Viennese Classicist of the Far North

The influence of German classicism, the dominant musical style of Central Europe in the latter half of the 18th Century, had spread to musical circles in the kingdom of Sweden­ Finland by the beginning of the ‘Gustavian age’, the reign of King Gustav III in the 1770s. Compositions published in Amsterdam or Berlin generally reached Sweden after a lapse of only one or two years and were performed both in private salons and, little by little, at public concerts. Apart from the Court Orchestra, the most active bodies were the secret societies and the fraternities: in Stockholm Utile Dulci (which was to spawn both the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and also the Royal Swedish Opera) and in Turku the Aurora Society, founded in 1770, which provided a focus for dozens of amateur musicians. Domestic music-making was also popular in Finland, to judge from the many private collections of printed music that have survived.

Gradually local composers of considerable quality began to emerge. At that period musicians generally took their first steps in composition by imitating the works of other composers. As far as we can tell, the first Swedish composer to experiment with the new genre of the string quartet was Anders Wesström, a musician in the Court Orchestra, in the 1760s. Joseph Martin Kraus, a product of the Mannheim School, who had settled in Stockholm in 1778, wrote nine string quartets although these date in all probability from the period before he left Germany. The first native Swedish composer of real stature was Kraus’ pupil and friend Johan Wikmanson, born in 1753.

At approximately the same time, the early 1780s, Erik Tulindberg was composing six remarkable string quartets across the water in Turku, the capital of the Duchy of Finland. However, their influence on Finnish musical life was minimal: they sank into oblivion almost immediately and were only rediscovered by accident in the 1920s in a private music library in Helsinki. So who was Erik Tulindberg and what made him become a composer?

Who was Tulindberg?
Erik Eriksson Tulindberg was born the son of a surveyor Erik Tulindberg on 22 February 1761 in the village of Saarenpää in Western Finland. Following the record of his birth in the parish register, we know nothing of his early life until he enrolled at Åbo Akademi in Turku on 15 February 1776. He studied at the University for five years. On 4 April 1781, he defended his pro gradu thesis on the history of the Finnish sermon and, at the graduation ceremony the following year, was awarded the degree of master of arts. From 1782–84 he worked as amanuensis in the university library and then moved to Oulu where he obtained work under his father in the clerical department of the provincial government. Ten years later he succeeded his father as head of the department and, in 1811, was transferred at his own request to the comparable post in the Turku-Pori province where he died on 1 September 1814.

Scant information has survived on Tulindberg’s musical interests. There is evidence that he played both the violin and viola but when and with whom he studied is a matter of conjecture. In the absence of any proof, it is likely that he took lessons from Carl Petter Lenning, the music teacher at Åbo Akademi. On the other hand, Tulindberg seems to have been proficient in music even before his arrival in Turku: in his first year at University, he already owned sets of parts for various symphonies and for Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Nils von Schoultz, a friend and fellow student of Tulindberg’s, maintains in a letter that Tulindberg was the finest violinist in the country. If von Schoultz is to be believed, even the famous Salomon, who gave a concert in Turku in 1786, could not rival Tulindberg’s outstanding skill on the violin.

Domestic Music-Making
During his years in Turku, music seems to have played a central role in Tulindberg’s life. Domestic music-making flourished as never before as the fortunes of both the University Orchestra and even the recently founded Aurora Society were at a low ebb.

However, the public concerts arranged by the Aurora Society in the early 1770s had provided proof of the lively interest in music in Turku and of the existence of enough musicians of sufficient calibre to tackle large­scale works. In the 1770s, there were over fifty players in Turku whose names have come down to us, not to mention amateurs whose names have not been recorded. When the Aurora Society ceased to arrange concerts, the focus of music-making must have shifted to the domestic scene. The young Tulindberg presumably became a member of some such circle. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain the considerable amount of sheet music he acquired during this period.

Domestic music-making must also have been the social context in which Tulindberg decided to prove himself as a composer. At that period, the idea of composing for one’s bottom drawer would have been totally alien to any professional or amateur musician – and Tulindberg must, in fairness, be classed as an amateur. But, as far as we can judge, his string quartets were only known to and played by a small circle of friends. By the middle of the 19th Century, their composer had already disappeared from the pages of history.

