Gustaf Adrian Dahl, born 5 March 1864 in Stockholm, died 10 November 1935 in Stockholm, was a Swedish pianist, composer, piano pedagogue and music critic. As a composer Dahl was best known for his works for piano, and songs, of which a few such as ‘Bachanal’, ‘Lofsång’, and ‘Midsommar’ enjoyed a lasting popularity.
Adrian Dahl grew up in Stockholm in a musical environment. His father, K. G. Dahl, was a judge, and known as a dedicated and extraordinarily interested friend of music. After graduating from secondary school in 1883 Dahl studied piano under Hilda Thegerström and harmony and counterpoint under Ludvig Norman and Wilhelm Heintze. He then continued his studies in Paris from 1886 to 1888 under Charles-Marie Widor, and Camille Saint-Saëns in composition and instrumentation.
Upon his return to Sweden Dahl continued with law studies in Uppsala, and in 1895 he became a notary public. However, his interest in music retained the upper hand and Dahl established himself first as a pianist and piano teacher, and later as a music critic in various newspapers, such as Social-Demokraten, Svenska Dagbladet, and Dagen, as well as a 20-year engagement starting in 1908 with Svenska Morgonbladet. At the turn of the new year in 1909 he, together with Agnes Ekholm, took over leadership of the Populärkonsertförbundet (Popular Music Society), which for a few years organised concerts with popular choral works and songs for the working class audience. The two choral works Styrbjörn Starke and Pastoral − both for men’s choir, solo song and with piano accompaniment − are connected to his activities here. In 1911 Dahl married the 23 years-younger Elsa Olivia Andersson.
As a composer Dahl published 40-some compositions with assigned opus numbers, and as many without. Most of the compositions are for piano, and songs, with proportionally the same of both genres. The at times both technical and musically modest character of the compositions is anchored in the era’s demand for home music. Many of Dahl’s piano compositions were also published first as music supplements in Svensk Musiktidning between 1886−1892. Dahl’s modest musical ambitions are also evident in his works for men’s choir, which more than anything else have a practical, functional background.
Judging by the opus numbers and publisher’s numbering, Dahl’s most productive time as a composer was before the turn of the 20th century. In a review of Tvenne pianokompositioner (the two piano pieces ‘Gavotte’ and ‘Etude’), composed by a 19-year-old Dahl (1883), his teacher Ludvig Norman wrote that ‘the composer has not yet understood that one ought to discriminate between one’s ideas, organise them by style and group them into an outer and inner context’. This judgement applies even to the most dense in magnitude of Dahl’s piano works, the collection Albumblad from 1886, which consists of five separate character pieces without any particular inner organic connection: ‘Romance’, ‘Humoresk’, ‘Perpetuum mobile’, ‘Aftonstämning’ and ‘Marche Triomphale’. The majority of Dahl’s piano pieces are also published as separate character pieces under names such as ‘Valse de Concert’, ‘Barcarolle’, ‘Scherzo’, ‘Vårstämning’, ‘Valso noble’, ‘Etude mélodique’ etc. Quite a few of Dahl’s compositions, among others a piano sonata, are believed to be lost.
However, Ludvig Norman continued the above-cited review in a more positive manner: ‘The voice leading is ubiquitously correct, the harmony tasteful and in general not weighed down by extraneous chromaticisms.’ Ludvig Norman’s musical taste was rather conservative for the time and was shared by Dahl. Their musical role models were composers such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin. It has been said that Dahl’s choral works, piano pieces and songs show signs of a French new romantic influence. Popular music stylistic features could possibly have French signatures as with, for example, the salon music composers Benjamin Godard and Auguste Durand (Dahl’s ‘Valse de Concert’ op. 12) or with Charles Gounod (for example, the recitative-like song ‘Spörj mig’ that recalls Faust’s cavatina). However, Dahl’s melodic feel has above all an Italian sound. The stepwise, sequence and wave-formed melodic shapes with their clear phrase structures, often with suspensions at the end of phrases, give at times a sentimental pull that looks towards the popular music of the time.
Dahl’s most noted roll was also as the creator of romances, many of which he wrote his own texts for. Some of the songs retained great popularity well into the 1930s and were sung by the great opera singers of the time, from David Stockman to Jussi Björling (under the pseudonym Erik Odde). His most well-known song was the happy-go-lucky drinking song ‘Bachanal’, which Björling recorded twice, and even sang a cappella in the semi-autobiographical film Fram för Framgång in 1938. David Stockman’s rhythmically free performance in his recording of ‘Aftonstämning’ (1909) is also an interesting historical documentation of song tradition in the beginning of the century. The rolling rhythmically free performance with fermata on high notes was an integrated part of the melodic structure. Trios for voice, violin and piano, such as ‘Löfsong’, where both melodic voices interweave with one another in a contrapuntally interesting way, are also among Dahl’s best works.
Bertil Wikman © 2015
Trans. Nicole Vickers
Adrian Dahl, in Nordisk familjebok, 4th ed., vol. 5, Förlagshuset Norden, Malmö, 1954.
Adrian Dahl, in Svensk uppslagsbok, Malmö, 1931.
Helmer, Axel: Ture Rangström. Liv och verk i samspel, Carlsson Bokförlag & Kungl. Musikaliska akademien 1998, p. 78.
Norlind, Tobias: Richard Andersson, in Allmänt musiklexikon af Tobias Norlind, Stockholm, 1916.
Norman, Ludvig: Musikaliska uppsatser och kritiker Stockholm, Julius Bagge 1888, pp. 164−165.
