Gunnar Jeanson (1898-1939)


Gunnar Jeanson was born on 10 October 1898 in Gothenburg and died in Stockholm on 20 January 1939. He was active as a journalist, publishing in daily newspapers and academic publications, working also as a musicologist and an administrator. He defended his doctoral dissertation in 1926, writing about the romantic composer August Söderman. In addition, he was co-author of the handbook Musiken genom tiderna. He championed modern music and initiated the Swedish section of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM). In 1933 he became managing director of the Stockholm Concert Society.

Childhood and education

According to the birth records for the Jeanson family, Gunnar Jeanson was born in Gothenburg on 10 October 1898 and grew up in a middle class home, first in Gothenburg and, after the family’s move, in Stockholm. He began his music studies at Stockholm’s Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) in 1913 where he studied with piano pedagogue Lennart Lundberg until 1918 and counterpoint with Andreas Hallén and Ernst Ellberg during the years 1917 to 1920. Jeanson’s few extant works, mostly chamber pieces, were written largely during his conservatory years. In the spring of 1917 Jeanson finished his studies at Whitlockska School and in autumn of the same year he began at Uppsala University. On 15 December 1921 he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in music history and music theory, along with other subjects.


Musicological interests took Jeanson to the European continent where, during 1921 and 1922, he continued his studies with musicologists Egon Wellesz in Vienna, who belonged to the Arnold Schoenberg circle, and Peter Wagner in Freiburg. He returned to Sweden and worked as a music writer for the Stockholms Dagblad, a job that he felt was as a good learning experience but hard work. He took the licentiate’s examination in 1925 at Stockholm’s College, and defended his dissertation for Tobias Norlind in 1926, writing about the romantic composer August Söderman. At the same college, in July of the same year, he received a lectureship in music history together with music theory. On 21 May 1927, he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree. Jeanson’s work clearly contributed to the vitalisation of musicology within the Swedish academic arena.

Jeanson’s scholarly publications were not particularly extensive. The second half of the 1920s was his most vital period as a musicologist. It was during this time that he published his two most significant works, the biography of August Söderman and a study about the composer and poet Gunnar Wennerberg. He was also editor of the Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning (Swedish journal for music research) during 1927−30 and a contributor from 1927 to 1938. Together with the music critic and radio programme leader Julius Rabe during 1927−1931, Jeanson wrote the music handbook Musiken genom tiderna (Music through the ages) in two volumes. It would come to have a huge impact on the teaching of musicology, as well as at folk high schools offering a music orientation. Jeanson also made significant contributions within research on the poet and composer Carl Michael Bellman with the musicological observations he made in connection with the publication of Bellman’s collected writings issued during the years 1922−1938.

An advocate for new music

Jeanson was among the music journalists who sought to draw attention to the new, radical music. As he expressed it in a 1923 letter to his friend, composer Moses Pergament, he wanted to ‘raise a riot for the emergence of new music’. During the 1920s Jeanson published a number of articles in the daily press and in periodicals about Arnold Schoenberg, Carl Nielsen, Franz Schreker and others, as well as general articles on modern music. He also initiated the founding of the Swedish section of the ISCM − the International Society for Contemporary Music −, acting as its president from 1923 to 1932. The ISCM was the most important forum for the performance of new music. Through Jeanson’s work with Stockholm’s Konsertförening (Stockholm Concert Society) − first as its secretary during the years 1925−30, and then from 1933 as its managing director − he zealously supported new music’s place in the group’s repertoire.

Public educator

Through his music journalism, authorship and lecturers, Jeanson made important contributions as an educator. During his tenure as secretary of Stockholm’s Konsertförening he held a number of lectures combined with concerts for school children. In 1930 he moved to Gothenburg in order to work as a music reviewer, this time with the newspaper Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfarts-Tidning, where he remained until 1932. He continued to write occasionally for the newspaper and was one of few Swedish music journalists to attack the music politics of the Nazis, which he did in a long article in August 1933.

