Göte Carlid (1920−1953)


Göte Samuel Carlid (née Carlsson), a composer, librarian and a scholar of the history of ideas, was born in Sandviken on 26 December 1920 and died on 30 June 1953 in Sundbyberg. After academic studies in Uppsala he worked as a librarian in Enköping and later in Sundbyberg, however, from 1950 he dedicated himself solely to composing. Carlid was a self-taught composer and his expressive music often emanated from a sonorous rather than a melodic perspective.

Childhood and early years

Göte Carlid grew up in an evangelical environment. He took the name Carlid around 1942. His family name was in fact Carlsson. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother, who came from a Walloonian background, was quite musical. She played the church congregation’s organ, led music evenings and often sang as a soloist. Carlid developed early as a child, and at age four he could read unhindered. When he began school he could play the organ and read musical notation and he often accompanied the obligatory hymn singing.

In 1924 the family moved from Sandviken to Mariannelund in Småland, where they stayed for four years. From there they moved to Visby and there Carlid took organ and piano lessons from the cathedral organist, Ludvig Siedberg. At 12 years of age he showed so much talent that Siedberg wanted him to continue studying in Stockholm in order to get a degree in organ performance, but Carlid declined.

In the autumn of 1936 the family moved again, this time to Örebro, where Carlid took music lessons from Marta Mayer-Reinach alongside his studies at the secondary school, Karolinska läroverket. He had also become interested in jazz and poetry and won several prizes in the school association Brage’s poetry competitions. Carlid had an extraordinary talent for languages. He spoke several languages fluently, and was also well versed in Old French and medieval German. With his academic talents within the humanities, Carlid chose to apply to University of Uppsala where he began his studies in 1939 after having received a state grant. Two years later Göte Carlid married Ulla Ljungwall, and it was likely in connection with this that he changed his name to Carlid. They had two children, a son Mats Ture (b. 1944) and a daughter Siv Kerstin (b. 1947).

Work as a librarian and composing debut

Carlid’s studies were focused on a career as a librarian and he received his BA degree in 1943. That same year he visited Ture Rangström to get his opinion about his compositions and discuss how Carlid could further develop. Rangström was positive but considered Carlid’s knowledge of counterpoint and orchestration to be quite lacking. Carlid began to study harmony and composition under Albert Mayer-Reinach in Örebro. He debuted in 1943 as both a composer and pianist when he, together with the poet Harald Forss and the singer David Palmroth, gave an evening of poetry at the Örebro concert house. Works by Carlid included a piano piece, songs set to poetry by Forss, several movements from Romantisk svit for orchestra and ‘Lento patetico’ from the symphony in D minor.

During the years that followed he worked as a trainee at several different libraries and in 1945 he again took up his studies, which led to receiving his licentiate in 1950. Parallel with his studies, he worked at the Enköping city library where he, with his strong interest in literature and access to the library, gladly arranged various cultural events. He organized a performance by Stig Dagerman, Erik Lindegren and Harald Forss at a literary evening at the city library. Carlid, who was a skilful organizer, arranged another event in November 1947 titled, ‘Modernistisk treklang’, that combined painting, sculpture, literature and music. Among the collaborators were several of the largest cultural personalities of the time, including the artists Lennart Rodhe, Olle Bonniér and Karl-Axel Pehrson, and poets Erik Lindegren and Ragnar Thoursie. Participating composers included Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Sven-Erik Bäck, Sven-Eric Johanson and Ingvar Lidholm.

Forum for contemporary music

At the turn of the New Year in 1948 Göte Carlid moved to Sollentuna where he had been hired as a librarian. At the same time, music was becoming increasingly important to him. At a concert at the Mission Church in Uppsala, the Peska Quartet from Prague performed his Miniatyrer for string quartet, but the music did not meet his own expectations. Carlid then burned a large part of his earlier compositions, and only a small number of compositions from his younger years are extant.

Together with Paul M. Deutsch, better known under his pseudonym Paul Patera, Carlid developed his network within the music circles of Uppsala. The two organized concerts and study circles, and the student organization, Värmlands nation, became somewhat of a centre for new music during that last two years of the 1940s. There the pianist Kjell Baekkelund premiered Carlid’s Smärre pianostycken, dedicated to Paul Patera, which was the first piece that Carlid accepted – thus receiving the opus number 1.

