Gösta Geijer (1857−1914)


Johan Gustav (Gösta) Geijer was born at Hjälleskate estate, Värmlandsnäs on 20 August 1857 and died in Säffle on 26 March 1914. He was a composer, music author and teacher. Following music studies in Stockholm and Copenhagen Geijer had some success as a composer during the 1880s and ’90s. In the first decades of the 20th century he became a very popular lecturer on music topics within adult education. Geijer took the initiative in forming music associations in Gothenburg and Malmö, he took part in the collecting of Swedish folk music and later emerged as a fiction author.

(Statens Musikverk)


Childhood and education

Johan Gustav (Gösta) Geijer was born on the Hjälleskate estate situated on the Värmlandsnäs peninsula in Lake Vänern on 20 August 1857. His parents were the landlord and military man Carl-Henric Geijer and wife Anna (née Göransson). The family can be found on the Krokstad branch on the Geijer family tree. No reliable information exists about Gösta Geijer’s musical activities before his time at the conservatory. After secondary school and several years working as a land surveyor at various railroad building projects, he was accepted as a student in 1880 at the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music). Geijer studied there until 1882 after which he took private lessons from Ludvig Norman, Andreas Hallén and Johan Lindegren. His studies continued in Copenhagen from 1886 to 1887 with Johan Svendsen in composition and with Fritz Arlberg in singing. In 1891 he completed degrees in organ and precentorship in Strängnäs.

As early as 1884, Geijer had published Four songs for one voice and piano, and in 1887 Two ballads for baritone and orchestra (in a setting for voice and piano) was published in print. According to Norlind’s music encyclopaedia, an overture by Geijer was performed in Copenhagen in 1886. This most likely refers to Overture in A-flat major, but this is unsubstantiated.

On the threshold of a path as composer

During the years 1887 to 1893 Geijer worked as a composer, vocal teacher, and music writer in Stockholm and Copenhagen. Most of his compositions were written during this period and the larger works were performed publically. A significant number − mainly songs − were published by established Scandinavian music publishers and music journals.

The ballad Trollens guld for baritone and orchestra was performed at one of the Hovkapellet’s (the Royal Court Orchestra’s) symphony concerts in 1888, with Carl-Fredrik ‘Lunkan’ Lundqvist as soloist. That same year, his Suite for string orchestra was played at the Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen. In 1891 two compositions were included on the programme at matinée concerts in Stockholm’s Bern’s salons: Erik Borgstedt and Wilhelm Stenhammar performed song settings of Goethe’s ‘Es war ein König in Thule’ for solo voice and piano, and together with the Hovkapellet, Tor Aulin performed Romance for violin and orchestra (which was also performed in Copenhagen and several southern Swedish cities in 1898). The criticism, consistently benevolent, named Geijer as a promising, young composer.

Geijer worked on several opera projects, but none of them were ever completed. The opera he came closest to finishing was En klostersaga and the completed portions were compiled into one ‘concert drama’ (the composer’s own term), intended for performance in a concert setting. Nothing ever came to fruition, and neither was Aftonsaga for soprano, choir and orchestra, ever performed.

Geijer considered himself to be more than a composer. In 1887 he joined the editorial staff of the Svensk Musiktidning (Swedish music journal) and during the following seven years he was a prolific writer. A number of his texts are reports and reviews from the music life of various cities; however, he managed also to publish articles about the aesthetics of music and music history.  A recurring theme was criticism of − as Geijer understood it − a superficial and conservative music environment in Sweden.

Teacher, conductor, organiser

During the years between 1893 and 1899 Geijer earned his living in Gothenburg and Malmö mainly as a teacher of singing and music theory. His work also had organisational elements. He arranged concerts and initiated the formation of music associations in both cities: Nya sångsällskapet (The new song society) in Gothenburg in 1894, and Musikföreningen (The music association) in Malmö in 1897, both with him as conductor. The goal − as he put it − was to ‘try to work against the impression of the superficial and bad music that, unfortunately, one all too often hears out in public places’ (Göteborgs Handels- och sjöfartstidning, 20 February 1894). These efforts were, however, short-lived. Geijer also took part in the collecting of Swedish folk songs that was initiated by the Swedish author August Bondeson. His composing at this time seems to have diminished; larger works were in progress − among them a large violin sonata − however, here again, nothing was completed.

In the service of the musical enlightenment

From 1899 to 1912, Geijer was engaged mainly in adult education as a popular science lecturer on musical topics. He likely found the impulse for lecturing while in Gothenburg where, since the middle of the 1890s, the workers’ association had arranged public concerts and lectures on music history. Geijer helped spread this form of music education throughout Sweden. This occurred at the same time that several leading figures within music life, such as Wilhelm Stenhammar, the Aulin Quartet and others, undertook concert tours aimed at popular education in rural areas. Geijer saw his lectures as a complement to these concerts. It was not enough to make concert music available to new audiences − education about art music was a prerequisite in order for people to be receptive to it. The topics of the lectures consisted mainly of Swedish music history that was dominated by composers, but themes on Swedish folk music were also well represented.

