Carl Herman Palm was born on 18 May 1863 in Norra Kyrketorp in the province of Västergötland and died on 24 November 1942 in Varberg. He was a priest, church musician and composer primarily of music for male choir, church music, children’s songs, romances, school music and folk music. In 1898−1904 he was organist at Uppsala Cathedral and a teacher of liturgical song, the reform of which he was also an active advocate for. As a composer he is remembered mainly for the male quartet ‘Under rönn och syrén’.
Herman Palm was born into an educated and musically interested family. His father, Ferdinand Palm, was an estate owner, and his mother Amanda Johanna Detleff-Gerlack was from a German family that boasted several prominent musicians − she herself was an opera singer. The family resided on its Sjötorp estate in the parish of Norra Kyrketorp (just south of Skövde), where Herman and his sister Ida would play to entertain family guests. Both would go on to write music for the middle-class salon culture in which they had been raised.
Herman Palm’s schooling began at Skövde lower elementary school in 1872 and ended at Skara gymnasium in 1882. During his time in Skara, he composed several songs for male quartet, including ‘Under rönn och syrén’, the work that has earned him a permanent place in the Swedish choral literature. On leaving gymnasium, he went on to study theology at Lund University (in Uppsala from 1886), having been opposed by his father − despite his talents as a pianist and organist − to pursue a career in music.
Palm taught singing and music at Uppsala’s elementary school for girls from 1887 to 1893, and took his organist and precentor degree in 1898. He was an active member of many of the university’s societies, and was particularly involved in his own Västgöta students’ club, arranging and performing concerts with a choral society and as an editor of an anthology titled Minnen från Vestergötland. From 1898 until 1904 Palm served as a stand-in cathedral organist in Uppsala, and from 1904 until 1911 as a teacher of liturgical singing at the university. He served on the Liturgiska musikkommittén (the Liturgical Music Committee’s) for three years from 1910 and in 1911 was awarded the Litteris et artibus badge of merit.
In 1902, Palme took his Divinity degree, with ordination and appointment to assistant priest at Uppsala Cathedral that same year. In 1903 he married Edith Stuart. His years as prison priest (1905−11) informed his tract Hemliga språk i Sverige, which he based on the notes he took on prison slang in Stockholm. In 1911 Palm was made the vicar of Sånga and Skå parishes, now part of the parish of Färingsö in the Stockholm diocese. Music remained an important part of his life at this time, during which he directed a choir, composed songs for both adults and children, and published collections of songs for schools and churches. After his retirement in 1934, Herman Palm spent the last years of his life with his daughter in Kungsbacka. A large collection of his papers, autographs and sketches is kept at the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden).
The composer of songs
Herman Palm’s name is primarily associated with one single work, ‘Under rönn och syrén’, the most frequently performed choral song in Sweden in 2007 (according to STIM, the Swedish Performing Rights Society). He wrote the song back when he was only 15, performed it with his school quartet in 1879 and then transferred the rights to it to Lunds Studentsångförening (Lund University Male Voice Choir). The lyrics he took from Sylvias visor, a collection of poetry by Zacharias Topelius that was the wellspring of many of Palm’s most inspired works. In his original setting for male quartet, ‘Under rönn och syrén’ endows the poem’s blend of melancholy and tender hope in the pastoral valleys suggested by the title (lit: ‘beneath the mountain ash and lilac’) with a simple yet concentrated ardency. Palm would never develop his technical skills with a formal music education, and the labours of his teenage years spent on the quartet form possibly constitute the most successful marriage of inspiration and craft that he ever achieved.
In other quartets from the same period, his textual recitation is not always smooth, but the miniatures evidence a wealth of diversity of harmony, rhythm and overall form. However, most of his compositions from these early years were lost even during the composer’s own lifetime.
Besides the male quartets, Palm would set lyrics by popular poets to music, composing solo songs for piano accompaniment that although typical for their time lacked any real originality. Many of his children’s songs to lyrics by Jeanna Oterdahl, Elsa Beskow and others were widely circulated in various collections published in the 1900s, and his own childhood spawned the songs and folk dances that he transcribed and published in the anthology Minnen från Vestergötland. Two collections of folk songs called Folkvisor från Västergötland contain a large amount of melodic material, but despite the fundamental esteem in which he held the distinctiveness of the folk song, the dialects of the lyrics are rendered in standard Swedish, and the form and accompaniment of the songs often resemble his own.
Given his dual interest in music and theology, it was natural for Palm to join the nascent church song movement with its historically inspired ambition to reform the Lutheran liturgy and its music. In 1904 he published a study of Harald Vallerius with his own appraisal of his subject’s musical contributions to the 1697 Swedish choral hymnal. He was also an editor of the magazine Kult och konst (1905−08) with art historian Johnny Roosval and the Reverend Richard Norén. The magazine published a number of important studies in hymnology and music history, but none of Palm’s own material. His 1910 treatise ‘Om folktonen i den lutherska församlingssången’ advocates a far-reaching synthesis of Lutheran church song and folk song, presenting melody-typographical evidence of how Luther’s own hymns and the 1697 Swedish choral hymnal preserved the superficial forms of folk song. Although this historiography clearly provided input to the debate on church song reform, Palm would never exert any real influence on such matters.
