Gustaf Nordqvist

Nordqvist composed on a small scale, but his output is impressively large and several of his 200 or more solo songs have become indispensible parts of the Swedish art song repertoire.

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Born on 12th February 1886, in Stockholm, died there 28th January 1949. He entered the Stockholm Conservatory at the age of 15, remaining there until 1910 and graduating as organist (1903). His teachers included Ernst Ellberg (composition) and Lennart Lundberg (piano). He continued his composition studies in Berlin in 1913-1914 with A. Willner. He became organist of Adolf Fredrik Church, Stockholm in 1914, teacher of harmony at the Stockholm Conservatory in 1924 (appointed professor in 1944) and Principal Organ Teacher at the Karl Wohlfart School of Music in 1926. He was made Member of the Royal Academy of Music 1932, Litt. et art. 1935. 

His career as a composer began when he was 18, in 1904, with Barnesang, and the next important staging post came in 1909 with his setting of Gripenberg’s poem Drivsnö, a song which was enthusiastically commended by Sibelius. Nordqvist responded unhesitatingly to new Swedish poetry and he composed settings of poems by most contemporary writers: Anders Österling (Fiolens sång), Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Om våren), Bo Bergman (Melodi), Erik Blomberg (Var stilla, hjärta), Pär Lagerkvist (Det är vackrast när det skymmer), Vilhelm Ekelund (Mot alla stjärnor), Gustaf Fröding (En vintervisa) etc. Most of the poems he selected were on the subject of nature or love. 

Nordqvist is perhaps particularly known for his prolific output of religious songs, where there is little point really in trying to classify individual compositions as exclusively secular or sacred. The profound human relevance of the words and the conception of the music are such that they often qualify for both classifications. The enthusiasm he showed for the Psalms of David was also inspired by poems by Harriet Löwenhjelm (Ack saliga, saliga), Sven Lidman (Herre, djupen ropa dig), and even Dan Andersson (Men jag hörde en sång and Det är något bortom bergen) or Hjalmar Gullberg (Bortom berg och mörka vatten), all of which compositions had unmistakeable spiritual quality. 

His songs are distinguished by an essentially personal melodic vein, a full-blooded piano accompaniment, and a profound realisation of the demands of the text. He showed great versatility, with a predominance of romantic and traditional stylistic elements. 

Stig Jacobsson
Source: STIM / Swedish Music Information Centre