Eric Westberg (1892−1944)


Eric Westberg was a composer, administrator, conductor, and pianist. He was born on 9 May 1892 in Hudiksvall and died on 16 October 1944 in Stockholm. After studying at Uppsala University he took the doctoral exam in natural science in 1916. He taught from 1913−1918 at Forsa folk high school. From 1920–1921 he was cinema music conductor with the Röda Kvarn, Stockholm, and from 1919−1927 he was manager of the Stockholm Concert Society. He was one of the founders of STIM (a society that protects musical copyright), and was its director from 1923−1944. He was appointed a fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1940.


Eric Westberg was the son of the school inspector Ernst Westberg and his wife Karin (née Andersson). He finished his studies in Hudiksvall in 1911 and did not expect music to feature along his life path, since his further studies were in the natural sciences, in which he took the doctoral exam at Uppsala University in 1916. In this he parallels his friends and fellow composers Kurt Atterberg, who studied to be a civil engineer, and Natanael Berg, who was a veterinary surgeon by training. But even as he was studying in Uppsala he apparently came to know the then director musices of the university, Hugo Alfvén, and unconfirmed reports claim that Westberg helped Alfvén with the orchestration of his Kantat vid Uppsala läns Kungl. Hushållningssällskaps 100-årsjublileum 1915 (Cantata for Uppsala County’s Royal Household Society’s centenary 1915). From 1913 to 1918 Westberg taught at the Forsa folk high school, which had been founded in 1910, and which was not far east from his home town of Hudiksvall. There, it was normal for staff to teach several different subjects: Westberg had pupils in chemistry, biology, arithmetic, geometry, geography, Swedish language, drawing, and song. He received glowing reports. In 1921 he married Inga Elmblad, daughter of the opera singer Johannes Elmblad.

It was later that Westberg’s interest in music took over, and even though as a composer and practising musician he was on the whole self-taught he developed into such a good pianist and cellist that between 1918 and 1920 he worked with the very famous (for the time) Kjellström quartet during their tours around Sweden. In addition, during his career he accompanied numerous singers in recitals. The Kjellström quartet also played music composed by Westberg himself in some of their many radio appearances, for example Folkvisa och låtar (Folksong and tunes) during the first radio broadcast from Sundsvall on 20 August 1925.

From 1919−1927 he was manager of the Konsertföreningen (Stockholm Concert Society, today known as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), and there one of his duties was to write programme notes, an activity which he developed into a fine art. During these years he often arranged and directed both popular and school concerts, and among other things he worked on an ambitious project to build study materials to present the instruments of the orchestra to school pupils. It was in this context that he wrote his orchestral piece Scherzo Pedagogico. Between 1912 and the opening of Stockholms konserthus (the Stockholm Concert Hall) in 1926 the Konsertföreningen played their concerts at the Auditorium. In connection with the summer Olympics in Stockholm in 1912 the old gas silo at Norra Bantorget was converted into a round theatre and concert hall which could hold an audience of up to 1600 people, and from 1914 the Konsertföreningen played their concerts there. It was also there that Westberg directed over 40 concerts between 1923 and 1927, mostly popular programmes with symphony orchestra and shorter works − relatively seldom did he perform his own music − but also entire symphonies and concerts such as Franz Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ and Felix Mendelssohn’s violin concerto. When the Konsertföreningen played at the Solliden stage (in the open-air museum and zoo Skansen), Westberg’s music was often on the programme. When the orchestra went on tour to Paris with Nils Grevillius as conductor in 1937, parts of Westberg’s second symphony were on the programme. Westberg also conducted the orchestra abroad.

Westberg’s music was often taken up by other conductors, naturally by the orchestra’s oft-returning guest conductors Ivar Hellman, Adolf Wiklund, Carl Garaguly, Fritz Busch, and Tor Mann, but also by more international celebrities such as the French conductor Ernest Ansermet who conducted Westberg’s second symphony on 17 April 1935, which he followed with the third symphony on 15 November 1936. Westberg’s music appeared in 36 concerts between 1923 and 1945, then was later forgotten.

