Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793−1866)

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, b. Stockholm, 28 November 1793, d. Bremen, 26 September 1866, is one of Sweden’s foremost authors. He was also a schoolman, journalist and composer. Teacher at the Military Academy, Karlberg, 1826−28, teacher and principal at the New Elementary School, 1828−41. Regimental chaplain 1846. Resident journalist with the newspaper Aftonbladet, 1846−51. As a composer he wrote the earliest romantic piano fantasies in Swedish music.

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793-1866)

Oilpainting by Carl Peter Mazer. (Nationalmuseum)

Life: literature and career

Childhood and youth

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist was the son of war commissioner Carl Gustaf Almqvist and Brita Lovisa Gjörwell. From their radically different personalities the young Almqvist felt himself to have inherited the soul of a clerk and the soul of a poet. His principal mentor during his childhood and youth, however, was his maternal grandfather, the Gustavian writer Carl Christoffer Gjörwell. Almqvist spent his childhood years on the South Uppland farms of Sätra and Antuna, receiving most of his education at the hands of private tutors. He entered Uppsala University in 1808, took his MA in 1815 and then became a clerk in various civil service departments in Stockholm. Between 1814 and 1820 he was also tutor to the Hisinger family, who spent every summer on their Fagervik estate in Finland.

Meanwhile he joined a couple of idealistic societies of young people, namely Manhemsförbundet and Manna-Samfund, which subscribed to the Geatish notions then prevailing and to early German romanticism, as well as the Swedenborgian Pro fide et caritate. Almqvist soon became the leading light in these circles, and his visionary religiosity earned him a quasi-prophetic standing.  To put some of their ideals into practice, he endeavoured, in 1823−24, to lead the life of an enlightened farmer in Värmland. There he married his step-siblings’ former nurse.

Before long, however, he had to return to Stockholm, where he became a teacher at Krigsakademien (the Military Academy), Karlberg, and when the experimental state school Nya Elementarskolan opened in 1828, he joined its teaching staff and served as its principal between 1830 and 1841. He taught Swedish, German, English and French and wrote a dozen or more textbooks on subjects ranging from languages to mathematics, best known among them being his Svensk Rättstafningslära (Swedish orthography), which went through 20 editions between its first appearance and 1881.

Literature as total work of art: Törnrosens Bok

Almqvist is one of the few pre-Strindberg writers who are still remembered, read and talked about. His output is copious and many-sided, comprising novels, poetry, drama, philosophy, essays and journalism. Murnis (1818), his fancifully Swedenborgian tale of life after death, was never published as originally written, and his first masterpiece, Amorina (c. 1820), was first published in a revised version in 1839; ‘a poetical fugue’ was his own term for this combination of novel and drama.

He was already planning during his Värmland years a universal opus entitled Jordens blomma, and starting in 1833 he gathered all his literary output under the common title of Törnrosens Bok. This was published in two series, dubbed respectively the Duodecimo and Imperial Octavo editions, after their formats. He thought of his writings as a kind of total work of art, presenting them as stories told by an upper-class circle of literature lovers at a ‘hunting lodge’ in the middle of Sweden, presided over by a loquacious paterfamilias, Herr Hugo, and having as its principal narrator the much-travelled, ‘demonic’ Richard Furumo, who can also present verse epics, plays, songs and piano pieces.

Aside from the novels making up the hunting lodge chronicle itself − Jaktslottet, Hinden and Baron Julius K* − there are a couple of historical tales in the spirit of Walter Scott, namely Hermitaget and Cypressen, and, perhaps most memorable of all, a story set in the Gustavian period and centring round the androgynous Tintomara, Drottningens Juvelsmycke (1834). Araminta May, a light-hearted epistolary novel, and a number of romantically colourful plays such as Ramido Marinesco and Signora Luna are also presented.

