Viking Dahl (1895−1945)


Frode Viking Samson Dahl was born in Osby, Sweden on 8 October 1895 and died on 4 January 1945 in Halmstad. He had a broad range of artistic interests and completed examinations in both music and organ performance. During the years 1920−21 he received international attention for the music to Maison de Fous performed by the Swedish Ballet in Paris. In Sweden, Dahl worked as a piano teacher, organist, choir director, writer, music teacher and composer. Ideas surrounding the synthesis of various art forms characterised both his accomplishments and his sociological philosophy. Dahl wrote stage music, songs, chamber music, vocal music, as well as a variety of piano works.

The minister’s son from Osby

While visiting Sweden in 1926, Maurice Ravel was to have judged Swedish modern composers as follows: ‘Among your modernists in Sweden I really only know about one of the younger ones, Viking Dahl, whose pantomime was presented by the Swedish Ballet in Paris. His music seemed to me to be extremely interesting.’ This quote gives a hint as to the international impression Dahl made after his time in Paris during the years 1920−21, mainly against the background of his music for the ballet Maison de Fous (Madhouse). Unfortunately Dahl’s international career was short-lived and he would never attain any higher recognition within the Swedish scene. His life has been likened to an inverted version of the tale about the ugly duckling.

Frode Viking Samson Dahl was born on 8 October 1895 in Osby, in the southern Swedish region of Scania. His father Samuel Dahl was a vicar, coming from a long line of ministers and followers of a Christian revivalist movement led by Henric Schartau in south western Sweden’s Bohuslän. Dahl’s musical interests began early, and as a child he played cello while his mother, Kate, accompanied him on the piano. Playing music in the home was to be a decisive factor in his future career choice. During his time at the private elementary school in Lund he began to compose, and became interested in art and theatre as well.

Dahl’s music studies began with piano and cello lessons at the music conservatory in Malmö, with, among others, the piano pedagogue John Heintze. In connection with the Baltic Exhibition of 1914 held in Malmö, Dahl came into contact with modern aesthetic sensibilities, mainly through the expressionist Wassily Kandinsky, whose artwork and philosophy of art made a strong impression on him. Viking Dahl’s broad artistic interest was formed during his teenage years, following him throughout life, where the bringing together of music, art and dance was one of the pillars of his thinking about artistic synthesis.

Studies at the Musikkonservatoriet 1915−19

In late summer of 1915 Viking Dahl arrived in Stockholm to begin his music studies at the Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music). He took lessons in counterpoint, organ, composition and cello, achieving degrees in organ performance and music pedagogy. His teachers included Olallo Morales, Andreas Hallén, Gustav Hägg, Carl Lindhe, Viktor Wiklund and Henning Mankell. Alongside his studies at the conservatory he took classes in art history, painting, theatre and choreography. He preferred and was inspired by Russian and French modern art and music, making him one of the more unusual culture practitioners in the German dominated Stockholm music scene. Dahl’s first opus, Suite oriental, was written in 1916 and first performed in Stockholm in 1919. That same year he published an article outlining his thoughts concerning ‘the wholeness of art’, meaning the notion that related art forms should be parts of a united wholeness. This was the embryo of the inspired thoughts of Richard Wagner and Alexander Scriabin within the philosophy of art of the Gesamtkunstwerk and of synaesthesia respectively, which paved the way for Dahl’s humanistic view of life concerning artistic synthesis.

Like so many other musicians who were searching for inspiration at this time, Dahl was attracted to the dynamic cultural metropolises of the European continent. After obtaining introductory letters from the composers Wilhelm Peterson-Berger and Armas Järnefelt, and financial support from his sceptical parents, the Francophile Dahl traveled to Paris for further study and inspiration.

Paris and the ballet Maison de Fous

Viking Dahl arrived in Paris on New Year’s Day in 1920. In Paris he studied composition with Paul Vidal as well as piano (his main instrument) with Nathalie Radisse, Madeleine de Valmalète, Ricardo Viñemen and − perhaps most importantly − with Rudolf M. Breithaup. Dahl also took dance lessons from the modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, and intensified his writing about music with several articles in the Swedish press about artistic synthesis as well as music life in France.

