Vilhelm Svedbom (1843−1904)


Per Jonas Fredrik Vilhelm Svedbom, born 8 March 1843 in Stockholm, died 25 December 1904 in Stockholm, was a literary historian, pianist, composer, conservatory music teacher and music administrator. His compositional production was derived essentially from the areas in which he had his education and where he had his professional occupation, the ‘academy’ in its broadest sense. His compositions comprise mainly works for the piano, solo songs with piano accompaniment, and choral pieces. Svedbom’s wife was a pianist, Hilma Svedbom, née Lindberg (1856−1921); they were married in 1884.

Family, education and career

Vilhelm Svedbom was one of two sons of Per Erik Svedbom, a school principal, and his wife (and cousin) Fredrika Forssberg (with a reputation later as a philanthropist under the name of Fredrika Limnell). Vilhelm Svedbom was raised in an intellectually stimulating environment. He was a gifted, versatile person, and commenced his professional life with an academic career in literary history, after which he eventually also became established as a musician and composer. In 1861 he began studies at Uppsala University, just north of Stockholm, where, in 1872, he earned his doctorate in literary history with a thesis entitled Studier rörande frihetstidens tragiska diktning (studies in the tragic poetry of the Age of Liberty in Sweden, 1719−1772). That same year he was appointed to the position of docent (associate professor) in literary history. He embarked on his compositional pursuits concurrently with his university studies in Uppsala, when he also started performing as a pianist. In 1866, together with fellow students, he composed an opera seria in three acts, Dumben (‘silly fool’), which, as the title implies, belongs to a genre of student farce tradition.

During the period 1873−76 Svedbom made several extensive educational excursions to the Continent. In Berlin he studied for Friedrich Kiel, a renowned teacher of composition. Soon after returning home, he was engaged for many administrative assignments in the Swedish music community. In 1876 he was elected as member 452 in the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music), and was also appointed as its secretary the same year, a post that he held until 1901. In 1872 one of the projects that occupied his tenure as secretary was to initiate an inventory of Swedish folk music under the auspices of the academy. In 1877 he joined the staff of Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) teaching music history and aesthetics, a position which he filled until 1903, almost until the time of his death. As the Swedish delegate, he also participated in the Vienna Conference of 1885 for the purpose of determining a tonal standard of pitch. From 1878 to 1897 he fulfilled the role of secretary of Musikaliska konstföreningen (the Swedish Art Music Society). And in 1881 he was designated chairman of Musikföreningen (the Music Society), established by him and the composer and conductor Ludvig Norman, which had its base of activities in Stockholm.

Compositional style, songs and choral music

A distinguishing trait for Vilhelm Svedbom as composer was a faculty for melody, a sense of cantabile euphony. His inspirational sources as a composer of music in a smaller genre − piano and voice − were the German composers from the preceding generation, such as Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. Svedbom has been considered in this respect as belonging to the ‘third wave’ of Swedish solo song composition, with colleagues such as Fritz Arlberg, John Jacobsson, Karl Valentin and Emil Sjögren. A characteristic feature of these composers was that their artistically advanced songs were intended to be sung on stage, rather than for music-making at home. Their songs could also have more complex, advanced lyrics, which, for a contemporary audience, heightened the impression of an artful and novel music form.

In his vocal music, however, Vilhelm Svedbom showed influences from Nordic folk music, as well as from a Protestant chorale tradition. A fusion of these genres is found in Psalm 23, ‘Herren är min herde’ (The Lord is My Shepard). Svedbom was also one of the most influential composers involved in the development of the Swedish men’s choir tradition, which can be heard, for example, in his ‘Hej dunkom så länge vi lefvom’, well-known in the choral repertory, and which, even in its melodic aspects, has elements related to folk music. For the 25th anniversary of the men’s choir Orphei Drängar (The Sons of Orpheus) he composed the cantata I rosengården for solo voice, choir and orchestra, as well as the choral work Fyris. A song that achieved a certain popularity for a time, ‘Svennens sång’, comes from I rosengården which, in its melodic structure suggests affinity to Swedish folk tone, and deals with, in its romantic text material, the supernatural spirits of nature from folklore. Other popular solo songs by Svedbom were ‘Sten Sture’, ‘Källan’, ‘Karneval’, and ‘En stackars tjänsteflicka’. In addition he composed piano music, and he is mentioned in Walter Niemann’s survey from 1918, Die nordische Klaviermusik. He also composed works for large academic events such as, for example, the unveiling of the statue in 1892 at Humlegården in Stockholm commemorating the life of Carl Wilhelm Scheele, the famous Swedish chemist.

Nordic and German confluence

Vilhelm Svedbom was also a literary historian and in his choice of texts he shows a cognisance of the significance of the text for the character of the song. He even demonstrates an inclusive international perspective in that he not only composed music with Swedish texts but chose Norwegian, Danish, German and Finno-Swedish material as well. In his compositions, influences from several contemporary styles can be seen, but two main lines are discernible: one, German, inspired by a Mendelssohn-Schumann mode of expression, and one, Nordic romantic, inspired by traditional folk music, style. The marked interest in Norwegian and Danish texts evidenced in Svedbom’s song compositions − giving the impression of a ‘Scandinavian’ composer rather than one being distinctly Swedish − can possibly be attributed to the fact that his life coincided with the lingering ideas of Scandinavianism and of the Swedish-Norwegian Union (1814−1905).

