Jeanna Åkerman played a central role in the music life of Gothenburg as a solo singer, pianist and organiser during the first half of the 1800s. She was also active as a composer and visual artist.
Jeanna Åkerman was born as Johanna Elisabeth Bauck in Gothenburg in 1798. Her parents were Anna Maria Bauck, née Dahlgren, and Johan Christoffer Bauck, a wholesaler. She was the oldest of their four children. The family was well off and musical. Their father — an immigrant from Hamburg — was active in the music association Harmoniska sällskapet, both as a musician and board member. Several of the children participated in the town’s music life and the youngest brother, Wilhelm Bauck, later became a composer and writer on music. Jeanna Åkerman married Anders Åkerman in 1817. He was a wholesaler like her father, and he later owned Särö Manor.
Even as a child, Jeanna Åkerman showed a special talent for music and from the age of six, she received tuition from the town’s best musicians, first piano and later also voice and violin. Her precocity in the field of music was also noticed by internationally renowned musicians visiting Gothenburg, and at the age of 14, she performed with the famous German cellist and composer Bernhard Romberg, at Harmoniska sällskapet.
Jeanna Åkerman’s artistic interest was not limited to music; she was also versed in literature and active as a painter. In the 1810s, she was a private pupil of the artist Fredric Werner and information is available about her art studies in Dresden in the 1820s.
A one-year visit to Hamburg in 1814—1815 was very important for Jeanna Åkerman’s musical development, when she not only mainly took voice lessons but also took piano and harp lessons. Back home in Gothenburg, she continued her studies for Georg Günther, the organist at the German Church and also a composer and learned music theoretician. After her music studies in Germany, Jeanna Åkerman came to play a central role in the musical life of Gothenburg, in both private and public settings. As a solo singer, she performed in works by among others Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, and step by step she came to lead vocal ensembles learning larger compositions like Mozart’s Requiem and George Frederick Händel’s oratorio Jephta.
When Harmoniska sällskapet entered a period of inactivity in the 1850s, Jeanna Åkerman was a driving force in the creation of the so-called Måndagssångöfvningssällskapet, a mixed choir to which she was elected as the leader and chairperson in 1855. To start with, the ensemble was private, but in 1857 when it was amalgamated with Harmoniska sällskapet, it became public. She was also the chairperson of that organisation, but the musical leadership was handed over to the Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana who had arrived in Gothenburg in 1856.
That Jeanna Åkerman had a multi-facetted and vital role in Gothenburg music life and was also much appreciated, is born witness to by the memorial speech held by Adolf Prytz at a festive meeting of Harmoniska sällskapet in 1859, and published the following year. Jeanna Åkerman is there presented as an idealist, who was driven by the conviction that the value of music lay foremost in its ennobling and educative capacity — and not just in being entertaining.
Jeanna Åkerman’s artistic activities and good social position make her typical of the women composers of the early 1800s. Her musical skills were by all accounts fully on a par with those of the professional musicians of her time. However, that a woman in her social position should appear professionally in public music life was not in accordance with the social conventions of her day. At the public concerts in which Jeanna Åkerman participated, she was not generally mentioned by her name, but as a “music lover”, i.e. amateur.
The extent of her composing is not known, since only her published works remain. These consist of eight songs for solo voice and piano accompaniment. One was published in the music magazine Nordmanna-Harpan, and the others in two collections of three and four songs respectively. Apart from the unknown pseudonym “C.M.m.”, the texts have been taken from well-known contemporary writers like Esaias Tegnér, Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom and Karl August Nicander. With their simple and idiomatic forms, Jeanna Åkerman’s songs were well adapted to the amateur music-making of her day. Their technical structure is however thorough and even though the music keeps within the conventional framework of that period, the songs show independence in both form and expression. Stylistically, she moves within the same sphere as most other Swedish composers of that age, such as Erik Gustaf Geijer, Jacob Axel Josephson and others, a mainly German classical-romantic vocal music tradition, where influences from Swedish folk songs have added certain Swedish stylistic elements.
Only a half-dozen of Jeanna Åkerman’s paintings have been preserved — that can with certainty be said to be from her hand. They are all oil paintings showing landscapes mainly from the district around Rosendal Palace. According to the Swedish art lexicon Svenskt konstnärslexikon, her paintings were stylistically influenced by her teacher Fredric Werner. Her paintings hang in the Nationalmuseum and at Rosendal Palace, both in Stockholm, as well as in Rosersberg Palace in the province of Uppland.
Jeanna Åkerman died in Dresden on 27 May 1859, on a visit there to be treated for her increasingly ill health.