Claes Rendahl (1848−1926)


Claes Wilhelm Rendahl was born in Ölmstad, Småland on 4 April 1848 and died in Karlstad on 12 February 1926. He was a cathedral organist, teacher and composer. After studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stockholm 1867–71 (and graduating with degrees in organ and music teaching) Rendahl worked as an organist, conductor and music teacher in Karlstad. He was considered to be one of the leading Swedish organists of his time in addition to being a somewhat successful composer. His contributions to Swedish church music are considered to have been significant. Elected as member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1900.


Background and early career in music

Claes Rendahl was born in Ölmstad Parish, Småland, on 4 April 1848. His parents were the organist Lars Johan Rendahl and his wife Anna Johannesdotter. Rendahl belonged to a famous family of church musicians who held offices as cantors and klockare (bell ringer, teacher and leader of singing in the church) in the congregations of Småland and Östergötland from the mid–1700’s onwards.

First taught music by his father, Claes Rendahl later became a student of the Linköping cathedral organist C.A. Hagström. After his father’s death Rendahl temporarily took over his office while continuing with music studies in Jönköping under the distinguished organist and composer Gustaf Wilhelm Heintze and the military band sergeant Qvarnström. There, Rendahl was instructed in organ, piano, cello, violin and probably also music theory.

Studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the move to Karlstad

In 1867 Claes Rendahl was accepted as a student to the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (Royal Conservatory of Music) in Stockholm, where he commenced organ studies under Gustav Mankell. Rendahl’s prior education evidently prepared him well for university studies since he was allowed to graduate as both organist and school cantor already within the same academic year as his acceptance. However, he continued his studies, completing his degree as musikdirektör (a degree in music which included conducting and music education) in 1871. After receiving several special diplomas and performing in various Stockholm orchestras, in 1873 Rendahl was employed as a music teacher at both the Karlstad secondary school and the city’s elementary teacher seminary school. Shortly thereafter, he began a temporary position as the cathedral organist and was elected to a permanent position as the same in 1877. In 1890 he was appointed conductor of the Karlstad Music Society.

Rendahl came to work in Karlstad throughout the rest of his life. He grew to be a central figure in the city and a dynamic force within the local music scene. The number of public concerts increased and the state of sacred music developed during Rendahl’s time at the cathedral.

However, Claes Rendahl’s reputation grew to extend beyond the Värmländ capital. He was considered to be one of the country’s foremost organists. As an educator, he was well respected and was granted the authority to issue organist and cantor degrees in Karlstad. He was also a noted composer: in 1884 his 7 melodiska tonstycken for piano was awarded a prize at a composition competition held by the music journal Svensk Musiktidning. Afterwards, an article in this periodical judged this set of seven pieces as ‘belonging to one of domestic piano literature’s best works in recent years’ (1887, No. 11). Individual works for solo organ by Rendahl were published in both Swedish and international collections.

An influential church musician

But it was mainly through his involvement and interest in church music that Rendahl established a central place for himself in Swedish music. He published articles in newspapers and magazines in addition to working with practical issues. In 1889 he published a revised edition of the prevailing common hymnal Hæffners koralbok and in the 1910’s and 1920’s he was an active participant in committees organised by the Swedish Church for the reformation of its church music. The results included the 1921 hymnal.

At the formation of the Swedish Organist and Cantor Association in 1901 Rendahl was elected to be its first chairman. In return for his meritorious services, he was dubbed Knight of Vasa in 1897 and in 1922 he was awarded the royal medal Litteris et artibus. He was elected as member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1900.

Claes Rendahl died 12 February 1926 in Karlstad.


Claes Rendahl’s extant musical output is relatively limited and came into being for the most part before 1900. His dedication to church music and his occupations as both organist and teacher most likely limited his opportunities to compose.

Rendahl’s most recognised compositions were written during his time in Karlstad and remain largely within the framework of his musical environments: all of his works lie within his own fields of competence: compositions for organ, piano and vocal works.

