Gustaf Carlman (1906−1958)


Ernst Gustaf Carlman, born on 5 March 1906 in Låssa and died on 3 June 1958 in Kristianstad, was a church musician, music teacher and composer. He earned degrees in church music and music pedagogy at the Royal Conservatory of Music. He worked as a church musician in Tvååker-Spannarp during 1931−36 and in Skellefteå up until 1947, when he was appointed organist and cantor in Kristianstad, remaining there until his death. Carlman had a wide range of activities as a choir and orchestra conductor and his compositions consisted mainly of organ and choral music.


Background and studies

Gustaf Carlman was born in Låssa parish in Uppland, north of Stockholm. He completed his organ degree in 1922 and graduated as a schoolteacher in Linköping. While there he was further able to develop skills leading a choir in a larger context as a substitute for the cathedral cantor, who was ill during 1928−29. He continued his studies at the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet i Stockholm (the Royal Conservatory of Music) where he earned degrees in cantorship and music pedagogy in 1931 as well as an advanced degree in organ performance in 1936.

Partially in parallel with his studies he worked as an organist in Tvååker-Spannarp in the region of Halland, beginning in 1931. During this time he made important pioneering strides within the church song movement as a co-founder and leader of both the Hallands kyrkosångsförbund (the Halland Choral Society) and the Kyrkosångens Vänners Hallandskör (the Friends of Church Song’s Halland Choir). He was also conductor for the Varbergs orkestersällskap (the Varberg Orchestra Society). After the completion of his studies he was appointed in 1936 as organist and cantor in the Skellefteå town parish. Alongside his church music duties he had other conducting opportunities including as the leader of the Skellefteå Men’s Choir during 1937−41 and conductor of the Music Society’s orchestra. From 1939 until 1942 he was the secretary for the Luleå diocese organists’ association. At the beginning of the 1940s he often took part as a reviewer and writer on various church music topics for the church music publication, Kyrkomusikernas tidning.

Career years and character

In 1947 he was appointed as the organist at the Holy Trinity Church in Kristianstad where he was primarily known for conducting the great classical church music works, and on several occasions he presented works such as Handel’s Messiah and J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Here as well, he involved himself in regional choral music, both as the initiator of Nordöstra Skånes körförbund (Northeast Skåne’s Choir Association) and as conductor of Christianstads motett-och musiksällskap (Christianstad’s Motet and Music Society, now called Christianstads motettkör). In 1952 he became the first conductor for the Lund diocese’s choral association and led the national choir at several national church music gatherings. He also performed as a solo organist both within Sweden and abroad,

Carlman also worked as a music teacher at the school teacher’s college in Kristianstad and gave private lessons in organ performance and music theory; one of his students was Ingemar Månsson, who later became one of the country’s leading choir directors. Beginning in 1942 he was engaged to teach national courses for degrees in organ performance and cantorship, and he was also employed as an examiner at diocese examinations in church music.

Testimonials from his colleagues and choir singers paint a picture of an enterprising and colourful musical personality, a leading figure with charisma and authority, but also one who shows humility in his work. Within his work as a reviewer, he appears to be a fearless critic of his composer colleagues while at the same time using humour as a way to take the edge off of sharper reviews. Carlman was an uncle by marriage to the writer Jan Myrdal, and played an important role as an artistic mentor for the young author, to which several of Myrdal’s books bear witness.


Gustaf Carlman’s activity as a composer was relatively limited. The few works that were published are all organ or choral compositions, however, he also wrote solo songs and piano pieces.

His compositions for organ maintain an austere polyphonic style showing him to be more consistent than most in accepting the contemporary ideals of New Objectivity and anti-romanticism. Along with the larger works Fantasia gotica and Fantasia ostinata that were published separately, he also composed new arrangements of chorales – often in multi-movement forms such as the chorale partita. Some of these works were published in Albert Runbäck’s and Waldemar Åhlén’s collection, Postludier, and so were spread widely over the whole country. 

His works for choir include motets that were also distinctly polyphonic. One rather different choral composition is the musical setting of Erik Axel Karlfeldt’s Dalecarlian poem, ‘Elie himmelsfärd’ (The Ascension of Elijah), an airy and rhythmically vital a cappella piece for three-part mixed choir. The work was published in Gottfrid Berg’s widely used collection, Läroverkskören from 1950, and became a part of the repertoire for the newly founded Kammarkören (the Chamber Choir) in Stockholm under the leadership of Eric Ericson. The Easter day motet, Döden är uppslukad (Death is swallowed), also has this uncluttered and, for its time, unusual three-part setting. A larger choral work is the cantata Västerbotten, written in 1945 for the 100th anniversary of the city of Skellefteå. In addition Carlman composed a number of church cantatas.

Sverker Jullander © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

‘Körsången vid högmässan’, in: Kyrkomusikernas Tidning, vol. 8, 1941.
‘Nutida tyska tonsättare’, in: Kyrkomusikernas Tidning, vol. 8, 1941.


Connor, Herbert: Svensk musik, vol. 2, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1977.
H.M. [Hagbert Meuller?): ‘Gustaf Carlman avliden’, in: Sydsvenska Dagbladet, 4 June 1958.
Meuller, Hagbert: ‘Gustaf Carlman in memoriam’, in: Kyrkomusikernas Tidning, vol. 24, no. 12, 1958.
Myrdal, Jan: Skriftställning 13. Den trettonde, Stockholm: Askelin & Hägglund, 1983.
−−−: Barndom, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1982.
Wallner, Bo: ‘Carlman, Gustaf’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon [1st ed.], Stockholm: Sohlman, 1948.
Åstrand, Hans: ‘Konstmusiken 1920–45’, in: Leif Jonsson & Hans Åstrand (eds), Musiken i Sverige, vol. 4, Stockholm: Fischer & Co., 1994.

Summary list of works

Piano works, organ music (Fantasia Sacra, Fantasia gotica, Fantasia ostinata, Koralmässa, chorale arrangements, etc.) songs with piano, choral works (the cantata Västerbotten, Svensk mässa, the cantata collection Andlig körmusik, etc.).

Collected works

This works list is incomplete

Chorale arrangements, in: Runbäck–Åhlén, Postludier III (1935?): Hur fröjdar sig i templets famn (3 chorale variations), O min Jesu, dit du gått (organ chorale), O Kriste, du som ljuset är, partita (chorale and 4 variations), Min vilotimma ljuder, Toccata, Ricercare and Ciacona.
Vi tacke dig, o Jesu god, organ chorale.
Fantasia sacra, 1936.
Fantasia gotica, 1940. Stockholm: Nordiska Musikförlaget, 1946.
Fantasia ostinata, 1949. Stockholm: Nordiska Musikförlaget, 1951.
Chorale mass.

‘Den signade dag…’, chorale arrangements for solo, mixed choir, congregational singing and organ, 1935.
Cantata ‘Västerbotten’, for the city of Skellefteå’s 100th anniversary, 1945.
Swedish mass.
Spiritual choral music [a collection of cantatas].
Döden är uppslukad, Easter motet, 1939. Lund: Gleerup.
Elie himmelsfärd, in: Läroverkskören, ed. Gottfrid Berg, Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, 1950; separate ed. 1956.
Din Gud är nu konung, advents motet for solo tenor and mixed choir, Slite: Wessmans, 1968.

Works by Gustaf Carlman

There are no works by the composer registered