Carl Michael Bellman

Carl Michael Bellman

born on 4/2/1740 in Stockholm, Stockholms län, Sweden

died on 11/2/1795 in Stockholm, Stockholms län, Sweden

Carl Michael Bellman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Carl Michael Bellman
Born 4 February 1740Stockholm
Died 11 February 1795Stockholm
Nationality Swedish
Field Poetry, Song
Works Fredman's Epistles and Songs
Patrons King Carl Gustav III of Sweden

Carl Michael Bellman (; 4 February 1740 11 February 1795) was a Swedish poet, songwriter, composer and performer. Bellman is a central figure in the Swedish song tradition and remains a powerful influence in Swedish music, as well as in Scandinavian literature, to this day.

Bellman is best known for two collections of poems set to music, Fredman's songs (Fredmans sånger) and Fredman's epistles (Fredmans epistlar). Each consists of about 70 songs. The general theme is drinking, but the songs wonderfully combine words and music to express feelings and moods ranging from humorous to elegiac, romantic to satirical.

Bellman's patrons included the King, Gustav III of Sweden, who called him the master improviser. Bellman has been compared to Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart, and Hogarth, but his gift, using elegantly baroque classical references in comic contrast to sordid drinking and prostitution, which are at once regretted and celebrated, is unique.

Bellman's songs continue to be performed and recorded by musicians from Scandinavia and in other languages including Italian, French, Russian and English.

Life and work

Bellman was born in Stockholm. His main works are Fredman's songs (Fredmans sånger) and Fredman's epistles (Fredmans epistlar), each including some 70 songs, many of which are about sociable drinking, or were designed and are still used for such drinking. But this aspect of his songs is not the main reason he has become such an icon in the Scandinavian song tradition. Bellman was a master of rhyme and rhythm, with a wonderful sense for combining words and music. He wrote songs that were innovative and original in form (parodying and refreshing contemporary literary styles was one of his specialities), as well as challenging in subject matter.

On the surface, his songs centre to a large extent around themes like the joy of inebriation and the pursuit of sexual pleasure. Against this backdrop, however, he manages to elucidate the tender and fleeting themes of love, death, and the elusive qualities of the "present", the here-and-now, in a unique and moving manner. His songs reflect aspects of the life of the common man in 18th century Stockholm, but by his composition Gustafs skål, an informal royal anthem, he had also acquired the patronage of King Gustav III of Sweden.

King Gustav III called Bellman "Il signor improvisatore" ('Master Improviser').[1]

Bellman has been compared with poets and musicians as diverse as Shakespeare[2] and Beethoven.[3] Kleveland notes that he has been called "Swedish poetry's Mozart, and Hogarth", observing that

Britten Austin says instead simply that:[4]

As for the songs, Britten Austin writes:

Some of the recurring characters in his songs are the clockmaker Jean Fredman, the prostitute Ulla Winblad, the ex-soldier, now alcoholic Mowitz and Fader Berg, a virtuoso on several instruments. Some of these were based on living models, others probably not. His songs often make references to Greek and Roman mythological characters such as the ferryman Charon and the God of wine and pleasure, Bacchus, brought for comic effect into Stockholm's surroundings.

Bellman mostly played the cittern; the instrument is on display in Stockholm City Museum.

Poetry and song

Bellman was understood as a great humorist by his contemporaries. He achieved this through incongruity, with what at a casual glance seems to be lofty biblical style or delicate pastoral poetry, but is in fact populated with drunks and whores, talking of life in taverns and excursions around Stockholm, frequently ending with allusions to sexual intercourse. For example, Blåsen nu alla! (All blow now!), begins with the sight of Venus crossing the water, as in François Boucher'sTriumph of Venus, but when she disembarks, Bellman quickly transforms her into a lustful Ulla Winblad. Similarly, the ornate and civilized minuet melody of Ach du min Moder (Alas, thou my mother) contrasts starkly with the text, which is about Fredman lying with a hangover in the gutter outside a pub, complaining bitterly about life.[5][6] Characters such as Ulla Winblad (her surname means vineleaf) recur through the Epistles; Britten Austin comments that


The songs of Bellman have been recorded by modern Swedish artists such as Cornelis Vreeswijk, Fred Åkerström, Evert Taube and his son Sven-Bertil Taube; and even as rock music by Joakim Thåström, Candlemass or Marduk. They are also frequently used as choral music and as drinking songs. Major interpreters of Bellman's songs include Fred Åkerström and Cornelis Vreeswijk.[7]

Bellman has been translated into English, most notably by Paul Britten Austin, and there have been many translations into German (for example by Hannes Wader). German Communist leader Karl Liebknecht liked to sing Bellman in Swedish. Hans Christian Andersen was one of the first to translate Bellman into Danish.