Westberg’s greatest achievements in the field of music are from his role as an administrator. One of the most significant of these is his wholehearted contribution to the founding of STIM (Svenska Tonsättares Internationella Musikbyrå, a society that protects musical copyright), and in 1923 he became its first director, a post which he held alongside that of manager at the Konsertföreningen until his death in 1944. This was during the society’s first years, and with Westberg’s dogged and assiduous hard work Swedish composers began receive royalties when their music was played − even in restaurants and cinemas.


As a composer Eric Westberg hardly aimed for depth, but he was capable of carrying the listener away through his colour and effective instrumentation, which is even now worthy of admiration, not least in the spiritual orchestral poem Gask (Party), which employs both banjo and saxophone in its instrumentation. It can be said that his breakthrough came in 1930 when Radiotjänst, as the state broadcaster was known then, advertised a composition competition for new works for small orchestra. The Föreningen svenska tonsättare (the Society of Swedish Composers) worked with Radiotjänst on this project, and undertook to publish the winning works − which marked the start of the publishing house Edition Suecia. Eric Westberg won two prizes in the competition, ‘one for a Lustspelsuvertyr (comic overture) and one for a student farce piece, Gask. There was in addition a third work which almost won a prize, the highly contrapuntal composition Nenia.’ (Atterberg: Minnesanteckningar) Nenia is an orchestral reworking of the middle movement of Westberg’s string quartet.

Virtuoso and elegant orchestral techniques are also to be found in Bellmansrapsodi and Fem nordiska poem (Five Nordic Poems). Regarding the use of the orchestral colour palette it is not without reason that parallels have been drawn between Westberg and Hugo Alfvén or Richard Strauss − but with Westberg a Nordic tonality is always present. His three symphonies are considered less successful, and they have not been performed since the mid-1940s. Westberg wrote his first symphony in the mid-1910s, but it was not performed until 1925, by Kurt Atterberg and the Konsertföreningen orchestra, and probably was not played again after that, or as Atterberg ironically put it: ‘Westberg’s symphony − which is otherwise an outstanding work and thus never performed’ It was judged by critics as displaying a youthful freshness. Even the lively second symphony (written 1919−1920) had to wait a long time for its premiere. This was also in Stockholm, this time with Ernest Ansermet in 1935, after the finale had been reworked in 1933. It was then performed in 1945 for the radio by the Konsertföreningen under the baton of Tor Mann. Two movements from the third symphony were premiered by Georg Schnéevoigt in 1923, but it was first premiered in its entirety in 1925 by Adolf Wiklund. There is also an exuberant, extrovert, and rhapsodic orchestral suite called Svenska låtar och ballader (Swedish songs and ballads), inspired and easy light music, which at the time was often played in its entirety or in parts, but which nowadays lies neglected in the archives. ‘Certain motifs are taken from country fiddlers, others are the echoes of songs’, according to the composer’s own commentary on the work.

Westberg was also responsible for the music of a number of films (1920−1941), whether he composed the music himself or arranged that of others. He worked with important directors such as Mauritz Stiller, Gustaf Molander, and Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius, and he even conducted the orchestra in these instances. The music to the film Tänk, om jag gifter mig med prästen (Imagine if I married the priest) includes one of Westberg’s ‘Nordic poems’.

Stig Jacobsson © 2015
Trans. Kate Maxwell


Kurt Atterberg: 'Memoarer', unpublished notes1947−70, Atterbergsamlingen, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stockholm.
Lennart Hedwall: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE-Gebers, 1983, pp. 281, 283−285, 286, 290.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stockholm
Kungl. filharmoniska orkesterns arkiv

Summary list of works

Film music (5 films), orchestral music (including 3 symphonies and 2 symphonic poems), chamber music (including a string quartet, a piano quartet, and a piano trio), piano music, songs, choral music.

Collected works

Film music
Fiskebyn (director: Mauritz Stiller), 1920.
Ingmarsarvet (director: Gustaf Molander), 1925.
Vingar kring fyren (director: Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius), 1938.
Folket på Högbogården (director: Arne Weel), 1939.
Tänk, om jag gifter mig med prästen (director: Ivar Johansson), 1941.

