Wikmanson was born in Stockholm and, except for 18 months spent in Copenhagen studying mathematics and instrument making, lived his entire life in the Swedish capital. He was a superb organist and for many years held the post of organist at the Storkyrkan, Stockholm's principal church. He was also an accomplished cellist.
Nonetheless, like most Swedish musicians of this era, he was unable to earn his living solely as a practicing musician and was forced to find employment as a government accountant, working for the Royal Swedish National Lottery. He did, however, obtain some recognition during his lifetime. In 1788, he was made a member of the Swedish Royal Academy and later was put in charge of its music program.
As a composer, Wikmanson is remembered for his five string quartets, all published after his early death from tuberculosis in 1800. His close friend, Gustav Silverstolpe, published what he felt were the three best at his own expense, titling them Opus 1. Later, Silverstolpe gave the rights to the well-known German publisher Breitkopf and Härtel, hoping they would publish the quartets and hence give them wider circulation. However, this appears not to have happened. No new edition appeared for more than 170 years. In the 1970s the Swedish firm of Edition Reimers published all three quartets of the Op.1 and recently (2006) Edition Silvertrust brought out a new edition of String Quartet No.1 in d minor, Op.1 No.1
It is not known exactly when Wikmanson composed the Opus 1 string quartets, as Silverstolpe called them. They were not, however, his first work, and probably were among his last works. Of the five quartets, most scholars believe the so-called First Quartet was probably his fifth and last. Evidence supports this, as Silverstolpe placed what he considered the strongest work first in the set of three that he published. This was common practice, because it was generally felt that the first work of a published set had to be strong to interest players in the others in the set. The weakest was usually placed in the middle and another strong work at the end. The Op.1 Quartets were dedicated to Haydn, albeit posthumously. Though Wikmanson did not know Haydn personally, it is clear that he was familiar with Haydn's quartets, including the Op.76, published in 1799, the year before his death. Haydn for his part, was impressed by these works and tried, unsuccessfully, to stimulate interest in them.
String Quartet No.1 is in four movements—Allegro—Adagio—Minuetto and Allegro. Critics consider it the equal of any of Haydn's Op.64 quartets and, in some ways, in advance of them, particularly in its excellent use of the viola and cello. The most striking movement is the Adagio, a powerful funeral march—which was performed at Wikmanson's own funeral. It is reminiscent of the slow movement to Haydn's Op.20 No.2, one of the finest Haydn ever wrote. The minuet is also grave in mood although its lovely trio is much like an Austrian Ländler. The finale features a wild racing melody with a surprise ending.
- Jonathan Woolf, program notes
- Hans Eppstein Booklet Text to LP Recording of Johan Wikmanson Stråkkvartetter Op.1 Nr.1-3, Musica Sveciae, 1985
- Some of the information on this page appears on the website of Edition Silvertrust but permission has been granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.