Radicalisation and flight to the USA

A first-rate scandal erupted in 1839, with the publication of Det går an, a tale of cohabitation without marriage, and Almqvist, having qualified in 1837 for holy orders, was arraigned before the Uppsala Cathedral Chapter and also compelled to resign as principal of the Nya Elementarskolan. At the same time, his unfailing educational zeal prompted him to join in a current ‘popular writings’ project which, among other things, resulted in two tales of rural life: Grimstahamns Nybygge (1839) and Ladugårds-Arrendet (1840).

Due to his application in 1838 for a professorship in Lund having been rejected, Almqvist was obliged from 1841 onwards to make his living as a freelance author and journalist, until in 1846 he joined the regular staff of Aftonbladet, which at this time was considered an extremely radical newspaper. His 1840s novels have been criticised as verging on penny dreadfuls, but two of them in particular, Gabrièle Mimanso, published following a trip to Paris, and Tre Fruar i Småland, a combination of mortality and adventure story, are important works.

In 1851 Almqvist was charged with attempted murder by poisoning. He fled the country and spent most of his remaining years in the USA, where he remarried. As a suspected criminal he was unable to return to Sweden, but in 1865 he nevertheless returned to Europe. He got no further than Bremen, where he fell ill and died.

Music and Almqvist

The musical tutor, lion of the drawing rooms

Almqvist let it be known in a variety of connections that in his heart of hearts he was ‘musical by nature’. Music went with him all his life and often plays a prominent part in his stories. He must have received some kind of formal music education, since as a tutor he gave his pupil piano lessons, added to which, he is also said to have played the violin. Following his return from Värmland, he compiled two thick books of music entitled Fria Musikaliska Fantasier, in which he gathered, respectively, his songs and piano pieces.

Nya Elementarskolan’s music teacher, Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, was much taken with Almqvist’s vocal compositions and passed them on to the Uppsala drawing room circuit, where they were performed in the home of Malla Silfverstolpe and aroused admiration on the part of Atterbom and Geijer. In Malla Silfverstolpe’s memoirs one can then trace the genesis of Almqvist’s music and of his literary works, and in Stockholm throughout the 1830s, Lindblad was his devoted torch-bearer. For him, in 1835, Almqvist wrote an opera libretto, Den blåa Fanan, and Lindblad was also envisaged as the composer for an operatic idea hastily jotted down in 1839.

The fantasies for piano

Almqvist’s piano pieces from the end of the 1820s onwards are the earliest fantasy compositions in the history of Swedish music. Often they are short poetical tone-narratives, and, by virtue of their ‘unbound form’, he regarded them as a kind of musical counterpart to his literary pieces. Fantasies of this kind include, for example, ‘En Midsommarsdag på Drottningholm’, with dances for both courtiers and commoners, ‘Antuna Majfest’, ‘En Afton på Fogelsången’ and ‘Lauritz Björnrams bröllop med lilla Karin’. Some fantasies are depictions of nature, e.g. ‘Det doftar i Sätra skog’, ‘Segelfart till Tynnelsö’ and ‘Hyacint och Narciss’, while others allude to figures in his writings, e.g. ‘Nyniannes Röst’, ‘Henriettes Jasminer’ and ‘Två älskandes möte’, and others again are somewhat curious dance movements, e.g. ‘Zingari-Fest’, ‘Soar Onqui’ and ‘Gurrhanas Dans’; the same sphere includes a distinct ‘Niakuns Polska’. ‘I Umris lund’ takes the form of a Baroque overture, while ‘Julias Skärp’ and ‘Den unga Fiskaren’ are a couple of Lied-ohne-Worte-like genre paintings. The fantasy ‘Hjertats Bön’ is a paraphrase of Almqvist’s song ‘Hjertats Blomma’, and in a grandly conceived ‘Fantaisie’ he introduces the theme of the song ‘Helgedomens Ande’.

But Almqvist also wrote musical portraits, both of fictitious characters like his alter ego ‘Richard Furumo’ and of his entire family (except for his wife). Here we find retrospects of his father and mother, pictures of the children ‘Marie Louise’ and ‘Ludvig Carl Wilhelm’ and a self-portrait which makes both a purposive and an inchoate impression and is reminiscent of his confessions in words. 

