Gustaf Brink (1858−1904)


Gustaf Hildor Brink, was born on 24 October 1858 in Stockholm and died there on 6 April 1904. He was a Swedish pianist, composer and piano teacher and worked at the Royal Conservatory of Music. In 1895 he became a member of Royal Swedish Academy of Music. As a composer, Brink wrote a dozen character pieces for piano typical of salon music, did arrangements and published piano lesson music.


Biographical information about Gust Brink is hard to find. He was born in Klara congregation in Stockholm where he studied at the Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) between 1875 and 1880. Among others he studied piano with Hilda Thegerström  (1838−1907) to whom he would later dedicate his 2 Etyder for piano. Two years later in 1882, Brink himself, at the age of 24 became a piano teacher and colleague of Thegerström at the Musikkonservatoriet and worked there until his death in 1904. During those last five years, 1889−1904, he also taught harmony at the conservatory and for a short period from 1902 to 1903 was a piano teacher at the Operaskolan (the opera school).

In 1886 Brink travelled to Paris to conduct his artistic studies and to collect material for his piano teaching work. The trip resulted in influences from French salon music, something that in several of Brink’s compositions is reflected in harmonies and the way of writing counterpoint that were uncommon for the time. He was elected to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) on 28 March 1895 as member number 489. Brink died at only 46 year of age, and the monetary help with funeral costs from the academy suggest a harsh economic situation for his widow and daughter.

The pianist

Judging by his compositions and educational works, Gustaf Brink seems to have been more of a chamber music pianist than a virtuoso. His concertising activity appears to have been limited. He performed most during the 1880s at chamber music soirées, often with violinist Lars Zetterquist (1860−1946) and singer Oscar Lejdström (1858−1926). Pieces that were presented included Franz Berwald’s Trio in E-flat major and Ludvig Norman’s Concert piece in F major together with his eight-year older friend, Richard Andersson, with whom he also played Niels W. Gade’s Aarsbilleder for female choir, soloists and piano four hands. Following the conventions of the time, Brink also performed Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre in a version for two pianos. Solo works such as Beethoven’s Piano sonata op. 101, a ballad by Chopin, a Liszt paraphrase and minor pieces by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Felix Mendelssohn were also often played.

The educator

Gustaf Brink’s more modest playing technique is reflected in his educational publications. The 50 progressiva etyderna (50 progressive etudes) printed in two books is more closely coupled to the figuration work of the pre-romantic period in the spirit of Czerny than to the technical practice of the Liszt school. The two etudes dedicated to Hilda Thegerström are more like melodic character pieces than virtuosic pieces, and train one technically. Brink’s adaptations of Swedish popular songs of the era are also written mostly for the home and not the type meant for concertising that characterise Richard Andersson’s transcriptions. Even Brink’s song transcriptions are of an unassuming nature. Included among these are songs by Ludvig Norman and Emil Sjögren and others − composers indicating the stylistic framework within which Brink moved.

The composer and his works

Gustav Brink’s output as a composer is limited. It concerns a dozen published original works for piano without opus numbers. Outwardly the form includes short genre pieces with a playing time of no more than five minutes. Although they are mutually different in character, they are connected in both name and form to the character pieces of the day. There are titles such as mazurka, polonaise, waltz, ballade and barcarole.

Despite the titles, it was not Chopin’s (and neither Robert Schumann’s nor Felix Mendelssohn’s) musical world that served as the role model. Like so much other music around the turn of the previous century, it was a French influence that was making itself felt at that time in the musical life of Sweden. In Brink’s case, it is mainly elegant salon music by Benjamin Godard, Jules Massenet or Camille Saint-Saëns that he imitated.

If Brink’s compositions are not so technically advanced, they are characterised, however, by a series of musically subtle aspects. The piano movements are often polyphonic and transparent, momentarily in a two-part facture in which the contrasts between the melody and the accompaniment are blurred and the accompaniment acquires a melodic character. The harmony oscillates between drawing-room sweetness and a more complex, sliding chromatic character (for example in the intermezzo-like Romans or Valse-Arabesk) or abrupt changes to different keys, as in Rêverie from Deux morceaux. A Slavic melancholy could also emerge that brings Tchaikovsky to mind, as in Deux nocturnes.

Despite the minor format, the shaping of the form is interesting. Brink often avoids simple repeats and exact replications and builds in an element of variation and surprise. The piece Ballade certainly has little in common with Chopin’s dramatic ballads but even so has a narrative character with a kind of recitative introduction, rhetorical pauses, and contrasting episodes set in a sonata-like structure.

The elegant publications show that there was a great demand for precisely this type of music. Several works preserved in the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden) are dedicated to the great female pianist of the time, Thora Hwass (1861−1918), which suggests that it was likely that Brink’s compositions were also spread by means of the concert stage.