In 1899, Geijer married one of his singing students, 19-year-younger Signe Wallgren. Her singing, together with Geijer’s piano accompaniment, formed the musical illustrations for the lectures. The presentations became popular, with the number of audience members reaching up to a thousand people, and were occasionally conducted with great intensity. With Signe’s death in 1912, Geijer’s music lecturing ended.

During his years as an educator, Geijer only sporadically devoted himself to composing. However, he appeared as a fiction writer with collections of short stories including Genom herrgårdsgrindar och öde led (1907) and Skogsråa: Herrgårds- och andra historier (1914). Geijer broke into the genre of herrgårdsromantik (country estate romanticism) that was very popular at the time. Several of his literary lectures were published in his collection Prins Gustaf, hans lefnad och tondiktning och andra musikkåserier (1912).

Gösta Geijer’s contemporaries described him as very talented, but also a fragmented and restless character. The sources give a picture of a person who is driven by a strong idealistic belief about music’s aesthetic and spiritual value, but who rarely managed to follow up on his serious intentions.

Hi wife’s premature death and subsequent worries over personal and financial problems wore him down mentally and contributed to his suicide in Säffle in 1914.


The majority of Geijer’s compositions consist of solo songs with piano accompaniment. It was also in this genre that his lyrical and melodic gifts were best seen. Through his vocal studies with Arlberg he became familiar with the capability of the human voice, but was also schooled in a modern vocal technique that developed from the art of Wagnerian opera singing. Geijer’s vocal works show a mastery of both declamatory and melodic expression, as well as the ability to combine them in an effective way.

A significant number of his songs can be characterised as lyrical images of mood, where the melodic and the declamatory are well balanced, and similarly the relationship between the vocal part and the accompaniment. Another prominent category includes the strophic, folk-like songs in which the lightly flowing melody of the vocal part is the centre of focus. A smaller number of dramatic, through-composed songs also exist.

Vocal expression dominates the larger forms as well. The completed instrumental works − the overture, the violin romance and others − are few, but show that Geijer neither lacked ambitions nor the capabilities needed for creating larger musical forms.

Geijer’s musical style can be described as ‘Nordic romanticism’, in which composers such as August Söderman, Edvard Grieg och Emil Sjögren have been important role models. One can also find influences from Svendsen in Geijer’s orchestral overture and Wagner in Geijer’s En klostersaga. His tonal language stems from contemporary currents and was described in several reviews as ‘modern’.

Geijer had considerable ambitions with his composing, but many of the ambitious works he started remained unfinished. Qualitatively, his overall works give a mixed picture. His best songs show both his competence in the form and a personal, inspired tonal language, and they stand up against comparison with works of Emil Sjögren and other contemporary Swedish composers within the same genre. Others exhibit a duller inspiration and weaknesses in the technical formulations; especially the piano parts that are weighed down by an often overloaded harmony.

Dan Olsson © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

This list is not complete.

Genom herrgårdsgrindar och öde led. Skisser och berättelser
, Stockholm, 1907.
Prins Gustaf: hans lefnad och tondiktning och andra musikkåserier
, Göteborg, 1912.
Skogsråa. Herrgårds- och andra historier
, Stockholm, 1914.

'Edvard Grieg som romanskompositör', Svensk Musiktidning, no. 4 1887.
'Några ord om musiken i allmänhet', Svensk Musiktidning, no. 9 1887.
'Folkets sång i vårt land förr och nu', Svensk Musiktidning, no. 5 1895.
'Musikhistoriska föreläsningar och ljusbilder', Kyrkomusik och skolsång, vol. 1, no. 32, 1907, pp. 3−4.


Geijer, Lennart: Släkten Geijer jämte dottersläkterna von Geijer och af Geijerstam, Stockholm: Esselte 1954.
Norlind, Tobias
:''”Johan Gustav (Gösta) Geijer', in: Allmänt musiklexikon (second revised edition), vol. 1, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1927, p. 418.
Olsson, Dan
: 'Gösta Geijer: ett värmländskt tonsättaröde', in: Britt-Marie Insulander & Mats Berglund (eds), Värmland förr och nu 1994: ...över nejden går låten, Karlstad: Värmlands museum, 1994, pp. 142−166.
: '"För att de skall förstå musiken": Gösta Geijer och de musikhistoriska föreläsningarna', in: Eva Öhrström (ed.) Musiken, folket och bildningen, Linköping: Mimer, 1997, pp. 69−85, 171−173.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (Overture, Suite for string orchestra, Romance for violin and orchestra), vocal works with orchestra (Aftonsaga, En klostersaga, Two ballads, Trollens guld), piano works, songs (ca 50), quartets for male voices.

Collected works

En klostersaga ('I klostrets skugga'). Incomplete.
Orchestral prelude and 7 scenes compiled in a score with the title 'Concert drama for soli choir and orchestra'. Score in autograph. Sketches for a continuation exist.
Prins Magnus Birgersson. Incomplete. Preude for large orchestra (intermission music), and sketches exist.