In connection with his engagement in the church song movement, Palm edited a Militär-sångbok (1910) and the Musica sacra, an anthology of choral songs for church and school (1915).
Jonas Lundblad © 2015
Trans. Neil Betteridge
Publications by the composer
Lipsius, Richard Adelbert: Schleiermacher och romantiken, trans. Herman Palm, Uppsala, 1897.
Minnen från Vestergötland, Herman Palm & Sven Lampa (eds), 1900, 2nd ed 1901.
'Harald Vallerius och 1697 års svenska koralpsalmbok', in: Kyrkosången: Sällskapet kyrkosångens vänners årsskrift, Skara, 1904.
Kult och konst: tidskrift för hymnologi, kyrkomusik, kyrklig bildande konst samt liturgiska frågor i allmänhet: organ för sällskapen Kyrkosångens vänner och Paramentikens vänner, Rikard Norén, Herman Palm & Johnny Roosval (eds), 1905−08.
Hemliga språk i Sverige, Stockholm, 1910.
Om folktonen i den lutherska församlingssången, Uppsala, 1910.
Englund, Björn: 'Palm, släkt', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 28, Stockholm, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1992−94.
Holm, Anna Lena: [Register of score material and papers in the Herman Palm collection at Musik- och teaterbiblioteket], Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, 1992.
Linnarsson, Linnar: Herman Palm: präst, kyrkomusiker och tonsättare, Skara, 1957.
Ljungberger, Erik: 'Kring en känd kvartett ... och dess kompositör', Sångartidningen, January 1938.
Lundholm, Magnus: Är det någon skillnad mellan Herman Palms och Alice Tegnérs barnvisor?: ett analytiskt experiment, thesis in musicology, Lunds University, 1994.
Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
Summary list of works
Works for piano and organ (a few), songs and other vocal music (including the male quartet Under rönn och syrén, which exists in several of the composer’s own arrangements).
Folk songs from Västergötland, vol. 1−2, Stockholm, 1901.
Militär-sångbok [Military songbook]. Sångbok för värnpligtige (Herman Palm & Karl Örström, eds), Stockholm, 1910.
Musica sacra. Choral songs for church and school, vol. 1−2, Stockholm, 1915.
Skyttesång (K.G. Ossian Nilsson), in: Militär-sångbok.
Svensk frihetssång (Biskop Thomas), in: Militär-sångbok.
Till Sverige (E.N. Söderberg), in: Militär-sångbok.
Eight children’s songs, texts from Blommornas bok (J. Oterdahl), 1907.
Hos mor Malena.
Visan om lilla Gull.
Puttes äventyr i blåbärsskogen (E. Beskow), 1908.
Puttes möte med blåbärskungen.
Puttes vandring till blåbärsskogen.
Förd till lingonmor.
Återfärden till blåbärsskogen.
Afskedet från blåbärsskogen.
New children’s songs, texts from Gräshoppans visor (A. Roos), 1914.
Under lindarnes sus.
Eriks färd till månen.
Bo och lilla Ninny.
Gunga, gunga på mitt knä.
Six songs for children, texts from Blomsterfest i täppan (E. Beskow), 1918.
Lilla kärringtands bekymmer.
Lilla fru bondböna.
Fru kastanjeblom och hennes söner.
Songs for solo voice and piano
Aprilnarri (Z. Topelius).
Den första vårblomman.
En faders bön (K. Gerok). Separate part for harmonium.
Notturno (E.N. Söderberg).
Nu diktar kvällen sin saga (E.N. Söderberg).
Three ballads (A.T. Gellerstedt).
Ungdomssång (J. Nordling).
Vaggvisa (Z. Topelius).
Male quartet (choir):
En liten tid, publ. in Sånger för mansröster, Stockholm, 1898.
Fosterländsk hymn (J.L. Runeberg). Male choir and piano.
Försakelsen (Z. Topelius), publ. in Sånger för mansröster, Stockholm, 1898.
I natten (V. Rydberg).
Skördefolket dansar om kvällen på ängen (Z. Topelius), publ. in Sånger för mansröster, Stockholm, 1898.
Sång till Västergötland (S. Lampa).
Under rönn och syrén (Z. Topelius), komp. 1879, originally for male quartet, in several later editions and arrangements.
Vid älvmynningen (Z. Topelius).
Davids Psalm 100 for solo, choir, piano and organ.
Den apostoliska välsignelsen (2 Kor. 13:13), 4-part, in Musica sacra.
Fädernas kyrka (J.A. Eklund), 4-part, in Musica sacra.
Hymn vid Ärkebiskop Ekmans graf (E.N. Söderberg). Unison song with organ.
Jul (Ida Henrici, f. Palm), song and piano.
Julhymn (Z. Topelius), song and piano.
Julsång (Ida Henrici), 4-part, in Musica sacra.
Two religious poems (C.D. af Wirsén, two voices and piano.
Var är den vän (Sv. Ps. 481), 4-part, in Musica sacra.