Piano music and songs

It is regrettable that Rendahl did not continue to develop as a composer, since his compositions unquestionably bear witness to his talent; he possessed a solid technique. His first published work, 7 melodiska tonstycken for piano, is easy to play and suitable for amateurs, but at the same time it includes a skilfully executed harmonic technique and is elegant in its design. Stylistically, his piano pieces are rooted in the Germanic and Scandinavian piano music of the 1840’s and 1850’s, with additional influences from Chopin. There is no sign of any particular ‘Nordic style’ in his music, nor does his ‘Visa i folkton’ (no. 3) nor his ‘Polska’ (no. 5) reveal any significant folk music influences.

His song collection Sju Viser på varmlandske tongmåle is with its simple design also targeted directly at amateurs. It includes ‘folky’ music, but only in connection with coeval popular humorous songs and broadsides.

Church Music

Claes Rendahl’s sacred works are rooted in the Protestant German church music tradition. They join German baroque compositional techniques together with the soundscape of romantic music. This is especially prominent in some of his organ works, such as the Introduction and Fugue in Eflat major, in which the he also utilises baroque ‘archaisms’ such as sequential modulations.  Connections with Baroque compositional techniques are also evident in that the main theme of the introduction is an inversion of the later fugue theme. Rendahl’s organ works exert considerably greater technical demands on the performer than his piano compositions and songs.

Stylistically, Rendahl’s music is rooted in early romanticism, as represented by important composers such as Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann and Niels W. Gade. Rendahl was essentially unaffected by compositional trends during the latter part of the 1800’s.

Dan Olsson © 2016
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

De antika tonarterna: kritiska studier med särskild hänsyn till Hæffners och Josephsons koralbearbetningar /af En sanningsvän, Karlstad: self-published, 1878.
Några ord om orgelspelet vid den allmänna gudstjänsten af En gammal organist, Karlstad: 1899.
Articles in newspapers and magazines such as Veckoblad för folkundervisningen, Pedagogisk tidskrift, Musiktidningen etc. (Bromander et al. 1931 p. 465).


Bromander, Carl Vilhelm, Dahlman, Axel & Ander, Ernst T. (eds): ‘Claes Vilhelm Rendahl’, in: Karlstads högre allmänna läroverks hävder, Karlstad: 1931, pp. 463−465.
Bromander, Carl Vilhelm
: Ordinarie lärare vid Karlstads läroverk efter år 1850, Karlstad: 1931.
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik, Uppsala: Svenska Frimurarordens Forskningsloge Carl Friedrich Eckleff, p. 308.
Lindh, N.F.: ‘Claes Wilhelm Rendahl som kyrkomusiker’, in: Karlstads stifts julbok, 1930−32, pp. 65−70.
Norlind, Tobias: ‘Claes W Rendahl’, in: Allmänt musiklexikon, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1928, p. 341.
Sirén, Yngve: ‘Tre företrädare’, Kyrkomusikernas tidning, vol. 61, no. 17, 1995, pp. 339−341.


Kungl. Biblioteket, Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Musik- och teatermuseet Stockholm, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Kungl. Musikaliska akademien (ledamotformulär no. 17)

Summary list of works

Piano works (7 melodiska tonstycken, etc.), songs, vocal music (cantatas, church music with vocal soloists, men’s quartets).

Collected works

The following list of works includes only those compositions by Rendahl that are today registered at archives and libraries. In literature about the composer further works are named: Norlind (1928 p. 341), for example, names 3 cantatas in Rendahl’s production. According to Bromander et. al. (1931 p. 465) compositions by Rendahl were published in music magazines such as Från tonernas värld (Assar), Orgelpreludier (Wideman) and Liber cantus (Kihlberg) etc. These works have, however, not been registered as individual works.


Cantata for the 100-year jubilee at St Carolus 13/12 1906 (P.E. Ågren).
Cantata for the Scottish St Andrew’s Lodge August’s 100-year jubilee in Karlstad 30 November 1911, for soli, choir, pump organ and piano (Th. Ekelund). Leipzig: C G Röder, n.d. (ca 1911/12).