In Drottningens Juvelsmycke, he published ‘Tintomaras Sång’, which then had to be pasted into every copy of the book, but both songs and piano pieces could be included in the first two volumes of the Imperial Octavo edition, published in 1839 and 1849. He also published a separate collection of Fria Fantasier för Piano-Forte in twelve fascicles in 1847­−48. The series was meant to comprise 18 fascicles, and material for the remainder existed in manuscript, but Hirsch, the publisher, curtailed publishing, due no doubt to poor sales and hostile reviews.

Songes and other songs

Almqvist’s songs are for the most part very short and concentrated, addressing religious, fairytale-like and exotic themes. A large number of them are in three parts, but many are unison; in the drawing rooms of the age, they were always performed (e.g. by Lindblad) with a keyboard accompaniment, as were folk songs. Some of the songs form part of a story, e.g. ‘Uppvaknandet’, ‘Björninnan’ and ‘Arthurs Jagt’. The soul-searching ‘Månens Sång’, the Pietist De sju Sångerna under Tälten (1839) and several of the Songes (1849), seem particularly personal. The Songes are meant to be performed as a kind of tableaux-vivants in the specially arranged theatre of the hunting lodge, an ingenious fictional device of Almqvist’s for gathering his many and disparate songs into a single framework. Several Songes have become part of the living repertoire, especially ‘Den lyssnande Maria’, ‘Marias Häpnad’, ‘Hjertats Blomma’, ‘Du går icke ensam’, ‘Hvarför kom du på Ängen?’ and ‘Häxan i Konung Carls tid’.

Music as a ‘free state of nature’?

Almqvist’s music was castigated for bizarre content and shoddy technique, but he defended it in a number of newspaper articles, arguing that this was a special kind of music, naturally inspired and instinctive, and he campaigned for the right of the genius to make his own rules. In Om Poesi i Sak (1839), his plaidoyer for literature with a more realistic stance, he formulated, in the section headed ‘Om Musikens framtid’, a future aesthetic of music with no ‘harmonistik’, no ‘instrumentik’ and virtuosity, and with the Melody at the centre of things.

For all Almqvist’s assurances that his music ‘shall evolve in a free state of nature’ and can leave an improvisatory, almost gawky impression, he was clearly well versed in the rules of music, as is also evident from ‘Om Musikens framtid’. Nor was he foreign to a revision of his pieces by a more professional hand, and comparisons between manuscript and printed versions of the songs betray several revisions.

In the 1840s Almqvist found a new circle who appreciated his music. Its members included Wilhelm Bauck, Leonard Höijer and Vendela Hebbe, who manifestly lent him some assistance with publishing the piano fascicles; several of the unpublished pieces are extant as written down by Höijer. Even so, it seems somewhat of a paradox that an artist with a strict awareness of form and technique in his literary output believes himself only capable of figuring as a ‘naturalist’ in his musical works. 

Lennart Hedwall © 2014
Trans. Roger Tanner

Publications by the composer

(a selection)
, Stockholm: Ortman, 1822.
Törnrosens Bok
, duodesupplagan I−XIV, 1833−51.
Det går an, Stockholm, 1839.
Grimstahamns Nybygge, Uppsala: Lundequist, 1839.
Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan I−III, 1839−50.
Ladugårds-Arrendet, Uppsala: Lundequist, 1840.
Gabrièle Mimanso, Stockholm, 1841−42.
Tre Fruar i Småland, Jönköping, 1842−43.
C. J. L. Almqvist. Monografi, Jönköping, 1844−45.
Om Poesi i sak till åtskillnad från Poesi i blott ord, 1844−45.
Samlade skrifter, 21 volymer (ed. Fredrik Böök, not complete), Stockholm: Bonnier, 1921−38.
Murnis eller De dödas sagor, Uppsala: Bokgillet, 1960.
Brev 1803-1866 av C. J. L. Almqvist (ed. Bertil Romberg) Stockholm: Bonnier, 1968.
Journalistik I−II (ed. Bertil Romberg) Hedemora: Gidlund, 1989.
Samlade verk, 51 vol. (ed. in chief Bertil Romberg, assisting ed. in chief Johan Svedjedal), Stockholm: Svenska vitterhetssamfundet in collaboration with Almqvistsällskapet, 1993−.