It was his interest in dance that paved the way for Dahl’s most prominent musical work − music for the ballet Maison de Fous, which was produced by Rolf de Maré’s Swedish Ballet (Les Ballets suédois). After a concert featuring the Swedish Ballet’s dancer and choreographer Jean Börlin, Dahl contacted him and offered his services to the ballet company. During the hectic summer of 1920, he wrote the music for Maison de Fous. The ballet premiered on 8 November and garnered what was considered scandalous attention as its reception reflected the contemporary cultural battle between safe guarders of tradition and the standard bearers of modernism. Maurice Ravel was impressed by the music of this Swedish composer and compared him to Igor Stravinsky. Words of appreciation were also heard from his Swedish colleague, composer Hilding Rosenberg. The ballet was performed about thirty times on various European stages and its success meant that, for a time, Dahl could make a living from his music and have the opportunity to make contact with Ravel (whom he took lessons from), as well as Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc. Viking Dahl’s prospects as a composer seemed bright, but the money he earned ran out and his parents at home in Osby no longer were willing to give him financial support. In May of 1921 Dahl left Paris.

A music teacher in Lund

After a short period living with his family and several trips to Berlin and Copenhagen, where he returned continually during the 1920s to study choreography, singing, theatre and art, Dahl established himself in Lund. Once he was settled, he gave piano and modern dance lessons and published two books on piano study. He became active in the Swedish section of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), composing several works including Svenska låtar (Bröllopssuite), a suite of Swedish wedding songs, which was performed on 12 February 1927 in Stockholm.

During 1922 Dahl had completed the total artwork En sjömansvisa (A seaman’s song), that together with Allsegraren are the works in which he most clearly put his theories of artistic synthesis into aesthetic practice. The plot of En sjömansvisa is driven by the dancers wearing mysterious masks and is set in an archipelago. These elements, together with the music, scenography and text (which is composed of invented words) is intended to highlight human universalism. During the 1920s he turned away from the theorising about music and the urban environment, from which he contended contemporary, bloodless and mechanical music emerged. The music of the future would instead, according to Dahl, build upon the experiences found in nature, ‘primitive force’ and ‘authentic feelings’. Finances continued to be a concern and he therefore took a position as an organist in Varberg in 1923.

Organist and artistic synthesiser in Varberg

Beside his work as an organist he taught music at a teacher’s school for women, as well as building a school orchestra of mixed instruments. He concertised, led the Varberg music society, composed and founded the publishing house Standard Edition. On 24 February 1929 several pieces from En Sjömansvisa were performed in Stockholm but earned only a weak reception. In 1930 the first version of Allsegraren was completed and Dahl saw this work as a solution to ‘the total work of art problem’.

The problem of synthesising artistic genres was a red thread running through Dahl’s creative life. Artistic synthesis not only included his composing and artistic practices, but he developed it into a broad humanistic philosophy that enfolded artistic, religious, philosophical, scientific and social visions. The synthesis of the arts would then create a new spirit, which would be the solution to all of modern humanity’s problems. Through his musical works, writings, articles, lectures and private institutions and schools, Dahl tirelessly tried to spread his gospel. Perhaps this total immersion in an idea prevented him from developing as a composer. Lonely, misunderstood and marked by illness, Dahl died at Halmstad hospital on 4 January 1945.

Henrik Rosengren © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

Framtidens musikdrama, Lund: self-published, 1920 (also in French Le drame musical de l´avenir, Paris, 1921).
Sjömansvisa: skådespel, Lund: self-published, 1922.
Musikundervisning och musikkultur, Lund: Lindströms bokhandel, 1923.
Musikkulturella studier, Lund, 1923−24.
Grunderna till pianospelets teknik, Lund 1924.
På väg till ett allkonstverk, Lund: Lindströms bokhandel, 1924 
Allkonstaktion. Om allkonstverket och dess förutsättningar, allkonsttanken och vår tid, Lund: A. B. Skånska centraltryckeriet, 1934.
Den allkonstnärliga syntesen. Kortfattad orientering, Varberg: Standard-edition, 1939.
Det kvinnliga inflytandet i Wagners liv och konst: några reflektioner med anledning av ett 100-årsminne, Varberg: standard-edition, 1939.