Solo songs, choir and organ/piano

Five liturgical songs for solo voices, mixed choir and organ. Self-published 1887, as well as by Slite: Wessmans musikförlag, 1984. 1. Kyrie (choir), 2. Gloria (choir, solo quartet, choir with solo), 3. Sanctus (choir and solo), 4. Agnus Dei (choir), 5. Hosianna (choir and solo quartet).
Tio sånger ur Kristna högtids- och helgedagar av C.D. af Wirsén, for solo song, mixed choir and piano (or pump organ), Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1891. 1. Första Söndagen i Advent, 2. Juldagen, 3. Nyårsdagen, 4. Långfredag, 5. Långfredagens aftonsång, 6. Påskdagen, 7. Pingstdagen, 8. Trefaldighetssöndag, 9. Midsommardagen, 10. Allhelgonadagen.

Men’s Quartets
Hemmet, in: Sånger för mansröster, vol. 6, Stockholm: Sällskapet för svenska qvartettsångens befrämjande, 1892.
Aftonstämning (D. Fallström), in: Sånger för mansröster, vol. 21, Stockholm: Sällskapet för svenska qvartettsångens befrämjande, 1907/08.

Songs with piano accompaniment

Sju Viser på varmlandske tongmåle, deckta åttå Frederik på Ransätt, å satte för bas eller baryton mä litt klerp för pian åttå C.W. Rendahl [sic.] [set for bass or baritone with piano] (F.A. Dahlgren). Stockholm: Gehrmans förlag, 1891. 1. Fästmans-köpe, 2. Saras funderingar, 3. Solparasolle, 4. Jönses tankar, 5. Månses friinger, 6. Pär å Lisa, 7. Bonnspelman.
Bröllopshymn (J.L. Runeberg). Manuscript, UUB.

Introduktion und Fuga E-flat major, in: J. Diebold, Orgelstücke moderner Meister, vol. 4, n.d. [Also published in Erland Hildén, Orgeltoner från Värmland, Trelleborg: Trumph, 1997.]
Preludium och fuga E minor, in: Claes Holmgren, Euterpe. Svensk orgelmusik från 1800-talet, Trelleborg: Trumph, 2001.
Romanze, Intermezzo, Introduction und Fuge (see above), in: Otto Junne (ed.), Neue grössere und kleinere Orgelstücke zur Übung sowie zum gottesdienstlichen und Konzertgebrauch: unter gütiger Mitwirkung hervorragender Orgelkomponisten der Gegenwart in vier Bänden, vol. 4, Leipzig, 1924.
Meditation E minor, in: Erland Hildén, Orgeltoner från Värmland, Trelleborg: Trumph, 1997.
Impromptu, in: N.E. & Emil Anjou, Organistens orgelalbum: originalkompositioner för orgel av nordiska mästare, Gävle: Ahlström & Cederberg, 1901.
Cantabile, Preludium, in: N.E. & Emil Anjou, Nordiskt orgel-album. Originalkompositioner för orgel af nordiska tonsättare, Leipzig: 1903.
Stämningsstunder, Leipzig: C.G. Röder (ca 1910).

Sju melodiska tonstycken för piano. Vid Svensk Musiktidnings täflan 1884 prisbelönta. Stockholm/Leipzig: Svensk Musiktidning/C.G. Röder, 1885. 1. Mazurka, 2. Humoresk, 3. Visa i folkton, 4. Bagatelle, 5. Polska, 6. Mazurka, 7. Scherzo.
Frid (Paix), in: Album för piano af svenske tonsättare. Stockholm: Gehrman, 1892.

Folk music arrangements
Vermländska låtar, collected by Nils Keyland and arr. for piano (or violin) by C.W. Rendahl. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1901.

Hymn publications
J.C.F. Hæffners Koralbok i sammandrag: containing melodies for all the hymns of the Swedish Church, transposed to the key most suited to the common voice, Stockholm: 1889.
Valda melodier och psalmtexter jämte utdrag ur Svenska Mässan till skolornas tjänst. C. Rendahl & N Fr. Lindh (eds), Stockholm: Palmqvist, 1912.

Works by Claes Rendahl

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 1