Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783−1847)


Erik Gustaf Geijer, b. 12 January 1783, Ransäters Bruk, Värmland, d. 23 April 1847, Stockholm. Professor, author, member of parliament and composer. Fil. mag. (MA), Uppsala, 1806, Docent (Ass. Prof.) in history there 1810, Professor 1817. Member of the Swedish Academy in 1824, of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in 1826, of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1829, and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1835. Geijer was Sweden’s first real lied composer, and he also created substantial chamber music.

Oil painting by Karl Wilhelm Norgren, 1837. (Skoklosters slott).  

Childhood and student years

Eric Gustaf Geijer was born at Ransäter Manor, Värmland, the eldest son of Brukspatron (industrialist) Bengt Gustaf Geijer (1748−1814) and Ulrika Magdalena Geijer, née Geisler (1760−1823). His happy childhood years are described in his autobiographical Minnen. He and the younger children were educated at home by tutors, and he and his favourite sister Jeanne-Marie were given piano lessons by a maternal aunt who also lived on the manorial estate. Music was particularly cherished, and Geijer names as his musical mentor a distant relative, Bengt Gustaf von Rappolt, who lived at Risberg, near Uddeholm, and copiously adapted music for the family’s two keyboard instruments (claviers). Geijer also included another relative, Stina af Geijerstam, a skilful pianist, among the musical benefactors of his early years. She lived at Frösvidal in Närke, and the family invariably stopped off there en route between Stockholm and Värmland. In Minnen he writes: ‘So by the age of sixteen, despite never having left the place of my birth, I possessed a real musical education. − Already at that time I felt the urge to essay composition, without knowing the rules of it.’

As the eldest son, Erik Gustaf was the obvious heir to the estate and its concomitant ironworks (bruk). He studied at high school in Karlstad, with Anders Piscator as his music teacher, and in 1799 matriculated at Uppsala University. After failing his MA in 1803 and applying unsuccessfully for a tutorship, that summer he secretly entered a competition announced by the Swedish Academy, calling for a tribute to Sten Sture the Elder (a rebel leader in the 15th century, when Sweden was ruled by Denmark). He was awarded the Grand Prize of the academy. His life now instantly took an academic turn, and he continued his studies in Uppsala, graduating in 1806. In 1808 he defended his thesis for a docent (senior lecturer) appointment, but nothing came of it. As tutor to Johan Fredrik von Schinkel, whose father was a Commissioner at the Board of Trade, he accompanied his pupil on a journey to England in 1809−10.

Senior lecturer in history, eminent poet and emergent composer

In 1810 Geijer became senior lecturer in history (an unsalaried appointment) at Uppsala University, and in 1811 he helped to found Götiska Förbundet (the Geatish Society), a society dedicated to historical learning but also, following Sweden’s loss of Finland, to a revival of patriotism. Geijer edited its journal Iduna, in which, that same year, he published a succession of poems, including the widely noted ‘Vikingen’ and ‘Odalmannen’, which he also set to music. His ‘Den lilla kolargossen’, also set to music, appeared in 1814 in Atterbom’s Poetisk Kalender, followed in 1816, and in the same journal, by an empathic setting of Atterbom’s ‘Anderöst’. Other songs written by Geijer at about this time include three notable settings of words from Bengt Lidner’s operatic libretto Medea, the best known of them being ‘O yngling! om du hjärta har’, which gained almost instant popularity. In 1812 Geijer published a hymn booklet, Försök till Psalmer, containing new hymns to traditional tunes, and in 1813 he published the first Swedish translation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

There are signs of Geijer wanting to devote himself to music entirely. During his early Uppsala years he is said to have had lessons from the University Director Musices, Lars Fredric Leijel, and in the years preceding his English journey he studied under Pehr Frigel. During the journey itself he wrote two major piano compositions, a sonata and a fantasy, in order, as he puts it, to verify the feasibility of what he had learned. Later in Uppsala he made contact with the new Director Musices J. C. F. Haeffner, who among other things set the Geatish Society’s verse manifesto ‘Manhem’ to music. Haeffner also supplied the arrangements for Svenska Folk-Wisor från Forntiden (Ancient Swedish folk songs), published jointly by Geijer and A. A. Afzelius between 1814 and 1818.

