Carl Christiansen (1890−1947)


Carl August Christiansen (Christiaansen), born on 22 October 1890 in Amsterdam and died on 12 July 1947 in Stockholm, was a cellist and composer. He was employed by the Stockholm Concert Society from 1914 to 1947 and a cello teacher at the Royal College of Music during 1941−47. He was a regular member of the Kjellström quartet from 1913 to 1928. He was also a co-founder of the Stockholm quartet in 1928 and the Kammar trio in 1933, becoming a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1947.


Carl Christiansen’s parents were the music teacher Maria Koch, who grew up in a Dutch musical family, and the conductor Albert Christiansen from Norway. When the family moved to Stockholm in 1910, Carl Christiansen began to study cello at the Kungliga Musikhögskolan (the Royal College of Music) with a member of the Hovkapellet (Royal Court Orchestra), Carl Lindhe. He later continued his studies with some of the most renowned cellists in Europe. According to contemporary sources, Christiansen took time off between 1919 and 1921 from his professional commitments in Stockholm in order to study in Leipzig with Julius Klengel, in Berlin for Hugo Becker as well as in Paris under Diran Alexanian.

A musician of substantial education, Carl Christiansen became one of the most significant cellists in Sweden during the first half of the 20th century. When he performed in Borlänge in April 1924, the reviewer of the newspaper, Dalpilen described him as Sweden’s best cellist at the time. With a program that included David Popper’s Ungersk rapsodi, he was praised for his ‘fully-fledged’ technique and ‘the large, warm tone with a singular breadth and volume that filled the fine music room’. During the same period Melcher Melchers dedicated his cello sonata op. 20 to Christiansen. In addition to his job in the orchestra of the Stockholms Konsertförening (the Stockholm Concert Society) during 1914−47 − where he was the section leader from 1924−47, as well as being section leader in the Radioorkestern from 1925 − Christiansen succeeded Carl Lindhe in 1941 as cello teacher at the Kungliga Musikhögskolan. He also devoted much time and energy to chamber music. Christiansen became a regular member of the Kjellström quartet in 1913 and was later one of several founding members of the Stockholm quartet along with Ernst Törnqvist. He was also among the co-founders of the Kammartrion (the Chamber trio) along with Ingrid Kjellström.

Christiansen was married in 1933 to Maud Scharp, the daughter of a landed statesman.


With such a limited amount of time for composing, it is not surprising that today we are familiar with so few of Carl Christiansen’s musical works. It is unclear how many pieces of music Christiansen wrote in total, but it is interesting to note that he did not focus particularly on his own instrument, the cello. On the contrary, he chose most often to write for different types of larger ensembles.

Christiansen’s most performed work is Leksaksasken, a suite for 11 wind instruments written in 1934 and issued by Gehrman’s music publisher in 1938. It is a short work in five movements with a strong humorous undertone and was likely his first composition to be performed, namely in 1935 by wind instrumentalists from the orchestra of Stockholms Konsertförening, with Christiansen himself acting as conductor. The first movement, ‘Humoresque’, has impressionistic qualities with whole-tone scales as a foundation for the melodic material. The playful treatment of neoclassical rhythms and dissonances in the following movement, ‘Menuett’, are reminiscent of the chamber music of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, while the third movement, ‘Pacific 123’, is a reference to Arthur Honegger’s well-known work, Pacific 231, a work based on the sound of a steam locomotive. The fourth movement is called ‘Pastoral’ and offers a more lyrical, folkloristic mood before ‘Tennsoldaternas marsch’ (The tin soldiers’ march) completes the work with a return to the whole-tone scales, playful dissonances and a stronger focus on the brass instruments that are used to illustrate the tin soldiers.

Carl Christiansen’s other compositions remained relatively unknown during his lifetime, however the Konsertföreningen’s orchestra performed several of his shorter orchestral works between 1938 and 1943: I dur och moll (1942), Svit (1939, 1943), Två orkesterskisser (1941) together with his Aria for oboe, harp and strings (1939 and 1942). Christiansen’s only extant work in which the cello plays a leading role was composed in 1942 under the title, Aria in stile antico for ‘cello or violin (oboe) and piano’, published by Svala & Söderlund. Christiansen seems to have also used his talent as a composer for arranging music for his own concerts; the reviewer from Dalpilen commented that, ‘his arrangements of Swedish folk songs and dances for cello and piano were particularly well put together’.

Gabrielle Kaufman © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Carl Christiansen’, in: Vem är vem, Stockholm: Vem är vem Bokförlag, 1945, p. 143.
Konserter’, Dalpilen, 4 april 1924.
Nyström, Pia & Anne-Marie Elmquist
: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien: matrikel 1771−1995, Stockholm: Kungliga Musikaliska akademien, 1996, pp. 34, 128.
Schuberth, John
: ‘Konsertföreningen 1914−1944: sammandrag av John Schuberths: Mina musik- och musikerminnen, nedskrivna 1944−46’, in: Lotta Höjer (ed.), Stockholms filharmoniska orkester 75 år, Djursholm: BIS, 1989, pp. 64−82 .
Sundkvist, Axel V
: Sven Kjellström-Institutet för rikskonserter. Sverige runt med cremonesare, Umeå: [self-published], 1978, p. 34.

Summary list of works

Orchestra works (I dur och moll, Svit, Två orkesterskisser and Aria for oboe, harp and strings), chamber music (Leksaksasken for wind instruments, Aria in stile antico for cello/violin and piano, arrangements of folk songs for cello and piano).

Collected works

Works for orchestra
Aria for oboe, harp and strings.
I dur och moll.
Två orkesterskisser.

Chamber music
Leksaksasken for 11 wind instruments, 1934.
Aria in stile antico for cello/violin/oboe and piano, ca 1942.
Arrangement of Swedish folk ballads.