In the autumn of 1948, with his activities in Uppsala as a model, Carlid founded a chamber music society in Stockholm that would be a forum for contemporary music. The membership also included a large number of writers and artists, and the stated ambition was, similarly to the journal, Prisma, to create a network of various artists’ groups. Along with Carlid, other founders included Blomdahl, Bäck, Lindegren and the artist Pierre Olofsson.

His own pathways

Carlid belonged to the same generation as the members of the Måndagsgruppen (a group of composers, musicians and musicologists who met regularly to discuss music) and was sometimes a guest at their gatherings. Stylistically, however, he took his own paths that were often the opposite of the suggested ideal of the ways one used certain elements. He wanted to be independent of doctrines and, as Ingvar Bengtsson wrote in Prisma in 1948, any ‘a priori assessment of certain technical methods.’ Intuition was his way of approaching music and in his music he tried to capture the ‘inner monologue’ and hear ‘the inner melody’, which he meant could only happen by totally freeing yourself from all forms of standard thinking.

Carlid often began with a short theme with an open and unfinished character, which he revised associatively and expanded into related patterns and motifs. In the lyrical and atmospheric single-movement Quartetto elegiaco for string quartet, he begins with a theme from one of his earlier miniatures for string quartet, but the style is reminiscent of Alban Berg’s lyrical suite, which was one of Carlid’s favourite works. In Triad for alto saxophone and piano, the theme emerges with an initial short ascending motion in the saxophone part and a tonally anchored accompaniment figure in the piano part. Because of Carlid’s strong interest in poetry, vocal music was a natural expressive form for him. The three musical settings of texts by Harald Forss have a scaled-down, almost naïve character to them, which allows the texts show themselves with exceptional clarity.

Carlid himself wrote about the two-movement piano sonata, saying that the first movement totally revolves around the four opening chords, ‘whose note material forms the basis of the entire movement’s building blocks.’ The second movement is markedly ecstatic with very powerful dynamic effects. Although the sonata seems to revolve around C as a tonal centre, it also has aesthetic elements from serial music. This also applies to his three Monologer for piano that have a modernistic feel that occasionally blossoms out into a melodic motif and magnificent sonorous formations.

Sudden success

In 1950 Ulla and Göte Carlid divorced. That same year Carlid married Ingegerd Mårtensson, a young academic. At the same time he decided to focus full-time on his composing. The following year they both took a long trip, visiting Switzerland, Italy and France where a highlight was meeting Pierre Boulez and his music. Boulez is said to have described Göte Carlid as one of the most intuitive and intelligent musicians of his generation. After returning to Sweden he began to show early signs of the disease that, just a few years later, caused his premature death: Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Ironically, it was now that his successes came. In competition with works by Hilding Rosenberg, Gösta Nystroem and Lars-Erik Larsson the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) chose his Hymnes à la beauté for mixed choir and orchestra to represent Sweden at the World Music Festival in Salzburg in 1952, which led to a reassessment of his talent and position. Carlid had taken the texts for Hymnes à la beauté from Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and musically he moves, as he did in Monologer, in a musical landscape of both modernism’s influences and contemporary music’s more tonally oriented currents. He writes in a letter to Paul Patera, ‘Curious, this sudden success, which seems to have had an impact on my position in the Swedish music scene. I am almost beginning to become a legalized composer.’ He was also awarded a national composer’s grant of 1,000 Swedish crowns.

During his final years, Carlid spent long periods being treated for his illness at the Radiumhemmet in Stockholm. However, his condition continued to deteriorate and in June of 1953 he died at his home in Sundbyberg.

Göran Persson © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

Carlid, Göte & Bengt Pleijel: Musik på skiva: en orientering i svensk skivmarknad, Stockholm, 1951.
Nordström, Johan, Göte Carlid, Hugo Olsson & Torbern Bergman (eds): Torbern Bergman's foreign correspondence, vol. 1, Letters from foreigners to Torbern Bergman. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1965.


Arvidson, Mats: Ett välordnat samhälle eller anarki? Estetiska och sociala aspekter på svensk konstmusik 1945–1960, diss. in musicology, University of Gothenburg, 2007.
Bengtsson, Ingmar
: ‘Den unga svenska musiken’, Prisma, no. 6 1948.
Höjer, Olof: Göte Carlid och hans musik: biografiska och stilanalytiska anteckningar, seminar essay in musicology, Stockholm University, 1965.
Höjer, Olof: ‘Göte Carlid – en tonsättare vid 40-talets slut’, in: Nutida Musik, no. 8 1964/65.
Wallin, Nils: ‘Radikal eller traditionalist?’, Röster i Radio, no. 34 1952.