During the last half of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, Jeanson also gave a number of radio lectures, often preceding concert broadcasts. His work in radio also included collaborations on educational programmes about music such as ‘Att lyssna till musik’ (Listening to music) and ‘Musikens mästare’ (The masters of music). His appointment as director of the Konsertföreningen guaranteed, with excellent collaboration with the conductor Václav Talich, an innovative, but also controversial, repertoire policy.

Jeanson became ill with a nerve disease at the end of the 1930s and died in Stockholm on 20 January 1939 at only 40 years of age.

Henrik Rosengren © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

'Vår första opera och den Rosidorska teatertruppen i Sverige', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 1, 1919, pp. 4−39.
Giovanni Belletti, Lund, 1920.
'Arnold Schönberg − en framtidsmusiker', Ur nutidens musikliv, vol. 1, 1920, pp. 39−43, 72−79.
Carl Michael Bellmans skrifter: Standardupplagan, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1922−38. [Music commentary in resp. commentary part] Part 2, 'Fredmans sånger', 1922, pp. 42−237, passim; part 3, 'Bacchanaliska qwäden' and 'En stuf rim', 1925, pp. 17−197, passim; part 4, 'Bacchi orden', 1932, pp. 80−306, passim; part 5, 'Bacchi tempel' (Bacchi orden 2), 1935, pp. 215−225; part 6, 'Dramatiska arbeten', 1936,pp. 249−268; part 7, 'Dikter till Gustaf III och konungahuset', 1938, pp. 187−209.
'Några riktlinjer inom den nutida musiken', Ur nutidens musikliv, vol. 4, 1923, pp. 86−91.
'August Söderman', Musik, 1924−25, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 250−252. [Journal publ. in Kristiania, Norway.]
August Söderman: En svensk tondiktares liv och verk, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1926.
'Hur vårt nya konserthus kom till. En återblick', Musikern, vol. 19, 1926, no. 4, pp. 106−110. 
'Gunnar Wennerbergs oratoriska verk. Några stilhistoriska synpunkter', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 8, 1926, pp. 65−80.
[Together with Julius Rabe] Musiken genom tiderna: En populär framställning av den västerländska tonkonstens historia, part 1−2, Stockholm: Gebers 1927−31. More editions: 1945 (rev. by J. Rabe), 1966−68, 1972, 1976−77, 1980, 2009 (audio book).
'Allmänkarakteristik av August Söderman och hans verk', Vår sång, vol. 1, no. 4, 1928, pp. 27−29.
Gunnar Wennerberg som musiker: En monografi, Stockholm: Gebers, 1929.
'Ulfåsamarschens fader', in: Julskeppet, 1933, pp. 35−37.
'Carl Nielsen och Jean Sibelius. En jämförande studie', Nordens kalender, 1934, no. 4, 1933, pp. 44−54.
'Något om de musikaliska formerna', Vår sång, no. 13, 1940, pp. 97−99, 110−113, 130−132. 
'Reflektioner efter en operapremiär', Scenen, vol. 13, 1927, no. 2, pp. 54−57.
'Strausspremiär på operan', Scenen, vol. 13, 1927, no. 1, pp. 14−16.
'En maskeradbal på kungl. teatern', Scenen, vol. 13, 1927, no. 5, pp. 164−165.
Konsertföreningens konserter för skolungdom [programme], Stockholm 1932/1933.
'Något om de musikaliska formerna', in: Konsertföreningens konserter för skolungdom [program], Stockholm 1927/1928, pp. 25−81. 
[Review by Guido Adler, Handbuch der Musikgeschichte], Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 12, 1930 pp. 181−183.
[Review by Andreas Liess, Claude Debussy: Das Werk im Zeitbild], Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 18, 1936, pp. 167−171.