Professor and mentor to the Royal Family

Geijer began giving public lectures on Swedish history in 1815, as a deputy for Professor Erik Fant. Quite sensationally, for those days, his lectures attracted audiences between 200 and 300 strong. Listeners in the spring of 1816 included the visiting German authoress Amalia von Helvig, who made a profound and lasting impression on Geijer, but that summer he was able to marry Anna Lisa Liljebörn, to whom he had been betrothed for seven years. Her father was a distinguished amateur cellist and had also been part of Geijer’s inner circle in Värmland. Geijer was appointed Professor in 1817, remaining so until 1846.

Among other duties, he was now made responsible for the education of members of the Royal Family, and his association with Crown Prince Oscar resulted, in 1819, in a sonata in C for piano duet, dedicated to the Crown Prince. That year Geijer wrote his first violin sonata, a well-crafted work in classical vein to which, however, Geijer never added a finale, and in 1820 came another sonata for piano duet, this time in F minor, dedicated to the memory of Stina af Geijerstam’s daughter Anna Lisa Löwenhielm who, until her untimely death, had played together with Geijer a great deal. This even more cogently worked-out and firmly constructed sonata was published the same year. A piano trio by Geijer had already been performed in 1816, at a concert in Uppsala, and in a series of concerts there in 1822 he was able to present two newly written string quartets, in G minor and B-flat major respectively, the latter of which is one of his most full-bodied compositions ever.

Songs and chamber music in the drawing-room limelight

Geijer soon came to rank, along with Atterbom and Malla Silfverstolpe, among the leading lights of Uppsala salon circles, and in 1823 they were joined by Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, who had come to Uppsala as a student and initially lodged with Geijer. In 1824 the two published a collection, Musik för Sång och för Pianoforte, containing such songs as the lyrically replete ‘Svanhvits Sång’ (to words from Atterbom’s Lycksalighetens Ö) and ‘Nähe des Geliebten’ (Goethe), plus a clavier divertimento by Geijer. Geijer accompanied Malla Silfverstolpe and Lindblad in 1825 to Germany, where he revived his acquaintance with Amalia von Helvig.

The chamber music works which have now been mentioned ushered in a succession of similar compositions during the 1820s: a piano quintet, a piano quartet, a second piano trio, two violin sonatas and a cello sonata. This prolific output is unequalled in Swedish music of the time, and even if the compositions can be faulted on points of form, they are compellingly tuneful and display an easy familiarity with the traditional idioms. Changes of key between movements may possibly, now and then, betray a degree of uncertainty in the overall grasp, and the piano can be excessively dominant when combined with other instruments, but both the violin sonatas and the cello sonatas are genuine ‘duo sonatas’.

The Lapse (1838), heavy workloads − and minor compositions

In the pre-reform Riksdag (parliament) of the Estates, Geijer represented Uppsala University in the Estate of Clergy in 1828−30 and 1840−41. He declined consecration as Bishop of Karlstad in 1834 and also Karl XIV’s offers of a cabinet post. In his own Litteraturbladet in 1838, Geijer announced his celebrated ‘Lapse’ from the ‘historical school’. Betokening a defection from the conservative to the liberal camp, this is mirrored by his increasingly realist view of literature.

An ever-increasing workload in the 1830s and 1840s kept Geijer from concentrating on more large-scale compositions. A violin sonatina and a third string quartet, both unfinished, and a reworking of the cello sonata into a Sonatina (due to his evidently having mislaid the first movement) are our sole evidence of the same kind of ambition as before. His musical interest now came to focus on vocal compositions, especially solo songs in small format, though with the collection Aftonstunder vid Pianoforte, published in 1840, and with a number of other short piano pieces, he became one of the earliest Swedish exponents of the romantic characteristic piece.

The songs were to a great extent written with the salon circuit in mind, and most of them were published in nine collections between 1834 and 1846. There are also several duets included, most of them written for Geijer’s daughter Agnes and for Ava Wrangel, Malla Silfverstolpe’s niece, who was the leading vocalist in these circles. Occasionally Geijer found himself in a position to write choral music and quartets. Thus in 1835, while on summer holiday at Krusenberg, and again in 1839 he wrote a couple of more extensive choral compositions with piano accompaniment, namely Minne och hopp and Varning, hopp och bön. Best known to posterity, however, are ‘Aftonbetraktelse’, ‘Stilla skuggor’ (to words by Böttiger) and ‘Solens nedgång i havet’.

Geijer − Sweden’s first lied composer

Geijer was an inveterate improviser at the piano, often sitting down at the instrument to resolve problems and to relax. Most of his songs are to words written by himself, but more often than not he would shape words as a mnemonic for a tune he had hit on. Hardly surprisingly, then, many of his song texts are both of an everyday nature and somewhat trite, but, on the other hand, it is remarkable that such enduring poems as ‘Tonerna’, ‘Första aftonen i det nya hemmet’, ‘På nyårsdagen’, ‘Natthimmelen’, ‘Höstsädet’, ‘Tal och tystnad’, ‘På vattnet’, ‘Hvad jag älskar’ and several others originated this way, as adjuncts to a tune he had improvised, albeit they were doubtless polished up for publication.

