Gottfrid Salwén (1879−1954)


Per Gottfrid Salwén, born on 12 September 1879 in Halna, Skaraborg and deceased on 14 October 1954 in Bromma, graduated with a degree in medicine in 1910 and worked for much of his life as a town doctor in Enköping. He additionally devoted himself to writing melodies, almost exclusively for the violin and piano, but also songs set to his own lyrics. As a composer, he was most likely self–taught.


Gottfrid Salwén’s parents were the farmer Per Persson and his wife Johanna Andersdotter. He was born during his mother’s visit to Halna Parish on 12 September 1879, although the family was registered at their farm, Håga, in Fredsberg Parish, Töreboda. Gottfrid Salwén graduated  in 1900 from Södermalms högre allmänna läroverk (Södermalm Secondary School, now known as Södra Latin) in Stockholm, continuing then with studies in medicine: he completed his undergraduate medical degree in Uppsala in 1904, and his medical license at the Karolinska Institute in 1910. 1909–10 he served as a general practice physician at the Sophiahemmet hospital in Stockholm and substituted from time to time as senior physician in Sundsvall. After several brief periods of service in Haparanda and Mariefred, on 1 July 1914 he began work as a cottage hospital doctor, and in 1920 as assistant city physician  at the Enköping hospital, where his perceptive contributions were rewarded with the Royal Order of Vasa in 1925. He married (Ida) Ruth (Jacquette, née Kallerman) in 1914; they were blessed with four children.

Gottfrid Salwén requested permission to retire (1936) at the age of 57 due to overwork and illness, and moved to Stockholm, where he died shortly after his 75th birthday, on 14 October 1954. He was buried at Bromma cemetery on 24 October. Salwén was also very interested in dogs. He appears to have been a versatile person; in 1923, together with J.P. Johansson (inventor of the adjustable spanner and the pipe wrench) he took out a patent on a pipe cleaner – which many children since then have crafted into stick figures (Patent No. 58293). Alongside his medical work, he cultivated an interest in music.


Gottfrid Salwén was a gifted amateur violinist and composed mainly works for violin and piano, for which he often received help with the harmonisation. Most of Salwén’s compositions have been preserved in the composer’s own autographed manuscripts, and in handwritten copies mostly made by (Frederick) Rudolf Modess (1872–1956). Modess was born in Saxony and active as a violinist in the Akademiska kapellet (the Royal Academic Orchestra) in Uppsala. For several decades, beginning in his twenties, Modess led a music ensemble that entertained at restaurants. In addition to polishing up Salwén’s harmonisations, he also arranged a large number of the works for piano and orchestra (in some cases only orchestra). Modess also composed original works.

In 1923, the composer Hugo Alfvén set two of Salwén’s poems to music in his collection of songs for men’s choir, Fem sånger för manskör op. 42 (the entire collection was completed in 1926). The songs were first sung at a Stockholm concert with the Orphei Drängar men’s choir conducted by Alfvén himself in December 1923. But although Salwén’s name has been mentioned parenthetically in the literature on Alfvén, there is no proof of any correspondence or deeper connection between them. Musicologist Lennart Hedwall has commented that the first of these songs, ‘Väcksång’ (dedicated to the Uppsala studentkårs Allmänna sångförening, known today as the Allmäna Sången choir), ‘should be passed over in silence – it calls for vigilance and struggle against an enemy in the east.’ It is not one of Alfvén’s greatest works, march-like, bland and uninspiring. The fifth song in the collection, ‘En jägares vårsång’, bears a dedication ‘to my friend the poet’.
Salwén kept contact with Alfvén from around 1924 by sending him the lyrics and melodies to the children’s songs Tio små visor om ‘Barnen på Fiskarstugan’, asking if he could compose a piano accompaniment to them. Alfvén was evidently pleased with the melodies and took it upon himself to fulfil Salwén’s request, accompanying it with the following note, which was even printed with Alfvén’s beautiful handwriting in the music: ‘Dear Gottfrid Salwén! I have hereby fulfilled your desire to harmonise your little sweet songs. My accompaniment is primarily meant to be played by the father or mother – or another adult. Your friend Hugo Alfvén.’ These songs are generally very simple, some only four measures long, with two to three stanzas, and charming melodies. The songs concern the composer’s three children at the time, named in the text together with their little everyday experiences.

Of Salwén’s approximately forty works, only ten songs and a collection of eight Svenska miniatyrer for violin and piano have been published. The title pages for both sets of sheet music were illustrated by the noted artist Hjalmar Strååt, who drew pictures of children playing and of Salwén himself sitting in the countryside, playing his violin with a dog at his feet. This illustration reflects the folklike character of the songs. Generally, these short pieces are strophic in form, in eight bar sections, frequently with distinct folk music characteristics, and with a very traditional accompaniment. Here one can sense simpler versions of works by role models such as the composers Tor Aulin, Wilhelm Peterson–Berger and Edvard Grieg.

