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Abraham från Godegård - berättelsen om en originell människa och hans musik

  • Peter Berry
Publiceringsår: 2011
Språk: Svenska
Publikation/Tidskrift/Serie: Formulär
Volym: 2
Dokumenttyp: Bok
Förlag: Musikhögskolan i Malmö


Abraham från Godegård – berättelsen om en originell människa och hans musik bygger på Peter Berrys mångåriga efterforskningar om folkskolläraren Abraham Hagholm (1811-1890). Hagholm var son till en fattig torpare i en avlägsen socken av Östergötland och drabbades i tidig ålder av förlamning. Hagholm övervann svårigheterna i sitt liv genom sin starka vilja och sitt livslånga engagemang i musik. Idag är Hagholm framför allt känd som upphovsman till en unik samling folklig dansmusik för fiol. Mindre känd är hans verksamhet som folkskollärare, sånglärare och körsångare.

Författaren har med hjälp av knapphändiga och sporadiska källor sökt få fram en helhetsbild av människan Abraham Hagholm. Författaren har tagit fasta på olika berättartraditioner och använt kompletterande material inom bland annat medicinhistoria, undervisningshistoria och musikhistoria. Samtidigt med Hagholms livshistoria skildrar författaren sitt forskningsarbete i dagboksform. Denna metod ger även utrymme för mer personliga reflektioner. Förutom texten spelar författarens egna bilder en viktig roll.
Abraham of Godegård – a tale of originality and music

Summarizing a story as wild and ambiguous as this one is a difficult task. My story seems to lack order but is a thorough scholarly study at the same time as being a very personal rendition of how I have proceeded along the road of my research and my search for, and relationship to the subject of my story, the school teacher and musician Abraham Hagholm (1811-1890) of Godegård, a parish situated in the countryside of southern Sweden.

In the process of writing this book I have had a particular person in mind as my audience and reader, which explains to some extent my tone and my approach. The person I refer to is none other than my mother-in-law, Eva, an intelligent caring woman with the experience of a long and rich life. She followed my work with great interest but died before I managed to complete my book. I believe that her positive spirit and insightful attitude have guided me in wading through the wealth of material I have consulted to make sense of Abraham. Hence, I have chosen not to make my book the result of traditional research, but rather something to be enjoyed by a wide circle of readers who relish a good tale and are curious about originality, music and creativity in their lives.

In my story Abraham himself plays an important role as an imagined interlocutor and occasional fellow traveler. As I have been collecting ideas and thoughts about Abraham over the last twenty years, it has increasingly become quite natural for me to address him directly, ask him questions and wonder about his response to some of my propositions. I do not believe that I have a kind of spiritual relationship with Abraham. It is above all a method, but at the same time a little bit more, a search for a way to make my subject come alive and to present a believable and inspiring destiny, that we can relate to as much as possible. If you like, you may ignore this peculiar technique of mine, and just focus on the matter, but I think you will lose some of the intimacy of this story.

There is a method in my madness. Besides being conventional historical and frequently crossing the boundaries of different disciplines, this is a study of how a human destiny might be viewed as different tales, or tracks. This approach presented itself quite naturally when I started to study Abraham, the reason being that there seem to be two main ways in which he is remembered and interpreted and that there seems to be a clear lack of contact between these. One has to do with Abraham's life and career as a teacher, the other with his life as a musician. My hypothesis is that this division tends to obscure our understanding of Abraham. The aim is to mix these tracks, adding a third track consisting of my research journey through this material to complete the picture of Abraham with my experiences and questions in the course of encountering him in different sources. I also want to make a point of how I have interpreted this material and how my own background in some way has decided the direction of my study.

Before I present some details of my research, I would like to point out what I mean by “tale”. My intention is to present, understand and analyze Abraham's life by telling a story. There are several reasons for this. One is obviously to present a material that might inspire and influence readers, just as Abraham has inspired and influenced me. I believe the telling of stories leads to a way of summarizing, and sharpens the eye to see possible directions and conclusions and asks interesting questions. I do not think that the manner in which I have used this method violates the “true” story of Abraham's life in any way. There is clearly a risk when making any attempt at an analysis, particularly when using a method such as mine. I think the advantages are larger than the pitfalls and I have, in any case, tried to be as clear as possible about what I am doing.

The story unfolds as a sort of diary of my research journey chronologically from Abraham's birth to what he represents today. I have made frequent use of the image of a train journey along different tracks, which goes well with my use of chronology and the process of my research. It is also an image that fits the time and environment of my story.

I am particularly interested in how he expresses his originality and the choices he makes in his political, economical and cultural environment, nationally and locally. I have concentrated on what his choices COULD be rather than on Abraham's life as a consequence of circumstances. This approach is also based on my personal conviction and my readings of Abraham's footprints in history which tell me that we are possibly dealing with a man who is not primarily a victim, somebody whose life is not decided by personal and other hardships in his environment, but a person who is characterized by a strong will to persevere by being resilient. It is easy to see Abraham's life as a result of a handicap that he suffered in young age, but I feel that one may at least be allowed to try an analysis based on Abraham's power and will to make decisions, to see if there is something to be learned by following that route. I think there is much more that we can find and use to understand Abraham's life, and to apply it to ourselves and our attempts to make sense of history, originality and music, by studying Abraham's realm of choices rather than following a deterministic path. My final comment is that it is up to somebody else to pursue that study. I have made it clear that it is not what have chosen to concern myself with.

