Kung Oscar I (1799-1859)


King Oscar I (1799–1859) was the only child of Charles XIV John (Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte) and Queen Desirée (Clary). He came to Sweden from Paris with his father in 1810 and became crown prince in 1818. He married Josephine of Leuchtenberg in 1823 and they had five children together. Oscar was a composer, pianist and singer, and he took an active part in Sweden’s music life. In 1844 he was crowned King of Sweden. He died on 8 July 1859 and the crown was passed to his son, Charles XV.


Prince Oscar was a public person from a young age and was met with praise of various kinds early on. His name day was celebrated within the military and in the context of fraternal societies on the first of December every year beginning in 1810. When Oscar became crown prince in 1818, his name day was also commemorated by the students at Uppsala University with a particular ‘Oscar celebration’, which became a model for patriotic student celebrations for the rest of the century. A newly composed song was typically written every year for these occasions. The Crown Prince maintained life-long contact with Uppsala University, partly because he was the university’s chancellor while he was Crown Prince, and partly because he studied there in the 1820s. During his time at Uppsala he took part in student singing, a tradition which was continued by his sons Karl and Gustaf, when they attended the university during the 1840s.

After Oscar finished his studies, plans were made for his wedding. Therefore, in 1822 Oscar took a long trip through Europe in search of an appropriate crown princess. In Aachen he met the pianist and composer Edmund Passy, who had debuted as a pianist at the Swedish Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera) in 1817, and was now on an extensive concert tour. When later that same year, they both found themselves back in Stockholm, the Crown Prince began taking piano and composition lessons from Passy. After several years the lessons were taken over by Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, whom Oscar had met during his studies in Uppsala. The friendship with Lindblad also meant that Oscar came into contact with German composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann.

Oscar regularly attended opera performances and concerts. He also took part in the development of associations, for example he was a benefactor for the Harmoniska sällskapet (the Harmonic Society), an association including a choir and orchestra that was founded in 1820 with the goal of promoting oratorios, masses and cantatas. A number of Stockholm’s professional musicians took part in the society’s activities that was led from 1823 by the hovkapellmästare (the chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra), Johan Fredrik Berwald.

 Oscar’s place in concert life and his contacts with composers also is evident in the book written in memory of him, Kung Oscars Drapa. Minnesrunor av svenska tonsättare (Skaldic praises of King Oscar: Memorial remembrances by Swedish composers) that was published in connection with his death in 1859. Fourteen composers, among them Ivar Hallström, J.A. Josephson, Lindblad and Ludvig Norman, wrote songs and piano compositions as a celebration of the King. One composition by P.C. Boman was a setting of P.D.A. Atterbom’s text from the legend-based play Lycksalighetens ö, and titled ‘Rolig natt!’. This text describes a final farewell.


Among Oscar’s compositions there are a great number of songs with piano accompaniment, found in both handwritten manuscripts and in printed form. Over all the songs are written in a classical style with regular phrases and harmonies that occasionally include some colouring. Included in these are four songs with French texts, Quatre Romances mises en musique. Oscars relationship to student singing is seen in a composition for male quartet, with text from Atterbom’s Lycksalighetens ö: ‘Rolig natt mödans vänner hvilen er, natten snart sin slöja sänder!’. It was precisely these texts that were the inspiration for the previously named compositions of praise for the King upon his death.

Within the genre of dramatic music, the opera Ryno should be particularly mentioned. It was in large part written by Eduard Brendler, and included a libretto by Bernhard von Beskow who was, among other things, director of the opera at the beginning of the 1830s. Due to Brendler’s death, the work was never finished. Only the main part of the first act was finished as well as parts of acts two and three. Oscar, together with Lindblad and J.F. Berwald, finished the composition of the opera, which received its premier at the Stockholm opera in 1834.

Among instrumental compositions there are a couple of marches for piano, which were written for the funeral of King Carl XIII in 1818. Whether or not they were performed on that occasion is impossible to determine today.

Although Oscar’s compositions are not performed today, he was very important for the fostering of interest in music during the early 19th century in Stockholm, both through his own composing and music making, and through his great interest in concerts and opera performances.

Karin Hallgren © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Hallgren, Karin: Kungafamiljen i Stockholms musikliv, in Nils Ekedahl (ed.), En dynasti blir till. Medier, myter och makt kring Karl XIV Johan och familjen Bernadotte, Stockholm: Norstedt, 2010, pp. 159−187.
Hedwall, Lennart: Oscar Byström. Ett svenskt musikeröde från 1800-talet, Hedemora: Gidlunds, 2003.
Jonsson, Leif: Ljusets riddarvakt. 1800-talets studentsång utövad som offentlig samhällskonst, diss., Uppsala University, 1990.
Ulvros, Eva Helen: Oscar och Joséphine − ett äktenskap, in Gunnel Becker & Kjell Blückert (eds), Drottning Josefina av Sverige och Norge, Stockholm: Veritas förlag, 2007, pp. 29−67.
Wiklund, Anders: Eduard Brendlers opera Ryno. Källkritik, analys, edition, 2 vol., diss., Gothenburg University, 1990.

Summary list of works

Works for piano (2 marches, 1 waltz), songs, vocal music.

Collected works

The majority of the works exist in manuscript. Both manuscripts and prints are missing information on year.

Rolig natt. Solo quartet for male choir, arranged for mixed voices. Text after P. D. A. Atterbom, Lycksalighetens ö.

Voice and piano
Quatre Romances mises en musique, [text author unknown].
Hem! [text author unknown]. Printed in Nytt och gammalt, vol. 3, no. 18.

Anglaises composées par Le Prince Josef Frans Oscar.
Deux Marches composées pour les Funerailles defeu Sa Majesté Le Roi Charlex XIII. Arrangées pour Piano Forte. Stockholm: U. E. Mannerhjerta. a) Marche Funebre No 1 C minor, b) Marche Funebre No 2 C minor.
Valse favorite pour le Piano-Forte. Prins Oscar's favourite waltz.