Several of Lindblad’s songs too are written to words of his own, with words and music apparently created in a symbiosis, and he is also said to have been strongly influenced by Geijer. Geijer, as a rule, would ask Lindblad to vet his song collections, feeling as he did that Lindblad was the superior, more expert musician of them, but the changes which can be detected through comparisons between manuscript and printed versions are not always for the better.

Aside from purely occasional songs, there are several which, like those already mentioned, are confessions of Geijer’s unfaltering belief in God. Others are tributes to Nature, e.g. ‘Salongen och skogen’, or to music, e.g. ‘Min musik’. ‘Söderländskan i Norden’ (dedicated to Mathilda Orozco), ‘Gräl och allt väl’ and ‘Den nalkande stormen’ are popular genre pieces, while ‘Blomplockerskan’, ‘Skärslipargossen’ and ‘Gondolieren’ are role-playing poems typical of the period. There is a melodic directness about such pieces as ‘Reseda’ (dedicated to Malla Silfverstolpe) and ‘Den slumrande lilla flickan’ (to words by Böttiger), and the folksong idiom is not far away in ‘Vallflickans aftonvisa’ and ‘Vallgossens visa’. ‘Mod och försakelse’, dedicated in 1839 to Jenny Lind, is a song about the self-consuming lot of genius, a poem which can also be construed as a self-confession.

Geijer’s short, intensely concise poems make him our first real lyrical poet, and his equally well-formulated songs make him Sweden’s first lied writer.

Lennart Hedwall © 2014
Trans. Roger Tanner

Publications by the composer

Svea Rikes Häfder, Uppsala, 1825.
Svenska folkets historia, vol. 1−3, Örebro: Lindh [pr.], 1832−36.
Minnen, Uppsala: Palmblad, 1834.
Samlade skrifter, vol. 1−8 and vol. 1−2, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1873−78.
Samlade skrifter, vol. 1−13, John Landquist (ed.), Stockholm: Norstedt, 1923−31.
Om vår tids inre samhällsförhållanden. Historiska skrifter i urval och kommentar av Thorsten Nybom, Stockholm: Tiden, 1980.
Dikter, Carina and Lars Burman (ed.), Stockholm: Atlantis, 1999.
Geijers ungdomsbrev. Familjebrev av Erik Gustaf Geijer, Henrik Schück (ed.), Stockholm: Bonnier, 1920.