Bellman's songs have also been translated and recorded in Icelandic (by Bubbi), Italian, French, Finnish (for instance by Vesa-Matti Loiri), Russian, Chuvash and Yiddish. English interpretations have been recorded by William Clauson, Martin Best, Sven-Bertil Taube, Roger Hinchliffe and Martin Bagge.

There are a number of books in English with translations of Bellman's work. The authors include Charles Wharton Stork,[8] Hendrik Willem van Loon,[9] Paul Britten Austin,[10] and historian Michael Roberts.[11] In English the most thorough treatment of Bellman's life is also by Paul Britten Austin.[12]

See also

  • Bellman joke
  • Anno 1790 (Swedish 2011 television series set in Stockholm in 1790-92)

Selected works

  • Bacchi Tempel (1783)
  • Fredmans Epistlar (Epistles of Fredman) (1790)
  • Fredmans Sånger (Songs of Fredman) (1791)



  • Paul Britten Austin. The Life and Songs of Carl Michael Bellman: Genius of the Swedish Rococo. Allhem, Malmö American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1967. ISBN 978-3-932759-00-0
  • Paul Britten Austin. Carl Michael Bellman: Sweden's Shakespeare of the Guitar Song, (Stockholm: Proprius, 1998).
  • Paul Britten Austin. Fredman's Epistles and Songs, (Stockholm: Proprius, 1990 and 1999).
  • Charles Wharton Stork. Anthology of Swedish Lyrics from 1750 to 1915, (New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1917).
  • Hendrik Willem van Loon and Grace Castagnetta. The Last of the Troubadours, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939).
  • Michael Roberts. Epistles and Songs, (Grahamstown, three volumes, 1977-1981).


  • Ingvar Andersson, Agne Beijer, Bertil Kjellberg, Bo Lindorm (1979), Ny svensk historia - Gustavianskt 1771-1810, ISBN 91-46-13373-9
  • Ernst Brunner (2002), Fukta din aska
  • Lars-Göran Eriksson (ed.), Kring Bellmann, Stockholm, Wahlström & Widstrand, 1982, ISBN 91-46-14135-9
  • Göran Hassler, Peter Dahl (illus.) (1989), Bellman - en antologi, En bok för alla, ISBN 91-7448-742-6
  • Alf Henrikson (1986), Ekot av ett skott - öden kring 1792, Höganäs: Bra Böcker, ISBN 91-7752-124-2
  • Lars Huldén (1991), Carl Michael Bellman, ISBN 91-27-03767-3
  • Göran Hägg (1996), Den svenska litteraturhistorien, Wahlström & Widstrand, ISBN 91-46-17629-2
  • Bengt Gustaf Jonshult (1990), Med Bellman på Haga och Carlberg, Solna: Solna Hembygdsförening, ISBN 91-971109-1-4, ISSN 0280-3062
  • Åse Kleveland, Svenolov Ehrén (illus.) (1984), Fredmans epistlar & sånger, Informationsförlaget
  • Matz, Edvard (2004), Carl Michael Bellman - Nymfer och friskt kalas, Lund: Historiska Media, ISBN 91-89442-97-0
  • Bengt Hjord (ed.), Stadsbor i gångna tider: Släktforskaren och staden: Årsbok 1989, Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, Norstedts Tryckeri, Stockholm 1989 ISBN 91-87676-03-6. Articles: "Carl Michael Bellmans okända släkt", Marianne Nyström s. 209-226 and "Skalde-Anor: Carl Michael Bellmans härstammning", Håkan Skogsjö s. 227-236


  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Kleveland6
  2. Hägg, 1996. page 149.
  3. Hassler, 1989. page 6.
  4. Britten Austin, 1967, page 11
  5. Britten Austin, 1967. page 61
  6. Hägg, 1996. pages 156-157.
  7. Hägg, 1996. page 162.
  8. Stork, 1917.
  9. Van Loon and Castagnetta, 1939.
  10. Britten Austin, 1999.
  11. Roberts, 1977-1981.
  12. Britten Austin, 1967.

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This page was last modified 11.03.2014 11:26:00

This article uses material from the article Carl Michael Bellman from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.