Bauck, Wilhelm: 'C. J. L. Almqvist såsom musiker', Aftonbladet, 22 May 1874.
−−−: 'C. J. L. Almqvist såsom musiker', Teater och Musik, no. 5, Stockholm: Lindblad 1876.
Berg, Ruben G:son: 'Carl Jonas Lovis (Love) Almquist', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm 1917−18.
−−−: 'Nya Almquistfynd', Samlaren, vol. 5 (n.f.), 1924.
−−−: C. J. L. Almquist i landsflykten 1851−1866, Stockholm: Bonniers 1928.
Bergstrand, Arne: Songes. Litteraturhistoriska studier i C. J. L. Almqvists diktsamling, diss., Uppsala: Appelbergs lexicography, 1953.
Bref till Adolf Fredrik Lindblad från Mendelssohn, Dohrn, Almqvist, Atterbom, Geijer, Fredrika Bremer, C. W. Böttiger och andra, Stockholm; Bonniers, 1913.
Breitholtz, Lennart: 'Almqvist-studier', Samlaren, vol. 34 (n.f.), 1953.
Ekholm, Ragnar: 'Folksaga och folkvisa i Almquists diktning', in Samlaren, vol. 40, 1919.
Engdahl, Horace: Den romantiska texten. En essä i nio avsnitt, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1986.
Hebbe, Brita: Wendela. En modern 1800-talskvinna, Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1974.
Hebbe, Signe: Signe Hebbes minnen. Samlade och efter muntlig berättelse nedskrivna av Hildur Dixelius-Brettner, Stockholm: Åhlén & Åkerlund 1919.
Hedin, Greta: Manhemsförbundet. Ett bidrag till göticismens och den yngre romantikens historia, diss., Göteborgs högskola, 1928.
Hedwall, Lennart: 'Carl Jonas Love Almqvist och hans fantasier för pianoforte', Musik-Kultur, no. 5−6 1966 and no. 2 1977.
−−−: '"…mitt väsendes ton". Om Carl Jonas Love Almqvists pianofantasier', Musikrevy, no. 5, 1993.
−−−: 'Wendelas mörka lockar − om en musikalisk själsfrändskap', in WendelAvisan, no. 3−4 1996.
−−−: '"Ingen känner mitt väsendes ton". Om Almqvists pianofantasier', in: Roland Lysell and Britt Wilson Lohse (eds), Carl Jonas Love Almqvist− konstnären, journalisten, pedagogen, Smedjebacken: Gidlund 1996.
−−−: Tonsättaren Erik Gustaf Geijer. En musikalisk biografi, Stockholm: Reimer, 2001.
−−−: 'Almqvist och Hoffmann − två diktarmusiker', in: Lars Burman (ed.), Carl Jonas Love Almqvist – diktaren, debattören, drömmaren, Hedemora: Gidlund, 2001.
−−−: Tondiktaren Carl Jonas Love Almqvist. En musikalisk biografi. Möklinta: Gidlund, 2014.
Hermansson, Gunilla: At fortaelle verden. En studie i C. J. L. Almqvists Törnrosens bok, Hellerup: Spring, 2006.
Holmberg, Olle: C. J. L. Almqvist. Från Amorina till Colombine, diss., Lunds universitet, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1922.
Jägerskiöld, Stig: Från Jaktslottet till landsflykten. Nytt ljus över Carl Jonas Love Almqvists värld och diktning, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1970.
Key, Ellen: 'Sveriges modernaste diktare. Carl Jonas Love Almqvist', Ord och Bild, vol. 3, 1894.
Lagerroth, Ulla-Britta and Bertil Romberg (eds): Perspektiv på Almqvist. Dokument och studier, Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1973.
Lamm, Martin: 'Studier i Almquists ungdomsdiktning', in Samlaren, vol. 36, 1915.
Lysander, Albert Th.: C. J. L. Almqvist: karakters- och lefnadsteckning, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1878.
Marström, Simeon: Minnen från Törnrostiden, vols I−IV. Skara: Bergers bokhandel, 1916−33.
−−−: 'Strödda anteckningar om C. J. L. Almqvist erkannerligen som tonsättare', Svensk Tidskrift för Musikforskning, 1921.
Montgomery-Silfverstolpe, Malla: Memoarer, vol. 4: 1825−1861, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1920.
Nyman, Alf: 'En musikalisk fribytare. C. J. L. Almquist', in Musikalisk intelligens, Lund: Gleerup, 1928.
Olsson, Henry: C. J. L. Almquist före Törnrosens bok, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1927
−−−: Carl Jonas Love Almquist till 1836, Stockholm: Geber, 1937.
−−−: Törnrosens diktare. Den rike och den fattige, Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1966.
Parmet, Simon: 'C. J. L. Almqvists konstfilosofi', in Genom fönsterrutan, Helsingfors: Söderströms, 1964.
Pergament, Moses: 'C. J. L. Almquist. Den geniale amatören', in Svenska tonsättare, Stockholm: Geber, 1943.
Romberg, Bertil: Carl Jonas Love Almqvist. Liv & Verk, Stockholm: Ordfront, 1993.
Sidenbladh, Cecilia: Ty så roar mig att måla. C. J. L. Almqvist och de visuella konstarterna, diss., Uppsala universitet, Stockholm: Gidlund, 1987.
Svedjedal, Johan: Almqvist − berättaren på bokmarknaden, diss., Uppsala universitet, 1987.
−−−: Kärlek är. Carl Jonas Love Almqvists författarliv 1793−1833, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2007.
−−−: Rosor, törnen. Carl Jonas Love Almqvists författarliv 1833−1840, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2008.
−−−: Frihetens rena sak. Carl Jonas Love Almqvists författarliv 1841−1866, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2009.
Werin, Algot: C. J. L. Almquist. Realisten och liberalen, diss., Lunds universitet, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1923.
Öhrström, Eva: 'Vänskapsband − Lindblad och Almqvist under 1830-talet', in: Jacob Derkert (ed.), Musikvetenskapliga texter. Festskrift Holger Larsen 2011, Stockholm: Stockholms universitet, Institutionen för musik- och teatervetenskap, 2011.

