capricio [sic] på 'hvile vid denna källa', in Hwad Behagas?: Bellmansällskapets medlemsblad 2004/3, pp. 8−10.
Hedwall, Lennart
: Stenborgska teatern och det svenska sångspelet, in Musiken i Sverige, Stockholm1993, pp. 351−366
Holm, Anna Lena
: Nyupptäckter och nyaccessioner: Rapport från Statens musiksamliongar − Musikaliska akademiens bibliotek, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning 79/1 (1997), pp. 142−146.
Matrikel för Harmoniska sällskapet, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Hs. Z 206.
Melander, Axel
: Harmoniska sällskapet i Stockholm: 1820−1860, bachelor's thesis, Institutionen för musikvetenskap, Uppsala universitet, 1947.
Nisser, Carl
: Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830: Nominalkatalog, Stockholm: 1943.
Struve, Jacob Bernhard, in Höijer, Leonard: Musik-Lexikon, Stockholm: 1864, p. 483.
Walin, Stig
: Beiträge zur Geschichte der schwedischen Sinfonik, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1941.
Wallin, Johan Olof: Tal vid Jacob B. Struwes begrafning i Mariæ kyrka d. 9 aug. 1826 af biskop Wallin. På Harmoniska sällskapets begäran och bekostnad till trycket befordradt, Stockholm, 1826.


Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Musik- och teatermuseet, Norrköpings stadsarkiv, Landsarkivet Visby, Karlshamns museum

Summary list of works

4 comic operas (Den engelska advokaten, En fjerdedels timmas tystnad, Den ondsinta hustrun, Torparen), orchestral works (1 symphony, 2 overtures, etc.), chamber music (5 string quartets, 2 string quintets, a piano quartet, etc.), piano music, songs, church music (requiem), cantatas.

Collected works

Several of the works mentioned here exist in autograph at Musik- och teaterbiblioteket. Please refer to the Swedish page.

Stage works

Den engelska advokaten eller Lagens bokstafliga uttolkning, comic opera in two acts. First performed at the Royal Opera in 1805.
En fjerdedels timmas tystnad, comic opera in one act. First performed at the Royal Opera in 1810. Also piano vocal score by Erik Drake.
Den ondsinta hustrun, comic opera. First performed at the Royal Opera in 1808.
Torparen, comic opera in two acts to text by Carl Gustaf Nordforss. First performed at the Royal Opera in 1803.

Sacred music
Requiem for choir, orchestra and soloists.

Orchestral works
Symphony in E-flat major [not entirely complete] 1. Largo, 2. Minuetto alegretto – Trio, 3. Andante non troppo, 4. Finale vivace.
Overture in C minor. 1. Molto adagio, 2. Allegro molto vivace.
Overture in D major. 1. Largo, 2. Allegro, 3. Andante, 4. Allegro.

Chamber music
'I bröder som mig rädda kunnen …', aria from Torparen, adaption for violin and piano.
Piano quartet in F minor. 1. Adagio, 2. Allegro; 3. Menuetto allegretto – Trio; 4. Adagio non troppo; 5. Allegro assai – Presto.
String quartet in C minor. 1. Adagio, 2. Allegro, 3. Andante, 4. Menuetto – Trio, 5. Poco adagio – Allegro assai – Presto.
String quartet in D minor. 1. Allegro con spirito, 2. Minuetto allegro – Trio, 3. Adagio, 4. Finale allegretto.
 String quartet in E-flat major. 1. Allegro, 2. Menuetto allegro rovercico – Trio, 3. Adagio; 4. Allegro assai.
String quartet in E major. 1. Moderato, 2. Minuetto allegretto – Trio, 3. Andante non troppo, 4. Finale presto.
String quartet in G major. 1. Allegro vivace, 2. Minuetto allegro – Trio, 3. Adagio, 4. Rondo allegro.
String quartet in E major. 1. Largo, 2. Allegro, 3. Menuetto – Trio, 4. Andante poco adagio, 5. Finale allegretto [inkomplett]. [The work is also notated in D major.] 
String quartet in F major. 1. Lento, 2. Minuetto – Trio, 3. Adagio non troppo, 4. Allegro assai.

Clavier works
Fantasie et variations sur des themes de l'opéra Friskytten in D major. 1. Fantasie adagio, 2. Andante quasi allegretto, 3. [Fem variationer], 4. Molto vivace - Presto. Stockholm: Müller, n.d. 
Interludes to the music for the coronation of Gustaf IV Adolf.
Music performed at the coronation of the Royal Highness in Norrköping in 1800. 1. Intrada maestoso, 2. Finale allegro maestoso.
Three polonaises for piano four hands. 1. E-flat major, 2. C minor/C major, 3. B minor/B major.
Quatre rondeaux, ocer theme from Torparen and Den engelska advokaten in E-flat major. Stockholm: Müller, n.d. (ca 1823).
Requiem, selection in piano reductions by Erik Drake. Stockholm: Scheele, 1826. 
Rondo capriccio sur une danse nationale suedoise for piano in F major. Stockholm: Müller, n.d. (ca 1822).
Rondo capricio [sic] på Hvila vid denna källa for piano.
Theme and variations for piano in E major.
Variations sur la chanson suedoise 'Sörj ej den gryende dagen förut' (Olof Åhlström's melody) for piano. Theme (Andante) and 8 variations.
Variations sur une Chanson Suedoise avec Introduction for piano in B-flat major. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, n.d.

Vocal works
Canone in quinta for two parts in G minor. 
'Det bodde en gubbe i västanfjälls skog ...', from Torparen. Publ. in Musikaliskt tidsfördriv, 1804.
'Hur lycklig var min ålders vår ...', aria alla polacca, partly in setting for voice and clavier, partly for voice, clavier and obligato violin.
Cantata, över Jorden full af Herrans ära, no. 43 in Haeffner's chorale book.
Sånggudinnornas klagan vid Gustaf III:s graf, for three soloists and orchestra (Choraeus).

Moreover and incomplete orchestral movement in D minor in autograph, as well as revisions of other's works, mostly piano vocal scores and reductions at  Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.

Works by Jacob Struve

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

Number of works: 10