The date of composition of the quartets is unknown. In all probability they were written before Tulindberg’s move to Oulu in 1784 as musical life in that small Northern town was almost non-existent. Apart from Tulindberg, the only amateur musician whose name we know is a certain doctor Deutsch, who played the viola. The suggestion that Tulindberg became the leading light of musical life in Oulu seems implausible or at least gives a misleading impression of the level of musical activity. In his account of the chamber music soirees he arranged in Oulu in 1799, Giuseppe Acerbi declares that this was the first time a quartet had ever been performed in the town. “A quartetto at Uleaborg was a phenomenon no less out of the ordinary course of things than the appearance of the most astonishing meteor,” he writes. “There were not ten persons in the town who had ever heard music in four parts; nor probably from its foundation to the day of our arrival, had a quartetto been ever executed within its bounds.” Although Acerbi is not entirely reliable as a source, his claim seems perfectly credible when it is borne in mind that in 1794, ten years after Tulindberg moved to Oulu, the town had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants whereas Turku at the same period had in excess of l0,000.

Tulindberg’s Music Library
Tulindberg began ordering music from abroad at the latest in 1776, immediately after his arrival in Turku. How and where he obtained it is not known. Perhaps he used some of the stipends that he received from the University for four consecutive years in recognition of the fact that he was ‘well­versed in music’. At any rate, we can be certain that he made good use of these materials. The only means of increasing one’s musical knowledge at that period was, effectively, by playing pieces oneself, and the principal method of studying composition was by imitation. Tulindberg’s music library that, in its surviving form, contains some 50 items and about 150 separate compositions, is of interest primarily because it defines the limits of his musical world.

However, the collection poses many enigmas. Most of the pieces are chamber works by Italian, French and German composers which were acquired for the most part before 1784 when Tulindberg moved to Oulu. One may assume that they were played by Tulindberg and his friends at their musical soirees. But there are also symphonies by such composers as Davaux, Gyrowetz, Haydn, Mozart, Nebauer, Ricci, Karl Stamitz, Toeschi and Vanhal – sometimes complete sets of parts (as in the case of a Mozart symphony and a violin concerto by Giornovichi), sometimes just single parts. But what would Tulindberg be doing with materials for works that require at least ten players? If they were to be played by the University Orchestra then why would Tulindberg have purchased the parts himself? It seems logical to suppose that these pieces too were played within some private circle whose members each bought sets of parts according to their means.

It is more difficult to account for the works that are known to have been added to the collection during Tulindberg’s time in Oulu. Muller’s violin sonatas, dedicated to the King of Sweden–Finland, occasion no surprise, especially as they were a gift from a high-ranking official. But why should Tulindberg have acquired Wilhelm Pichl’s three violin concertos in 1786, as his own annotation confirms? They require at least a string quartet for performance with two oboes and two hunting-horns ad libitum. Did Acerbi exaggerate the primitiveness of musical life in Oulu or did the works just come into Tulindberg’s possession with no particular purpose in mind, perhaps thanks to a chance visitor?

String Quartets
In the late 18th Century it was expected of a composer, or someone intending to establish himself as such, that he would begin his career with an opus of string quartets. These were usually six in number (as in the case of Haydn’s earliest opuses) and sometimes three. Tulindberg’s six quartets are divided between his opus 1 and opus 2 but otherwise follow the model of the six quartet opus’s in that each is in a different key. Within each opus, the central quartet is in the minor. This fact – two quartets out of six in the minor – might lead one to conclude that, in his choice of keys, Tulindberg was following the example of Haydn’s opus 20 rather than his opus 9 (which Tulindberg purchased in 1781). However, there is no specific evidence that Tulindberg knew Haydn’s opus 20, or indeed opus 17. All Tulindberg’s quartets are in four movements and each movement is independent in character along the lines of Haydn’s opus 9. As with Haydn, the relative position of the minuet and slow movement varies: in three cases the minuet and trio precede the slow movement and in three cases they follow it.