Summary list of works

Piano compositions (Fria Fantasier etc.), vocal music (Songes, songs from Törnrosens Bok etc.), instrumental works (Ojans melodi for kantele, Niakuns polska for harp).

Collected works

Instrumental music
Ojans melodi for kantele, in: Sviavigamal, Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan II, 1849.
Niakuns polska for harp, in: Sviavigamal, Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan II, 1849.
Musikstycke [Music piece] in E-flat major [for string quartet]

Piano works
Månsången, Ifrån Leonard, Nyniannes Röst and Det doftar i Skogen, in: Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan I, 1839.
Free Fantasies for Piano-Forte, 12 häften med 26 kompositioner, 1847−48.
Zingari-Fest and Slutet, in: Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan II, 1849. [Also Zingarifest in F major (ref Songes nr XXXIX)]
Balduins Riddare, in: Teater och Musik, 1876.
Piano fantasies in manuscripts, MTB and NMA.

Vocal music
Tintomaras Sång, in: Drottningens Juvelsmycke, Törnrosens Bok, duodesupplagan IV, 1834.
Månsången, Björninnan, Fader, o säg mig − , Uppvaknandet, De sju Sångerna under Tälten, Melia, Arthurs Jagt and De två Chorerna, in: Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan I, 1839.
Songes, 46 songs for 1−4 parts a cappella and 4 songs with keys, in: Törnrosens Bok, imperialoktavupplagan II, 1849.
Namnsdags-Quäde, printed in Samlaren 1924.