Bengtsson, Ingmar: 'Tonsättaren Geijer', in: Geijerstudier III, Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1958.
Geijer − diktarmusikern, in: Geijer-jubiléet i Uppsala 1983, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 1983.
Blanck, Anton
: Geijer i England 1809-1810, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1914.
 Geijers götiska diktning, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1918.
Connor, Herbert
: 'Uppsalakretsen', in: Arne Aulin and Herbert Connor: Svensk musik, vol. 1, Stockholm, Bonniers 1974.
Dahlstedt, Sten
: Götisk nationalism och musik – Erik Gustaf Geijers Odalbonden och Vikingen, in: Kungl. Musikaliska Akademiens årsskrift 1987, Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1987.
Erdmann, Nils
: Erik Gustaf Geijer. En minnesteckning, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1897.
Fröberg, Paul
: Minnen och bikt. En studie i Malla Montgomery-Silfverstolpes memoarer, Norrtelje: Svenska Humanistiska förbundet, n.d.
Geijerstam, Claes af
: Kring några nyfunna Geijermanuskript, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 65, 1983.
Kring Erik Gustaf Geijers cellosonat, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 67, 1985.
Erik Gustaf Geijers instrumentalmusik i handskrift, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 70, 1988.
Hamilton-Geete, Anna
: I solnedgången. Minnen och bilder från Erik Gustaf Geijers senaste lefnadsår, vol. 1−4, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1910−14.
Hedwall, Lennart
: Geijers pianosonat, g-moll, in: Per-Erik Brolinson (ed.) Skriftfest till Martin Tegen, Stockholm: Stockholms universitet, 1979.
 Kring tonsättaren Geijer, in: Att följa sin genius. Geijerstudier VI, Karlstad: Press förlag, 1982.
 Om Erik Gustaf Geijers sånger, in Musikrevy, vol. 47, no. 6, 1992.
 Erik Gustaf Geijer − några funderingar, in: Sten Hanson och Thomas Jennefelt, Tonsättare om tonsättare, Stockholm: Edition Reimers 1993.
'En Öfwersigt af Musiken inom Wermland'. Bidrag till belysningen av det sena 1700-talets svenska musikliv, diss., Stockholms universitet, 1995.
 Erik Gustaf Geijer − ett tonsättarporträtt, in: Samfundets för Unison Sång årsskrift 1997.
 Erik Gustaf Geijer als Schlüsselgestalt des schwedischen Liedes, in: Ekkehard Ochs (ed.), Lied und Liedidee im Ostseeraum zwischen 1750 und 1900, Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2002.
Tonsättaren Erik Gustaf Geijer. En musikalisk biografi (Geijerstudier 8), Stockholm: Edition Reimers 2001.
Hjärne, Rudolf
: Götiska Förbundet och dess hufvudmän. I. E. G. Geijer, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1878.
Holmquist, Ingrid
: Salongens värld. Om text och kön i romantikens salongskultur, Stockholm/Stehag: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion, 2000.
Holmström, Maria
: Från Goethes Weimar till Geijers Uppsala. Ur Amalia v. Helvigs liv. Stockholm: Geber, 1934.
Jonsson, Leif
: Ljusets riddarvakt. 1800-talets studentsång utövad som offentlig samhällskonst, diss., Uppsala universitet, 1990.
Offentlig musik i Uppsala 1747−1854. Från representativ till borgerlig konsert, Stockholm: Statens musikbibliotek 1998.
Jonsson, Leif and Martin Tegen (eds)
: Musiken i Sverige, vol. 3, Den nationella identiteten 1810-1920, Stockholm: Fischer & Co, 1992.
Lagerbielke, Lina
: Svenska tonsättare under nittonde århundradet, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1908.
Landquist, John
: Erik Gustaf Geijer. Hans levnad och verk. Stockholm: Norstedt, 1924.
Geijer. En levnadsteckning, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1954.
Mankell, Abraham
: Sveriges tonkonst och melodiska nationaldikt, Stockholm, 1853.
Musikens historia, vol. 2. Örebro: N.M. Lindh, 1864.
Marcus, Carl David:
Erik Gustaf Geijers lyrik, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1909.
Montgomery-Silfverstolpe, Malla
: Memoarer, vol. 1–4, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1914−20.
Nilsson, Göran B
.: Erik Gustaf Geijer. Den okände tonsättaren, Tidskrift för Värmländsk Kultur, no. 4, 1980.
Flykten till tonerna, Tvärsnitt, no. 4, 1985.
Norberg, Elsa
: Geijers väg från romantik till realism, diss., Uppsala universitet, 1944.
Norlind, Tobias
: Erik Gustaf Geijer som musiker, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1919.
Stiernstedt, W. Gordon (ed.)
: Två släktled berätta. Erinringar kring Erik Gustaf Geijer av Anna Lisa Liljebjörn-Geijer och Agnes Geijer-Hamilton, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1947.
Amalia von Helvigs brev till Erik Gustaf Geijer. Trans. and publ. Stockholm, Bonniers 1950.
Ur Erik Gustaf Geijers liv. Skildringar och brev, vol. 1:1805−1817, Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1963.
 Ur Erik Gustaf Geijers liv, vol. 2:1818−1847, Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1964.
Wahlström, Lydia
: Erik Gustaf Geijer. En lefnadsteckning, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1907.
Walin, Stig
: Geijer och musiken, in Geijerstudier III. Uppsala, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1958.
Wallner, Bo
: Den svenska stråkkvartetten, vol. 1: Klassicism och romantik, Stockholm: KMA, 1979.
Wikman, Bertil
: Erik Gustaf Geijers bevarade instrumentalmusik, Musikrevy, no. 2, 197.

Summary list of works

Chamber music (3 string quartets, of which no. 3 unfinished, 4 violin sonatas, a piano quartet, a piano quintet in F minor, a Sonatina for violin and piano), piano compositions (e.g. Midnattsfantasi, Fantasie, Scherzo and 56 booklets of Smärre pianostycken, etc.), about 60 songs with piano accompaniment, choral compositions.