Voice and orchestra
Two ballads for baritone and orchestra. 1. Braendte Skibe (H. Ibsen), 2. Kung Erik (K. von Snoilsky). Score and parts in autograph. Publiched arrangement for song and piano, Copenhagem (K.H.M. 2135), 1887.
Trollens guld, ballad for baritone and orchestra (P.J. Wallin) 1888. Score and parts in autograph.

Solo song, choir and orchestra
Aftonsaga for soprano, choir and orchestra (E. von Qvanten). Score and piano vocal score in autograph.

Voice and piano
Four songs for one voice at the piano, Stockholm: Huss & Beer, 1884. 1. Till skogsstjernan (A. Gellerstedt), 2. Det vanker en Ridder (J.L. Heiberg), 3. Meris sång (Z. Topelius), 4. Aftonklockan (C.D. af Wirsén).
To sange, Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94. 1. Det fagreste Trae i Lunden (H.C. Andersen), 2. Serenade.
To sange, Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94. 1. Ungbirken, 2. Gutten og Huldren (B. Björnson).
To sange, Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94. 1. Spinnvisa, 2. Dulgt Kjearlighed (B. Björnson).
Jeg har drevet omkring uden Maal, uden Med (V Bergsøe), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
Es war ein König in Thule (Goethe), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
Karin Månsdotters vaggvisa (Z. Topelius), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
Dagen är uppe (B. Björnson), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
To sange, Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94. 1. Stolts jungfru hon sitter i Konungenssal (C. Löfving), 2. Afsked (H. Heine).
Ballad ('Ung Olof leker sorglös vid strand', C. Löfving, trans.), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
Alle de voksende Skygger (J.P. Jacobsen), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
Serenad (J. Reuter), Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1888−94.
Jag lader Baaden glide (C. Winther), Copenhagen & Leipzig: Wilhelm Hansen.
Taylors sang (B. Björnson), Stockholm: Carl Gehrmans musikförlag, 1894.
Månljus ('Anna A'), Stockholm: Carl Gehrmans musikförlag, 1894. Also published in Sång Album af Svenska Tonsättare, Carl Gehrmans Musikförlag (C G 770).
Fiskmåsarne, Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, E&S 1224.
Det komma skall en sorgestund (Th. Moore/ K.A. Melin), Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, E&S 1302.
Dröm (J.P. Jacobsen), Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, E&S 1303.
Dulgt Kjearlighed (B. Björnson), in: Nordisk Musiktidenes musikbilagor 1887 and 1890 and in Svensk Musiktidnings musikbilagor, n.d., s. 189−190.
I skogen, in: Svensk sång, vol. 2, 1901.
Vaggvisa (E. Fredin), in: Svensk Sång, vol. 2, 1901.
Harpolekarens sång (V. Rydberg), in Svensk Musiktidnings musikbilagor, n.d., pp. 322−323).

Aftonstämning (S. Agrell).
En danslek (H. Wallander).
En vise (H. Nyblom), omkr. 1911.
Eriks vaggvisa. Ord av Far, musik af Mor.
Haf som gungar.
I det Fjaerne (T. Lange).
Jungfru Margits visa (E. Kleen), 1898.
Kejsar Carls visa (O. Levertin).
När rosorna blomma (G. Geijer), efter 1900.
Oprör (H. Nyblom).
Sommarkväll (H Söderberg)
Världens gång (G. Fröding).

Pingstvisa (H. Wallander), Gehrmans Kvartettbibliotek nr. 78.
Ett minne (H. Nyblom), Gehrmans Kvartettbibliotek nr. 79.
Sång till Westergötland (J.E. Björkman), Borås: L.E. Åkermans förlag, omkr. 1900.

Den flygande holländaren.
Flyg svarta svan (D. Fallström).
Ljusa aftonskyar (D. Fallström).
Var helsad stilla sommarkväll (Oscar Fredrik)


Overture for orchestra, A-flat major, 1880s. Score and parts in autograph.
Suite for orchestra, 1888. Score and parts lost.
Över skog och sjö. Suite for string orchestra. Incomplete sketches. 8−10 movements are built on the composer's own songs and piano pieces. 1910s.
Romance for violin and orchestra, G major, 1893. Published in an arrangement for violin and piano, Elkan & Schildknecht (E&S 1328), Stockholm 1893. Score and orchestral parts lost.

Chamber music

Sonata for violin and piano. Incomplete. Movements 1 and 2 complete.


Piano sonata. Incomplete sketch.
Elegy, from Musik för Hemmet, 1889, no. 7.
Album leaves for piano, Oslo: Carl Warmuth, 1894.
Kung Erik och Karin Månsdotters båtfärd, from Julhälsning i toner no. 4, 1899.
Vaggvisa, from Tre svenska pianostycken, Stockholm: Åhlén & Åkerlunds förlag, n.d.
Romance in E minor (autograph).
Wedding March (autograph).

Works by Gösta Geijer

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

Number of works: 8