As a composer, Salwén’s forte is his ability to write melodies. Records are inconsistent regarding when and where he composed his works. The only exception to this is a three-movement Concertino for violin and piano, that the arranger Modess dated to Enköping on 9 February 1928. Several of Salwén’s works were also reportedly transcribed into clean copies in 1934. These compositions thus coincide with his occupation as a physician in Enköping.

Stig Jacobsson © 2016
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Provinsialläkarna och landets sjukstugor, Stockholm, 1918.
‘Anteckningar om Enköpings hospital I–II’, Hygiea, vol. 87, books 15 and 16, 1925.
Tio små dikter, Stockholm: Seelig, 1927.
‘14 Fälle von Wochenfieber’, Archiv für Gynäkologie, vol. 145, no. 3, 1931.


Enköpings-Posten, 11 Sept. 1929 [50th anniversary], 19/10 1954 [obituary].
Hedwall, Lennart
: Hugo Alfvén − en svensk tonsättares liv och verk, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1973.
Karlsson, Mats O.: En demokratisk samhällsbyggare under 150 år: landstinget i Uppsala län, Uppsala: Landstinget, 2012.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket

Summary list of works

Chamber music (circa 30 works for violin and piano), songs.

Collected works

Chamber music
Air on the G-string, for violin and piano.
Alla slave, for violin and piano. [See also Alla slave in Två lyriska stycken).] [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
April, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Concertino for violin and piano (Allegro moderato – Andante – Allegro). Arr. R. Modess, 1928.
Dröm, for violin and piano. Arr. F.A.Fr. Ahlberg.
Elegie, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
En dröm, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Klagan, for violin and piano 1934. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess, cop. 1934.]
Lamento, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Lillan dansar (Polka) for violin and piano.
Lillan dansar (Polka tempo), for violin and piano.
Liten svit i gammal stil (Præludium – Gavotte – Sarabande – Marcia) for violin and piano, 1930. [Also in arr. for orchestra.]
Längtan, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Maj (Sommar) lyrical piece for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Menuet, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Polka, for violin and piano.
Psalm, for violin and piano.
Roccoco-menuet, for violin and piano.
Romance, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Movement A minor/A major for violin and piano.
Movement D minor, for violin and piano.
Movement E minor, for violin and piano.
Movement G minor, for violin and piano.
Movement G minor, 6/8, for violin and piano.
Sorg, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess, cop 1934.]
Sorg − Klagan − Tröst, for string quartet op. 4.
[8] Swedish miniatures, for violin and piano. 1. Till fosterlandet, 2. Tillägnan, 3. Sätervisa, 4. På havet, 5. Från mormors tid, 6. Fjällsång, 7. Springdans, 8. I skogen. Arr. Ramberg/G. Malmsten. Edition International 1926. [Also in arr. for orchestra.]
Two lyrical pieces (Abandon, Alla slave) for violin and piano. Arr. G. Malmsten.
[Abandon also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]
Tröst, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess, cop. 1934.]
Wiegenlied/Vaggsång, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for orchestra by R. Modess.]
Vårsång, for violin and piano. [Also in arr. for piano and orchestra by R. Modess.]

Swedish march.

Songs for voice and piano
Arbetets frihet (‘I skogarnas mörknande djup’, G. Salwén). [Also in arr. for winds.]
Ten little songs on ‘Barnen på fiskarstugan’ (G. Salwén), 1. Barnen (‘Karin hon är störst går alltid först’), 2. Barnens bästa vän (‘Laila är en riktig hund’), 3. Barnens övriga vänner (‘Pelle han har horn, stora som små torn’), 4. Bad (‘Uti tidig morgonstund’), 5. Fiske (‘Ur djupet det gnistrande gröna’), 6. I skogen (‘Uti skogens mörka snår’), 7. Indianer (‘Se på vår hemska skara då vi ska ut’), 8. Smultronplockning (‘Röda smultronbär marken vackert klär’), 9. Karin sjunger sin docka till ro (‘Sov i ro, lilla hjärtevän’), 10. Hemfärd (‘Nu är sommarn slut, och rasat ut’). Harmony and setting for piano by Hugo Alfvén. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, Emil Carelius, 1924.

Hör lärkans sång i vårlig sky, (G. Salwén) for soli and men’s choir. 
I dina ögons djupa blå, (G. Salwén) for men’s choir.

Väcksång (‘Leende fält, ödsliga hed, lär oss led efter led’) and En jägares vårsång (‘Nu spricka knopparna och lysa topparna av björk i brunt och rött’) from Hugo Alfvén’s Five songs for men’s choir op. 42 (no. 1 and 5), 1926.

Works by Gottfrid Salwén

There are no works by the composer registered