But the influence of Haydn is not restricted to external features. It can also be felt in the style and in the structure of the individual movements. In three cases, the opening movement is in sonata form with the tempo marking moderato and is closely related in its rhythmic articulation to the corresponding movements in Haydn’s opus 9–20. There is little difference in character when the tempo marking is Allegro assai or Allegro. The only significant exception is the first movement of the C minor Quartet op 2 no 2, whose grand orchestral opening sets it apart from Tulindberg’s usual graceful and melodic first movement style. Although sonata form is the norm, Tulindberg allows himself considerable scope. In the earliest quartets – if one assumes that the quartets were written in opus number order – the development section is perfunctory and is based on modulating sequences without any real development. In the later quartets, the development section assumes greater prominence in the movement as a whole and is conceived with far more imagination. The problem which Tulindberg encounters in his moderato sonata movements (and one wonders whether he was aware of it) is precisely the one that led Haydn to a radical rethinking after his opus 20: the melodious thematic material is so lacking in contrast that it is unable to provide the necessary tension between opposites to power developmental technique as it was later to evolve.

Tulindberg’s minuets are comparatively four-square as in Haydn’s opus 9. Some variation occurs in the key relationships between minuet and trio. In three cases, the minuet and trio are in the same key, in two cases the trio is in the relative minor, and in one the trio is in the subdominant. The emphasis is usually on the minuet with the trio merely providing a change of mood. If the minuet tends to be rather schematic, the slow movement offers more room for variety. Tulindberg tends to employ sonata form rather than lied form but treats it with greater freedom than in his first movements. On one occasion, the C minor Quartet op 2/2, he writes a set of variations such as one finds in Haydn, for example in the D major Quartet op 20/4, second movement.

Tulindberg’s finales are either in rondo or sonata form. These movements reveal most clearly the restrictions under which Tulindberg was working as they are pale reflections of Haydn’s virtuoso presto finales or fugal structures. Only in the C minor Quartet op 2/ 2 does Tulindberg venture to write a presto; usually he contents himself with Allegretto or Allegro non troppo. As a result, there is little contrast of mood or ‘affekt’ between the outer movements. This is possibly an indication of the limitations not only of his performers but also of his own compositional expertise. However, this is not to say that the finale is necessarily of less artistic weight than the other movements. Indeed, in some cases, such as the G major Quartet op 2/1, the finale is more remarkable than the first movement.

Liebhaber, Kenner
When Tulindberg’s quartets came to light in the 1920s, doubts were immediately cast on their authenticity as it seemed beyond belief that they had been written by an amateur in Turku. However, they provide a uniquely revealing document of Haydn’s influence in Finland at that period. In Tulindberg’s own day they were only known to a small circle of amateurs and after his death, perhaps even during his lifetime, they vanished into oblivion. But Tulindberg did, nevertheless, enjoy recognition as a musical amateur while still alive: in 1797 he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Sadly, the minutes of the Royal Swedish Academy contain no citation. But the fact that his Violin concerto was deposited in the Academy library – where it was rediscovered in 1956 – may not be unconnected. There is no doubting Tulindberg’s musical gifts. Indeed, it is fair to say that he was hardly less gifted than Bernhard Henrik Crusell who achieved international renown. Crusell had the incomparable advantage that he lived and worked in Stockholm, the centre of power and artistic excellence, and devoted himself to the uncertain career of a professional performer. Under more favourable circumstances, Tulindberg might well also have become a successful professional musician. On the basis of his string quartets, one can say that he was not only a musical amateur (‘Liebhaber’) but also a master (‘Kenner’) who had developed a critical faculty and powers of aesthetic discrimination. Why else would he have chosen to model himself on Haydn and not, for example, on Pleyel or Vanhal, whose works he also owned?

Finnish Music Quarterly 3/89, 34–39,
quotation of Acerbi updated in 2016.

About Ilkka Oramo

Professor of Music Theory, emeritus
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