Tegen, Martin: Musiklivet i Stockholm 1890−1910, diss., Stockholm, Haeggströms boktryckeri 1955, pp. 96−98.
Vretblad, Patrik: Adrian Dahl, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 9, 1931.
Törnblom, Folke H.: Adrian Dahl, in Sohlmans musiklexikon I, Stockholm 1948, reprinted in Sohlmans musiklexikon II, Stockholm, 1975.
Wallner, Bo: Stenhammar och hans tid, part 2, Stockholm, Norstedts Förlag 1991, pp. 98−100.
Summary list of works
Works for piano (Albumblad collection and single-movement character pieces), songs (Bachanal, Aftonstämning, Midsommar), works for choir (Styrbjörn Starke), a chamber music work for violin and piano (Cavatina).
Piano works with opus number
Valse de Concert pour le Piano op. 12. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1143.
Barcarolle pour Piano op. 14. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 2409.
Scherzo op. 18. Music enclosures to Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 8, 1888.
Vårstämning op. 23. Music enclosures to Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 10, 1890.
Preludium för piano op. 29. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1142.
Valse noble op. 30. Music enclosures to Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 12, 1892.
Piano works without opus number
Albumblad, 5 melodic pieces for piano. Music enclosures to Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 6, 1866, Elkan & Schildknecht. 1. Romance, 2. Humoreske, 3. Perpetuum mobile, 4. Aftonstämning, 5. Marche Triomphale.
Two piano compositions, 1883. Music enclosures to Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 6, 1886. 1. Gavotte, 2. Etude.
Jultankar (Helsning till hemmet). Music enclosures to Svensk Musiktidning, vol. 8, 1888.
Minuet for piano. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 2341.
Tarantella (for piano, dat. 24 Dec. 1895), 1895.
Etude mélodique, 1898. Included in Musik för Piano af Svenska Tonsättare. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 3155, pp. 14−16.
Songs with opus number
Two songs at the piano piano op. 5. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 2499. 1. Blommans bön ('Der stod en härlig morgonstund', Ernst Björck), 2. Til min Hierteven ('Jeg veed jeg vorder dig aldrig kjaer', Ernst von der Recke).
Op. 11. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 2436. 1. Invocation ('Toi qui donnas sa voix à l´oiseau de láurore'), 2. Åkallan ('Du som gaf lärkan röst', text in French and Swedish).
Op. 25. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 27251. Lettre à une absente ('Dans son fracas et sa fumée', M. Edouard Pailleron), 2. Saknad ('De blåa vågor skeppet bära', text in French and Swedish).
Songs without opus number
Aftonstämning ('Mörkgrön granskog skuggar öfver viken', Daniel Fallström). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 2359.
Bachanal ('Jag vill lefva, jag vill älska', Fredrik Nycander). Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 3540.
Barndomsbruden ('Åt dig vill jag egna den käraste sången', Ernst Björck). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1773.
Bohuslänningarne ('Vi komma från klippor, vi komma från fjord'). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 2308.
Du spörjer mig ('Du spörjer mig, hvarför jag har dig kär'), Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 2417.
Hembygdsvisa ('Mitt hem och min bygd', H. Cederblom). Stockholm: Svala & Söderlund, no. 92.
I lifvets vår ('Jag älskar den första grönskan'). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1772.
I skogens mörkaste vrå ('I skogens mörkaste vrå', Alvar Arfwidsson). Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 3254.
Jurist-Musik ('Vill man Hjonelag bygga', Adrian Dahl). Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 2809.
Melankoli, Tristesse 'Nu kärlekens årstid är inne ...' − 'Voici venir la saison folle', Adrian Dahl, text in French and Swedish). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1146.
Midsommar ("Dofter från rosor och blommande lindar ...", Edvard Fredin). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1702.
Min skuta ('Hon springer öfver dyningen', Fredrik Nycander). Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, no. 35.
När ängarna vänast dofta (E. N. Söderberg). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 2360.
Skördesång ('Vi sjungande från skörden återvända', Ivar Arpi). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1844.
Lullaby from Gustaf Keen's drama Pastorn till Norröra ('Det skymmer mot afton och dagens vind dör bort ...'). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 4065.
Vi ('Der leka två unga, der svärmar ett par', Fredrik Nycander). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, Emil Carelius, no. 174.
Väck-sång ('Klockan är sex på da´n', Adrian Dahl).
Väl spirar ros i vårens dag (Adrian Dahl). Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, no. 1771.
Song duet with piano
Tonerna op. 9 for soprano and tenor-baritone with piano accompaniment ('Tanke, hvars strider blott natten ser', Erik Gustaf Geijer). Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, no. 2410.
Trio for song, violin and piano
Lovsång op. 19 ('Pris vare Dig, o Gud!', Charles Baudelaire), Christmas hymn for one voice and piano with accompaniment of violin, Bénédiction, 'Soyez béni mon Dieu,...' (text in Swedish and French). Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist 2480a, Populära H. 5, pp. 4−5.
Lärkröster i maj ('O du lummiga lund', Zacharias Topelius).
Violin and piano
Cavatina for violin and piano. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, n.d.
Song and choir
Pastorale for male choir with soprano solo, organ and piano accompaniment op. 27 ('Nu är festens jublande timma', G. Meijer).
Styrbjörn Starke for male choir and tenor-baritone solo (K. A. Melin). Motto: 'Es ist des Lernen kein Ende', Schumann.
Äktenskaplig harmoni for choir and piano accompaniment ('Vill man hjonelag bygga...', Adrian Dahl).