It is not my intention to present a detailed account of the tales of Abraham, the three tracks, here. I will limit myself to a few general comments. First of all it is uncanny how Abraham's life is touched in several respects by important changes in society. Politically it was a time of growing liberalism and new opportunities for the individual to establish himself professionally, even if you are born in an underprivileged home, as in Abraham's case. Related to the focus on the individual is one of the most debated questions of the time, namely education. Abraham is offered the choice of becoming a teacher which he accepts and this career becomes one of the main vehicles to provide him with a successful life, materially and also provides him with a high standing in his local community.

Abraham's life is also touched by developments within music that are related to change in society, particularly a more modern view of professions appears, economic relations increasingly become market oriented and new social values become influential. Abraham is a part of all this. He seems to assume two of the fields of work that belong to the eroding institution of the sexton, education and in terms of music most importantly, his role as a provider of secular music to the community. As the music scene changes and becomes market related rather than locally defined, Abraham's energies change from collecting traditional popular music and he starts favoring a repertoire that is national, if not international, in character. Abraham's music taste is also a reflection of changes in the social class structure, as society moves from an emphasis on a farming community to dwelling in the cities and the development of a larger middle-class bourgeoisie. Abraham's choice is to follow this wave and embrace the new popular music traditions, such as waltzes and men's quartet singing. It fits his increased status as the first accredited school teacher in his parish. He would, however, never reach the pinnacles of local society. I doubt he had such aspirations.

Following the tracks of Abraham's life it becomes obvious that the different stories that are attributed to him interrelate more and sometimes less, as if the “other” track sometimes becomes more visible and closer, and then disappears for a while. It is possible to see obvious relationships at times, and at other times not, even though we are concerned with the life of one person. One reason for this might be the lack of reliable source material, making it necessary to speculate on possible connections and to do so in a way that is transparent to the reader of this book. That is where my third track becomes very important as it shows my endeavors and the strength of my probing all in the service of making my subject come alive and believable. There might be a merit connected to telling a person's life from different angles but there is also a need for a story that completes and connects.

I would like to mention the main surviving source of information on Abraham, which has concerned me the most and constitutes at the same time the avenue that whetted my appetite for this man's life story. I am referring to his collection of popular dance music from the 1830s and 1840s. It consists of a small notebook where these tunes, about 400 of them, are noted down rather accurately as far as we can tell. Besides the music there are few comments and one has to make the most of what there is of dates, place names and other notes. Spending time with Abraham's collection is worthwhile since it consists of a contemporary and locally defined, high quality selection of popular tunes that have been deemed so important that a majority of these tunes have been included in the major Swedish collection of folk music scores “Svenska låtar” (“Swedish folk tunes”).

An important aspect of my interests in these tunes is the study of different styles with the purpose of defining possible ways of interpreting this, and similar music traditions, in a way that is inspired by tradition but is very much alive now. My proposition is that the absolute imitation of style is more or less impossible and at the same time of very restricted value. What is important, is to use the stimulus and energy of this music to create more music, now.

I have analyzed the tunes in Abraham's collection by playing them several times and using both concrete measures such as keys and level of difficulty in performance to arrive at a basic division of the tunes into simple and complex, a division that I believe reflects two basic repertoires aimed at two different audiences that concerned Abraham: the local community and the spa of Medevi where Abraham was a frequent visitor. Within each repertoire it is possible to discern different styles but it has not seemed possible or reasonable to define each tune as belonging to a particular style. Instead I suggest possible interpretations, based on a reading of the entire material and expressed by selecting characteristics from a list of concepts, each pair of concepts suggesting a range of possibilities such as:

1.firm structure (as in a dance with a rigidly defined set of movements) – loose structure

2.melody oriented - chord oriented

3.“old” - “modern”

4.rustic – gallant

5.low-keyed – pompous

6.characterized by drive (jumpy or even) – static

7.well defined style – style not defined

8.odd - familiar

In the end of my book I offer a selection of Abraham's tunes as material to test these ways of playing in order to stimulate interpretation of his tunes and generally to offer my readers ways to add ideas to their own music palette and to have good simple fun with their music.

I also try to arrive at some conclusions as final thoughts on my third track, my research journey. One thought is that I can see a development of Abraham which is not possible by studying the individual tracks, a development I think is a critical ingredient in a description of Abraham and the contributions made in his many capacities. What I have in mind is a sort of intellectuality which expresses itself in Abraham's relationship to music, his knowledge of music theory, his basic reliance on scores, his familiarity with the arrangement of music in parts and his increasing concern with texts and music. This intellectuality has its obvious counterparts in Abraham's work as a teacher and what becomes the final point of his labors, his thirty years as a very devoted librarian. I suggest Abraham is an example of an intellectuality that is expressed in both these ways.

The purpose of my book is to study the life of a person who I think might inspire us in different ways today. Hence, it is important to make this image as full, correct and alive as possible. There are things that commonly cloud our pictures of past destinies and much too often a feeling that history in the “old” times, pre-industrialism, was eventless and moved exceedingly slowly. I have tried to show that Abraham's times were indeed full of decisive historical developments.

The literature generally dismisses school teachers of the early 19th century as being a group of worthless individuals, saved from poverty by being offered careers as teachers. If they were handicapped, as Abraham was, this is only taken as proof of the fact that the teaching jobs helped these people make a living. It is interesting that Abraham's handicap, the neurologically caused lameness of his legs, probably was not what made him a victim, but rather influenced him, physically and psychologically, to make his way intellectually, musically and textually, to become in many ways a successful and satisfied person.

I believe that your main message to us, Abraham, is to continue our creative search, to probe and to make several research journeys.


  • Music
  • folkmusik
  • sverige
  • östergötland
  • neurologi
  • lamhet
  • körsång
  • bibliotekarier
  • folk music
  • Sweden
  • neurology
  • handicap
  • choirs
  • librarians
  • 1800-tal
  • 19th century


  • ISBN: 9789197958431

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