Dahl, Agneta: Dårarnas hus och kärlekens: om tonsättaren och allkonstnären Viking Dahl, Varberg: Utsikten förlag, 2005.
Edling, Anders
: Paris som vallfartsort för unga svenska tonsättare åren efter första världskriget, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 1970.
Fernström, John
: Jubals son och blodsarvinge: självbiografiska anteckningar, Stockholm: Fischer, 1997.
Haglund, Rolf
: Viking Dahl och drömmen om allkonstverket, in [Ulf Thomas Moberg (ed.),] Nordisk konst i 1920-talets avantgarde: uppbrott och gränsöverskridande, Stockholm: Cinclus 1995, pp. 70−82.
Hanson, Sten
: Vad tystade Viking?, in [Sten Hanson & Thomas Jennefelt(red.),] Tonsättare om tonsättare, Bromma: Edition Reimers 1993, pp. 45−53.
Höijer, Olof: Viking Dahl och pianot. Ett bidrag till bilden av Viking Dahl, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, no. 2, 1980, pp. 23−50. 
Höjer, Carin:
Viking Dahl och balettverket Maison de Fous, Uppsala: Institutionen för musikforskning, Uppsala universitet, 1979.
Höjer, Carin: Förteckning över musikaliska verk ingående i Viking Dahls samling, Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademiens bibliotek, 1978.
Westman, Elisabeth
(pseudonym for Carin Höjer): Prostinnans blomstergata, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1955.

Summary list of works

Works for the stage (the ballet Maison de fous, multi-genre works: Sjömansvisa and Allsegraren), orchestral works (including Orientalisk Suite, sinfonietta, Pastoral for oboe and orchestra), chamber music (including 2 string quartets), works for piano, songs, works for choir (some with orchestra).

Collected works

A detailed, bound, list or works compiled by Carin Höjer can be found at Statens musik- och teaterbibliotek. If nothing else is stated, all of the referred works exist in autographs at the library.

Ballet music
Maison de Fous, drame symbolique, 1920.
Javanesiskan, ballet music for solo dancer, 1942.

Total works of art
Sjömansvisa, drama, 1922. [Extracts: Act 2, 1922 . 1. Prelude to the second act , 2. Aria, 3. Serenade, 4. Ballad.]
Allsegraren, total work of art in four acts, last revised version, 1943.

Other orchestral works
Suite Orientale op. 1, 1916. 1. Prélude, 2. Danse sacrée, 3. Scénes d'une rue orientale, 4. Danse profane, 5. Nocturne med sopransolo.
Sinfonietta in B minor op. 4.

Chamber music
Aubade for violin and piano, 1918.
Pastorale (O. Andersson) for piano and 2 violins.
Pastorale no. 1 for oboe and piano op. 3, 1918.
Prelude − Minuet − Giga (Suite), for piano and violin. 1. Prelude, 2. Minuet, 3. Giga.
Scherzo for piano and violin A major, 1918.
[String]Quartet [no. 1].
String quartet no. 2.
Svenska låtar (Bröllopssvit) [Swedish songs (wedding suite)] for piano, violin and violincello (Motifs from Nils Andersson's collection of folk songs) op. 26, 1920-tal. 1. March, 2. Prelude and Chorale, 3. Skullbräddlek, 4. Steklåt, 5. Skänklåt, 6. Brudpolska.
Trio, first movement, for violin, violincello and piano in F major, 1916.
Vaggvisa for violin and piano, 1918.