Collected works

Chamber music
Piano quintet in F minor, 1823.
Piano quartet in E minor, 1825 [published in rev. version in 1865].
String quartet in G minor, 1822 [the finale extant only in Vl. I].
String quartet in B-flat minor, 1822.
String quartet in F major, 1847 [only movement I is complete].
Piano trio A-flat major, 1816.
Piano trio A-flat major, 1827.
Sonata for violin and piano G minor, 1819 [finale missing].
Sonata for violin and piano D minor, ca 1830.
Sonata for violin and piano in F major, ca 1830.
Sonata for violin and piano in A-flat major, "Sonatina", 1840s.
Sonata for violoncello and piano in A minor, 1828, rev. as Sonatina in A minor, 1838.

Piano music
Sonata in G minor, 1810.
Fantasy in F minor, 1810.
Sonata for piano 4 hands in E-flat major, 1819.
Sonata for piano 4 hands in F minor, 1820.
Divertimento no. 1 F major, publ. 1824.
Divertimento no. 2 A minor, publ. 1832.
Midnight Fantasy in C major, 1833.
Aftonstunder vid Pianoforte, 5 pieces 1836, publ. 1840.
Scherzo G minor, 1838.
Two Songs Without Words, 1844−45, publ. 1846.

Choir music 
Mixed choir with piano
Serenade (Atterbom), 1830s.
Slåttern, 1835.
Minne och hopp, 1839.
Varning, hopp och bön, 1839.

Mixed choir a cappella
På sjön, Afsked med eko och Aftonkänsla, 1835.
Aftonbetraktelse (Böttiger) 1830s.
Solens nedgång i hafvet, publ. 1842.
Vänskap, 1846.

Male choir a cappella
På morgonen af Oscarsdagen, 1821.
Pilgrimen, 1823.
Nya märkvärdigheter, 1824.
Aftonbön, 1831.
juktrösten, 1836.
March 'För Gud och Sanning', 1837.
Studentmmarch, 1830s.
Till mina vänner, 1837.
Studentsång, publ. 1840.
Sjömanssång, 1844.
Afskedssång, 1846.

Mor och dotter, SAT, 1835.
Nyårsönskan, SSA, 1835.
Vårsång, SAB, and Den första sommarfläkten, SSA, publ. 1836.
Aftonen, SSA, publ. 1842.

De små, SA, Soldatfickorna, SA, and Höstvisa, SB, publ. 1834.
I dansen, SA, publ. 1836.
Berg och dal, SA, 1836?
Husarbrudarna, SA, publ. 1837.
Slädfarten, SA, 1838.
Spinnerskorna, SA, publ. 1838.
Vår och saknad, SA, Kom, farväl, SA, and Anna, SA, publ. 1839.
Flickorna, SA, På dagen af mitt silfverbröllop, SA, Afton på sjön, SA, and På en väns födelsedag, SA, publ. 1841.
Det sextionde året, SA, publ. 1842.
Uppbrottet, SA, 1846.
Kärleken på resa genom lifvet, SA, 1840s.

Solo songs
Vikingen, 1811.
Odalbonden, 1811.
Aftonbön på Ransberg, 1811 (incompl.).
Wid brukspatron C. F. Geijers graf, 1813.
Den lilla kolargossen, 1814.
Riddar Toggenborg (Schiller, trans. Atterbom), 1816.
Anderöst (Atterbom), 1816.
Den siste skalden, 1811/1817 (incompl.).
Tre sånger ur Medea (Lidner), 1810s.
Vaggvisa (author of lyrics unknown, two versions), 1823.
5 songs, in: Musik för Sång och för Fortepiano, publ. 1824.
6 songs, in: Sångstycken, publ. 1834.
3 songs, in: Nya Sånger, publ. 1836.
6 songs, in: Nyare Sånger, publ. 1837.
Emmas minne (J.O. Wallin), 1837.
7 songs, in: Gammalt och nytt, publ. 1838.
6 songs, in Sånger, femte samlingen, publ. 1839.
6 songs, in: Sånger, sjätte samlingen, publ. 1840.
Tillegnan i Aftonstunder för Pianoforte, publ. 1840.
Natt-tankar, 1841.
5 songs, in: Sånger, sjunde samlingen, publ. 1841.
8 songs, in: Sånger, åttonde samlingen, publ. 1842.
Tålamod och Harmoniens makt, in: Bragurmannen 1845.
4 songs, in: Sånger, nionde samlingen, publ. 1846.
Mignon, 1840s? Förgät ej mig, 1846.

Svenska folk-visor från forntiden, together with Arvid August Afzelius, 3 vol. 1814, 1817 and 1818 (incorrect year of print in vol. 2−3 1816).

Works by Erik Gustaf Geijer

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

Number of works: 135