Symphony no. 1 in E-flat major, mid 1910a. First perf. 29 Mar. 1925, the Stockholm Concert Society Orchestra, cond. Kurt Atterberg.
Symphony no. 2 in E-flat major, 1919−20, rev. 1933. Dedicated to Tage Swärd. First perf. 17 Apr. 1933, cond. Ernest Ansermet, Stockholm.
Symfoni nr 3 'Svenska låtar och ballader', 1920. Dedication: 'To the violin master Sven Kjellström'. First perf. 15 Feb. 1923, cond. Georg Schnéevoigt (2 movements), 1925 cond. Adolf Wiklund (the complete work).

Symphonic poems

Gask (Kneipe), to Gästrike-Hälsinge Nation Uppsala, 1930. Symphonic poem in rondo form. First perf. 17 Apr. 1931, the Radio Orchestra, cond. Nils Grevillius.
Nenia (stråkar), 1930.

Symphonic pieces

Scherzo Pedagogico. First perf. 6 Nov.  1926, the Stockholm Concert Society Orchestra, cond. Eric Westberg.

Overtures and preludes
Comedy overture. First perf. 17 Apr. 1931, the Radio Orchestra, cond.  Nils Grevillius [Also for millitary band, arr. Edvard Åkerberg.]

Rapsodies and fantasies
Bellmansrapsodi (light orchestra). [Also for military band,arr. Frans Erwall.]

Minor orchestral pieces
Balscen 'after a violin etude by J. Mayseder'. First perf. 23 Nov.  1925, the Stockholm Concert Society Orchestra, cond. Atterberg dir.
Nordic Poem no. 1.
Nordic Poem no 2.
Nordic Poem no 3.
Nordic Poem no 4. [Also for small orchestra, arr. Hilding Rosenberg.]
Nordic Poem no 5.
[Nordic Poem nos 1−4 also arr. for entertainment orchestra by Sven Sköld.]
Tempo di Valse (con brio), 'Viennoise', for small orchestra.

Chamber music
Fantasy on two Swedish folk tunes, for violin and piano.
Nordic Poem no. 2, for violin and piano.
String quartet.
Violin sonata (only movement 11).
Folk tune and songs, for string quartet.
Piano trio (only the first movement is complete).
Piano quartet.
Värmlandsvisan, arr. fpr violin and piano.

Piano music
Hänsynslösa indiskretioner i form av Musikaliska Apostrofer, 1928. Variationer på Du gamla du fria i tio tonsättares maner (till Föreningen Svenska Tonsättares 10-årsjubileum, Lördagen den 1 december 1928).
Å jänta å ja, five variations.
Humoresk. Incomplete.

Vallvisa ('Kom Rosa, kom Stjärna').
I skymningen ('Låt mig sitta här på fällen', Erik-Wilhelm Olsson).
Karins sång ('Och bergen blå').
Eriks sång ('I vaka i drömmen').
Eriks sång ('Jag har ett blomster känna lärt').
Gamla Annas sång ('Hör vallstintor små'), for voice and small ensemble.
En kärlekshistoria ('Bort med kärlek, hit med glaset', Wilhelm von Braun).
Songs at the piano op. 1. 1. Bön ('Helga kraft av höjden', 'Erik'), 2. Unga krafter ('Ej tjusa oss längre', 'Vox'), 3. Fäbojäntan ('Hon sjunger och hon trallar', 'Vox'), 4. Eviga rosor ('Min älskade har famnen av röda rosor full', Carlo Möller), 5. Önskan ('Om du, om bara du till evigt levde', Verner von Heidenstam), 6. Vision ('Svarta natt slå din svala slöja', Cecilia Sandell).

Choral music
Two male quartets op 4. 1. Min skuta ('Hon springer över dyningen', Fredrik Nycander), 2. Violoncell ('Jag från mitt hjärtas hjärta', Ernst Josephson).
Hallandssommar (William Seymer), for mixed choir. To Felix Körling and Halmstad körsällskap.
Danslek ('Vi, ja vi ska dansa över berg'), for choir and piano.
Kantat till 92:års män ('Åren tåga såsom molnen skrida', Ivan Oljelund), cantata for B, male choir and small orchestra.
Notpräntarnas revolution (Eric Westberg after A. von Chamisso), for male choir, 1937. To Kurt Atterberg's 50th birthday.
Staffansvisan (Oscar Levertin), for solo, mixed choir, small orchestra (incomplete).

Works by Eric Westberg

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

Number of works: 1