Articles in daily press, a selection

'Franz Schrecker och den moderna operan', Stockholms Dagblad, 14 Mar. 1921.
'Modern musik', Figaro. Kultur, konst, kritik, 26 Mar. 1921.
'Musik och kommunism. Ryskt musikliv i aktuell belysning', Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfarts-Tidning, 30 Dec. 1931.
'Musik och politik. Tyskt musikliv i aktuell belysning', Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfarts-Tidning, 1 Aug. 1933.
'Carl Nielsen och vår tid', Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfarts-Tidning, 24 Oct. 1935.
'Musik och musikvetenskap', Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfarts-Tidning, 24 Oct. 1935.
'Tradition och förnyelse', Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfarts-Tidning, 25 Jan. 1936.
'Musik och kritik', Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfarts-Tidning, 25 Jun. 1936.

August Halm, Harmonilära, trans. Gunnar Jeanson, Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1925.

Moreover articles and reviews in, amonst others, Orfeus. Tidskrift för litteratur, musik, teater, vol. 1−2, 1924−25; Scenen, vol. 11−13,1925−27; Konsertföreningens konserter för skolungdom, 1927/1928−1932/1933, Stockholm 1928−32; GHT 1930−1932, 1936. Editor for Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 9−20, 1927−38 (editor in chief 1927−30; editor of reviews in vol. 12, 1930 and 18, 1936).


Bengtsson, Ingmar: 'Svenska samfundet för musikforskning 50 år (1919−1968)', Svensk tidskrift för musikforkning, vol. 51, 1969, pp. 7−48.
Björnberg, Alf: Skval och harmoni: Musik i radio och TV 1925−1995. Etermedierna i Sverige no. 10. Stockholm: Norstedts, 1998.
Brodin, Gereon & Carl Allan Moberg: 'Gunnar Jansson. (10.10.1898−20.1 1939)', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 21, 1939, pp. 5−8.
Broman, Per Olov: Kakofont storhetsvansinne eller uttryck för det djupaste liv?: Om ny musik och musikåskådning i svenskt 1920-tal, med särskild tonvikt på Hilding Rosenberg, diss. Uppsala University, 2000.
Dahlstedt, Sten: Fakta och förnuft: Svensk akademisk musikforskning 1909−1941, diss. Gothenburg University, 1986, p. 107ff.
Lönn, Anders: Jeanson, Gunnar, in: Svensk biografiskt lexikon, vol. 20, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1973−75.
Petterson, Tobias: 'Kvinnorna i Musiken genom tiderna: En obehaglig överraskning', Musikmagasinet Evterpe, 2000:2/3, pp. 12−13.
Petterson, Tobias: De bildade männens Beethoven: musikhistorisk kunskap och social formering i Sverige mellan 1850 och 1940, diss. Gothenburg University, 2004, pp. 203−212.
Wallner, Bo: 'ISCM-konserterna i Stockholm 1923−1931', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 39, 1957, pp. 157−170.
Wallner, Bo: Vår tids musik i Norden: från 20-tal till 60-tal, Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, 1968.
Åstrand, Hans: 'Sveriges stämma i ISCM − detta musikens FN', in: Gustaf Hillström (ed.), Svenska musikperspektiv: minnesskrift vid Kungl. Musikaliska akademiens 200-årsjubileum 1971, Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, 1971, pp. 404−415.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Konsertföreningens i Stockholm arkiv (RA), Svenska samfundet för musikforsknings arkiv (RA)

Summary list of works

Chamber music (1 string quartet, 1 piano trio, and more), a piano piece.

Collected works

Voice and piano
Anger ('Naar jeg en gang') for voice and piano, 1920, rev. 1937.

Piano piece, 1921.
Three clavier pieces. Dedicated to Knut Brodin.

Chamber music
Fugue in A minor for 2 violins, viola and cello, 1918.
Scherzo-Adagio-Scherzo, for piano trio, 1918.
String Quartet in C minor, 1918.
Duet for violin and cello, 1919.

Works by Gunnar Jeanson

There are no works by the composer registered