Vilhelm Svedbom crowned his career with an appointment as Director of the Musikkonservatoriet in 1901, a position he held until his death in the morning on Christmas Day, 1904. The last significant work he published was the song-cycle Liebeslieder (1904), composed in the style of the musical tradition stemming from Robert Schumann’s work.

Toivo Burlin © 2014
Trans. Bill Ottercrans

Publications by the composer

Studier rörande frihetstidens tragiska diktning. Uppsala: Diss. Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1872).
Historisk-statistiska uppgifter rörande musikkonservatorium 1771−1896, compiled and published by Vilhelm Svedbom & Albert Rubenson. Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien & Norstedt, 1897.
Kongl.musikaliska akademiens donationsbref, published by Vilhelm Svedbom Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1899.


Jonsson, Leif & Martin Tegen  (eds): Musiken i Sverige, vol. III, Den nationella identiteten 1810−1920, pp. 41, 122, 179, 196, 270, 353, 367, 372, 375, 381, 393f, 400, 419. Stockholm: Fischer & Co, 1992.
Percy, Gösta:
Svedbom, Vilhelm, in Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 5, 1977, p. 520 .
Sydow, Carl-Otto von
: Anteckningar kring ett gammalt bibliotek: Något om Fredrika Limnell och Vilhelm Svedbom samt deras böcker, Uppsala, 1954.
Till Wilhelm Svedbom: den 26 september 1884, Stockholm, 1884.

Täckmark, Sven Erik
: Fredrika Limnell, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 23, Stockholm, 1980−81.
Svedbom. Per Jonas Fredrik Vilhelm, in: Svenskt biografiskt handlexikon.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket

Summary list of works

Music to two stage plays (composed concurrently), vocal works with orchestra (I rosengården), piano music (På fjellet, Tillegnan), songs (Tolf sånger, 9 danska sånger, Liebeslieder, Fyra små visor, et al.), choral music (Hej dunkom, Fyris, Herren är min herde, et al.).

Collected works

The works by the composer are presented below in respective categories and chronologically, in those cases where year of composition or publication is known. If year is missing this is unknown.

Incidental music

Dumben, opera seria in 3 acts by Isidoro y Pomposo. Music by Gaëtano Trompetti and Giuseppe Clarinetti, 1866.
Rolf Krake, 'impromtu operetta in 2 acts on free verse' (Edvard Forssberg). Music to the first act composed by Ivar Hallström, the second act by Vilhelm Svedbom, 1880.

Piano music

På fjellet (Sur les sommets).
Tillegnan (Dédicace).

Songs for voice and piano

9 Danish songs to texts from Thor Lange's Folkeviser, 1880. 1. Ak I Snefnug (After the Russian), 2. Svalen (Czech), 3. Skin ud, Du klare Solskin (Old German), 4. I Würzburg (Old German), 5. Birketræet (Russian), 6. Kan du kjende mig (Russian), 7. Ak min Ungdom du (Russian), 8. Hej du Maane (Ukrainian), 9. Der rinder en Bæk (Old German).
Två digter af [two poems by] Helene Nyblom, 1885. 1. Maaneskin, 2. Karneval.
En glad visa (Zacharias Topelius), 1885.
Four small songs, 1885 (Albert Theodor Gellerstedt). 1. Källan, 2. Till Greta, 3. Fridsönskningar, 4. Ro, ro.
Ave Maria, 1889.
Svarta Svanor (Carl Snoilsky), 1894.
Liebeslieder, Fünf Gesänge für eine Singstimme mit Begleitung des Pianoforte 1904. 1. Gyllne broar vare all min sång för mig [Goldne Brücken seien alle Lieder mir] (Geibel), 2. Mitt hjärta är som nattlig trakt [Mein Herz ist wie die dunkle Nacht] (Geibel), 3. Hur snabbt förgår minuten. [Wie flüchtig rinnt die Stunde] (Geibel), 4. O säg, hvi detta dig sårar [O sprich, was willst du dich schämen], 5. De furutoppar hviska [Des Waldes Wipfel rauschen] (v. Ostervald).
Twelve songs. 1. Vallgossen, 2. Fråga, 3. Dess ljufva frid ej stör, 4. Akta dig!, 5. Stum kärlek, 6. Fogeln, 7.  Bort, 8. Fjerran, 9. Längtan, 10. Flyktigt, 11. Slå i mitt glas, 12. Utan krus.
Liesse doch ein hold Geschick.
Sten Sture (Edvard Bäckström), ballad for one voice with piano.
Det vet ingen (Zacharias Topelius).
Vildros (J.W. v. Goethe, Carl Snoilsky).
Naar Nattens stjerne flammer.
Skygga tankar (Emil von Qvanten).
Skärgårdsflickans sommarvisa (Karl Alfred Melin).
En stackars tjänsteflicka.
Glädjens blomster.
Det var en söndagsafton.
Gossen och fjäriln, Duettino for soprano and tenor.

Choral music

Fyris, 1878.
Kantat vid Nya Elementarskolans 50-årsfest [cantata], 1878.
Duvan på liljekvist.
Herren är min herde.
Grönbergens visa.
Haven (Leopold Budde).
Till skogstjärnan (Trientalis europaea) (Albert Theodor Gellerstedt).
Hej dunkom så länge vi lefvom.
Hymn vid Sch’eelestodens avtäckning (Carl Snoilsky), 9 Dec. 1892.

Solo, choir and orchestra

I rosengården (K.A. Melin), 1878, separate print piano 1887.
Svennens sång (Prinsessan och svennen, Karl Alfred Melin), 1887.

Works by Vilhelm Svedbom

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

Number of works: 34