Nocturne E minor, 1915.
Rägnväder, 1916.
Elegie G-sharp minor, 1916.
En dröm, 1916.
Verirrt, 1916.
Ètude. Folk song, 1910−20.
Gråbärgssång/Grått, 1919?
Humoresque, 1919.
Aubade/Morgonstämning, 1919.
Claire de lune.
Dimman lättar, 1930−40.
Introduction and waltz in E minor, 1910−20.
Ljungheden, 1910−20.
Liebeslied. Metamorfos, 1934?
Lyrical pieces op. 10, 1910−20. 1. Herdegosse, 2. Gosse och flicka, 3. Jätten grubblar (grått) [see Suite for piano], 4. Vallflicka (Danse pastoral) [see Suite for piano], Skeppsgosse (Fiskargosse) [see Suite for piano].
Prelude, 1920−30.
Plastiska moment, 1910−20. 1. Procession, 2. Prelude.
Salome, 1910–20.
Sarabande in G minor, 1910−20.
Sensation 1 and 2 op. 7.
Suite for piano op. 28, 1919. 1. Prelude, chorale and postlude, 2. Danslek, 3. Legend, 4. Pastoral, 5. March.
Two studies op. 2, 1920. Rägnväder: Assez modèré, 2. Inbrott: Modèré.
Valse lente, 1910−20.

Songs for one voice and piano (if nothing else is stated)
Då ljungen blommar, 1915.
Ich hab' im Traum geweinet (H. Heine), 1915.
I skogen (V. Rydberg), 1915.
I natten (V. Rydberg), 1915.
Majnattsröster (E. A. Karlfeldt), 1916.
Tomten (V. Rydberg), 1916.
Ljung (E. A. Karlfeldt), 1916−18.
Hymn (Psalter), voice and organ, 1919.
Two songs op. 5, 1919. 1. Sång om en blind flicka (R. Tagore), 2. Vaggvisa (Efter en isländsk visa).
Sång om en blind flicka (R. Tagore) op. 6, no. 1, 1919.
Pastorale and Serenade from Sjömansvisa op. 9, 1922. 1. Pastorale, 2. Sjömansvisa.
Tacker Herranom (Bibeln), voice and organ, 1934.
Det doftar av nyslaget gräs, 1936.
Two songs op. 11. 1. Susa sunnanvind, 2. Gråt mitt hjärta.
Tack vår gud.
När hon gick förbi.
Ute blåser sommarvind.
Vet du Gullemor (B. T. Cnattingius).
Jag längtar se dina ögons ljus.
Mitt hjärta är vildmarkens fågel (R. Tagore).
En Sjömansvisa (L. Dahlquist).
Susa Sunnanvind.
Sång om en blind flicka (R. Tagore).
Visa (A. Ahlman).
Five songs. 1. Vet du Gullemor (B. T. Cnattingius), 2. Visa (A. Ahlman), 3. Säg, tänkte du på mig? (A. Ljungdahl), 4. Ljung (E. A. Karlfeldt), 5. Majnattsröster (E. A. Karlfeldt).
Three songs for piano, one voice or female choir op. 25, 1. Vaggvisa, 2. Majnattsröster (E. A Karlfeldt), 3. Polska (from Bröllopssuite).
Vildmarks och kärleksvisor. 1. Susa, Sunnanvind, 2. Är du den dröm, 3. Det doftar av nyslaget gräs.

Choral works with instrument s
Danspoem ('Uti vår hage där växa blåbär'), soli, choir and orchestra.
Kantat, komponerad vid Lunds Kvinnliga studentförenings 25-årsjubileum [cantata], soli, female choir and piano, 1925.
Majnattsröster (E. A. Karlfeldt), soli, choir and orchestra.
Pingsthymn ('En salig fröjd den dag beskär'), soli, choir and organ.
Poem, male quartet, flute and viola op. 11, ca 1920.
Psalm om sommaren (P. Lagerkvist), choir and organ.

Mixed choir a cappella
Emigrantvisa (Swedish folk song).
Liten Karin (Swedish folk song).
Majnattsröster (E. A. Karlfeldt).
Vaggvisa/Ute blåser sommarvind.
Vi ska´ ställa till en roliger dans för damkören (Swedish folk song).

Male choir a capella
Säv, säv susa (Gustav Fröding).

Organ works
Wedding march in D major.
Fugue in G minor. Autograph in the Storkyrkans i Stockholm notbibliotek [Stockholm Cathedral musical scores library]. 1910−20.

Pump organ
Lita kossa, lita ko in D minor.

Works by Viking Dahl

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

Number of works: 44