Summary list of works

Vocal works with orchestra (Hymnes à la beauté), works for string orchestra (Notturno, Mässa), chamber music works (Quartetto elegiaco, Eine kleine Teemusik, Triad, etc.), piano pieces (Smärre pianostycken, Sonata lyrica, Monologer), songs (Helt alene, Ur Dithyramb, Tre sånger, etc.), other vocal music and music for recitation (Musikbussen, Tystnadens sjö). In addition, works that were not acknowledged by the composer himself.

Collected works

Göte Carlid refused to acknowledge, with few exceptions, any works composed before 1948. This list is thus divided into two sections: works accepted by Carlid, and other works.

Works accepted by Göte Carlid:

String orchestra
Notturno for string orchestra (with flute ad lib), 1945.
Mass for strings, 1949. 1. Andante espressivo, 2. Moderato, 3. Andantino, 4. Allegretto.

Vocal music with accompaniment and recitation with accompaniment
Ur Dithyramb, for voice and cello (G. Ekelöf), 1949.
Three songs for harald forss (H. Forss). Female voice, flute, clarinet and cello, 1949.
Hymnes à la beauté, for choir and orchestra (Ch. Baudelaire). 1. Les litanies de Satan, 1951, 2. L’invitation au voyage, 1950, 3. Hymne à la beauté, 1951.
Musikbussen, for children's choir and instruments (L. Hellsing), 1952.

Chamber music
Quartetto elegiaco, op. 2, string quartet, 1948.
Eine kleine Teemusik [motto: Du borde vara här vid mitt ensamma té. Det är kinesiskt, tycker du om det?], divertimento for flute, 2 clarinets and cello, 1949. 1. Adagio, 2. Moderato, 3. Moderato assai, 4. Poco allegro.
Tystnadens sjö – musical vignettes for chamber orchestra, to poems by Åke Leander. For flute, horn, violin, viola, cello and contrabass, 1945. 1. Detta är tystnadens sjö, 2. Å, jag minns denna kväll, 3. Natten har kommit, 4. Käraste, sträck dig ej så, 5. Natt omhöljer min själ.
Triad for saxophone and piano, 1950.

Minor piano pieces, opus 1 (Tema – Romans – Caprice – Elegi), ca 1947.
Sonata (later renamed Sonata lyrica). Devotamente – Deciso, 1948.
Monologues (Tranquillamente cantando – Presto con fuoco – Tranquillamente cantando), 1950.

Organ piece, 1951.

Voice and piano
Helt alene (T. Ditlevsen), voice and piano, 1948.

Other extant works

Moderato quasi lento for symphony orchestra D major, 1942. [Piano reduction.]
Romantic suite for orchestra, based on four poems by harald forss. 1. Otydbara längtan, 2. Ljus bukett, 3. Pärlebetagelse, 4. Och folket i staden …, 5. Quasi lento ed elegiaco, 6. Allegro moderato, 7. Un poco lento, 8. Come prima. 1943.

Voice with piano
Sånger till hjärtats syster, 1943. 1. I denna stund, 2. Det blir så stilla, 3. Den ro jag kände, 4. I drömmens ljusblå himmelsal.
Vår är morgondagen (H. Forss), 1945.
Höstsång vid de tre ödegårdarna (Å. Leander), 1945.
Kvällsackord (B. Gedda), 1946.

Chamber music
Lento espressivo (from Miniatures for string quartet), 1947.
Chorale (from Miniatures for string quartet), n.d.
Slinglek for string quartet, n.d.
Intermezzo for string quartet, n.d.
Elegy for the end of the 40s for dammofon (vacuum cleaner hose with trombone mouthpiece), n.d.
Sostenuto ma molto risoluto e cantando for violin and piano, n.d.
String quartet in D major, n.d.

Rauk, rhapsodic tone poem for piano, 1937.
Vaggvisa, 1939.
Monotonous prelude, 1942.
Andante tranquillo, 1942.
Visionata, 1946.
Kvällsstycke för trött poet, 1946.
Two shorter pieces [likely for harpsichord], n.d.

Works by Göte Carlid

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

Number of works: 1