Early Years

Wilhelm Peterson-Berger was born February 27, 1867 on the farm in the parish of Ullånger in the county of Ångermanland. He had three siblings, brother Einar, sister Gerda and brother Folke. In autumn 1869 the family moved to the county of Västerbotten, where Wilhelm spent his formative years alternately in Umeå and Burtrask.

Mother Sophia Wilhelmina Peterson (maiden name Berger) at her harmonium/ pump organ in Umeå. She introduced her son to music.

Encounter with music

PB's first encounter with music was through his mother Sophia Wilhelmina. He remembers the experience, when the music came to him, almost as a spiritual revelation.

It was the winter of 1874, when PB was 6-7 years old. His mother comes into the room, it's dusk. She went to the piano. She sat down and started playing. He did not know then what the piece was, he had heard it many times before, but now he was captured by these noises, and enchanted. His mother played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

This was the portal for PB to become acquainted with Schumann, Grieg and Brahms. With these inspirations he later said, "my encounter with music was complete".

PB with his family in Umeå. Mother Sophia Wilhelmina, father Olof Einar brother, sister Gerda, brother Folke.


During his early years one of the strongest and clearest influences on Peterson-Berger's earliest compositions were his acquaintance with Norwegian literature, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's poetry and Edvard Grieg's music.

This popular, natural and earthy art found strong resonance in his own temperament and aroused similar, but personal, expression to his musical sense and imagination in a number of choir compositions, songs and piano pieces.

After secondary school studies in Umeå PB attended the Academy of Music in Stockholm. Father Olof Pettersson, surveyor in Umeå, had wished that his son would have chosen another academic career, but that was not what PB chose. His mother, Sophia Wilhelmina Berger, however, was pleased with his choice to become a composer.

PB and his brother Einar along with young sports enthusiasts in Umeå 1885-90. PB is at the front with croquet mallet.
Tennis play on Änge farm, Frösön 1894-95. Lars Tirén in the middle, PB far left, surrounded by enthusiastic crowds in fine clothing. Notice the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway flag.

To Stockholm

Autumn 1885 Wilhelm traveled to Stockholm. He often went to the opera, which was a new experience for him. The interaction between text, music and design mesmerized Wilhelm. He bought cheap tickets with seats at the top of the auditorium. During this first time in Stockholm he encountered/discovered Wagner's music. On April 2, 1887, he saw Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master-Singers of Nuremberg) at the Swedish premiere.

- As I recall the immortal evening, I believe it to be my life's strongest theatrical memory. I literally was spellbound several days, during which I neglected my school work at the conservatory and drove around the streets in a kind of happy intoxication, "Trunkenheit ohne Wein" (Drunkenness without wine).

He found community with other artistic souls who also studied in Stockholm, he now had friends in the northern Sweden crowd. Above all, he socialized with the artist Johan Tirén, son of a clergyman from Oviken. He often sat in Johan Tirén's studio and composed music for piano and violin, which among others resulted in his first sonata in E minor.

There, with Johan Tirén, were very many get parties with celebration and singing and discussions together with siblings Arbman from Sunne, Ernst Arbman and daughters Alma and Hilda (later also Rosa), but especially with Alma Arbman. (She was 15 years old older, otherwise it would probably have become more of a relationship between them, instead she was more like a big sister)

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