Bertil Wikman © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Hilleström, Gustaf: Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien: Matrikel 1771−1971, Stockholm 1971: Nordiska musikförlaget, p. 101.
Norlind, Tobias
: 'Brink, Gustaf', in: Allmänt musiklexikon I−II, Stockholm 1916: Wahlström & Widstrand.
Svensk Musiktidning
, vol. 5, no. 10, 15 May 1885, p. 78.
Svensk Musiktidning
, vol. 5, no. 19, 1 Dec. 1885, p. 152.
Svensk Musiktidning
, vol, 6, no. 5, 1 Mar. 1886, p. 32.
Svensk Musiktidning,
vol. 24, 20 Apr. 1904, p. 6.
Svenskt porträttgalleri, p. XIV and XXI.
Uppström, Tore: Pianister i Sverige, Stockholm 1973: Nordiska musikförlaget, pp. 102, 108.


Kungliga Biblioteket (letters), Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (letters, Kungl. Musikaliska akademiens protokoll 1903/11/24, 1904/04/12, 1904/04/28), Stockholms stadsarkiv, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek (letters)

Summary list of works

Character pieces, lesson pieces and arrangements for piano.

Collected works

Original works f0r piano
Ballade for piano (F minor). Print C. Gehrman, Stockholm 1897.
Barcarolle for piano (B-flat major): Print Carl Johnns musikhandel, Stockholm 1888.
Elegy for piano (F minor). Print Abraham Hirsch, Stockholm 1891.
2 Etudes for piano: (1) Moderato (F-sharp minor), (2) Vivace (F minor). Print Abraham Hirsch, Stockholm 1887.
Festival march for piano, music insert to Svensk Musiktidning annual vol. 15 no. 11−12, 1897.
Flickans klagan. Printed in insert to Svensk Musiktidning annual vol. 2, 1882 pp. 83−86.
Gavotte for piano (G major). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm1891.
Impromptu (E minor). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm.
Mazurka de Salon pour le Piano (B-flat minor). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1881.
Meditation for piano (E-flat major). Printed in Musik för piano af svenska tonsättare, Abraham Lundquist, Stockholm 1898.
Deux Morceaux de Piano: (1) Reverie (A-flat major), (2) Petite Valse (A major). Print J. Löfving musikhandel, Stockholm 1895.
2 Nocturnes pour le piano: no. 1 (B minor), no. 2 (G major). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1888.
Polonaise for piano (B-flat major). Print Abraham Hirsch, Stockholm 1889.
Romans (F major). Printed in Modern Pianomusik, Stockholm Carl Gehrman, Stockholm 1892 and in Album för Piano af Svenska Tonsättare, Carl Gehrman Stockholm 1892.
Valse-Arabesk for piano (1886) (A-flat major). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1902.

Arrangements for piano
Halfdan Kjerulf: Rondino (F for), arranged for piano two hands. Print Abraham Hirsch, Stockholm.
Adam, Stephens: Mona, arrangement for piano. Print Elkan Schildknecht, Stockholm 1896.
‘Kung Erik’ by Ferdinand Bengzon, arrangement for piano (1895).
Svenska toner satta for piano book 1−2. (2nd book, arrangement of Swedish folk songs; Domaredansen, Jag ser upppå dina ögon, Vi ska' ställa till en roliger dans,
Fjorton år tror jag visst att jag va', stjernan uppå himmelen, Svenska fackeldansen). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1897.
Melodiska Minnen. Transcriptions for piano: August Ekenberg: Rida Ranka, Ludvig Norman: Månestrålar, John Jacobson: Jag har en nordisk flicka, Johannes Brahms:
Vaggsång, Emil Sjögren: Dröm, Nils Th. Kjellander, Emil Durand: Som i ungdomens år, Comme à vingt ans, Ferd. Bengzon: Viola, Adolph Adam: Jul-Sång. Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1898.
Paraphrase öfver Suomis Sång af Fredrik Pacius (D minor). Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1898.

Pedagogical works
50 progressive etudes book 1−2. Print Carl Gehrman, Stockholm 1902

Editions of pedagogical collections
Sonatine-Album. Collection of modern sonatines for piano by prominent composers revised by Gustaf Brink, vol. 1−2. (Vol. 1 sonatines by Fr. Spindler, C. Gurlitt, A. Krause, H. Berens. Vol. 2 sonatines by N. v. Wilm, C. Reinecke, A. Krause). Print Carl Gehrman, Stockholm 1895.
New sonatine collection book 1, including sonatines by F. X. Chwatal, C. Gurlitt, A. Krause, I. Seiss, M. Vogel. Print Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1900

Song and piano
Din Stämma (Carl Snoilsky). Song for voice and piano, printed in Sånger från skilda länder vol. 1, 25 romanser och sånger for en röst vid piano, Elkan & Schildknecht, Stockholm 1885.

Works by Gustaf Brink

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 2