Johan Magnus Rosén (1806-1885)


Johan Magnus Rosén was born in Gothenburg 6 April 1806 and died 16 June 1885 in Stockholm. Pianist, composer, music critic and author. Completed his degree in law at Uppsala University in 1829, civil servant at the Royal Military Board until 1839. Together with composer and music theorist Erik Drake, he published the music magazine Nordmannaharpan. Rosén’s compositions include tone poems and songs with piano accompaniment. He also wrote poetry, plays, novels, short stories and articles.


Johan Magnus Rosén was born in Gothenburg 6 April 1806 as the son of dean Gustav Rosén and Helena Charlotta Prytz. When Magnus Rosén was nine years old, the family moved to Stora Åby in Östergötland County, where both he and his brothers were taught by a private tutor. Rosén both played the piano and composed from a young age. However, he was pressured by both his family and relatives to pursue a career in civil service. In 1822 he enrolled at Uppsala University and graduated with a degree in law in 1829. During his student years, Rosén was intensely involved in Uppsala’s thriving music life.

During his final year at Uppsala University, Rosén began working as a substitute clerk at Krigskollegium (the Royal Military Board) until he gained a permanent position in 1836. However, he was dismissed three years later due to negligence, when he did not return after a leave of absence he had taken to write for the Dagligt Allehanda newspaper in Copenhagen. After this episode, Rosén was able to fully devote himself to writing and composing.

Rosén was apparently a busy man, as reflected by his numerous places of residence and productivity. He lived in Copenhagen in 1838, followed by three years in Skåne. He then moved to Stockholm, which became his main place of residence (with the exception of 1852−54, when he resided in Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen) until 1859. 1859−60 he worked as a newspaper journalist in Germany, Austria and Hungary. Rosén returned to Copenhagen in 1860, where he lived until 1862, after which he settled in Hamburg, where he lived until 1883. He then returned to Stockholm, where he spent his final years until his death on 16 June 1885. Rosén remained a bachelor.

Author and rabble-rouser

Johan Magnus Rosén wrote numerous articles on music, theater and literature for a series of newspapers, including Aftonbladet. Together with Kungliga Musikaliska akademien’s (the Royal Academy of Music’s) secretary and librarian Erik Drake, Rosén published the music magazine Nordmannaharpan. In this context, Rosén worked mainly as editor but also contributed the composition ‘Etude’ for booklet No. 6 (1832). Rosén also translated foreign authors (including William Thackeray and Eugène Sue) in addition to the libretto for the comic opera Zar und Zimmerman by Albert Lortzing. Rosén also independently published the Tidning för theater och musik magazine (1835−36) and Helios − tidning för Litteratur och skön Konst (1845−56).

In addition, Rosén published a number of novels, short stories, poetry and plays. Examples of Rosén’s literary output include Den fria kärleken (1840), En pfiffig karls missöden (1842) and his memoir Några minnesblad (1877). Rosén’s texts are characterized by an irony regarding the city’s elite combined with the idealisation of the countryside and its country dwellers, which was typical of the époque. He also published the piano method book Musikalisk katekes (1852).

Musical works

Rosén was a very productive composer who was admired by his contemporaries. Among his musical works, his ‘tone poem’ and songs with piano accompaniment are worthy of mention. These were well adapted for the salon milieux of the times. Rosén wrote his own arrangements of Franz Schubert’s ‘Am Meer’ and ‘Ave Maria’ and on occasion, influences from Schubert can be sensed in his own works. In ‘Brudtärnan’ and ‘Mailied’ this is evident for example in his tonal language, phrasing and in the relationship between the voice and the piano. It is clear, however, that Rosén’s preferred instrument was primarily the piano, as he tends to overly emphasize the piano part.

One of Rosén’s best-known works is his tone poem Pompejis sista dag (The Last Days of Pompeii), based on the author Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel of the same name (1867). The work was intended to be performed accompanied by fireworks to illustrate the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pompejis sista dag is arranged for string quartet and is divided into 14 short movements. The mood of the piece is rather fateful and dramatic, making extensive use of chromaticism and repetitive motives. The theme arises from the lower instruments, which can be interpreted as a portrayal of the volcanic eruption’s underground origins. Pompejis sista dag was first performed at the Stockholm Horticultural Society’s locale, followed by a performance in Lübeck in 1863.

Other examples of his tone poems include Die Schreckenstage von Paris, op. 50, and Det hvilande representationsförslaget (1849). The former work includes, for example, an impeccable, triumphant march for piano entitled Le Champ de Mars − Grande Revue militaire. At times it is so perfect that it evokes the style of a technical study or method piece.

Rosén composed other marches too, including the Grande Marche Triomphale, a tribute to Emperor Alexander II, and Die Wasa, in which a hymn precedes a funeral march in memory of King Gustav Vasa, written for piano. The overture to Rosén’s only operetta, Der Singmeister, was performed in Hamburg in 1863.

Rosén’s profuse and very diverse music production is especially interesting from a musico-historical perspective since he took inspiration from such diverse sources. The lasting impression of his musical output, however, is somewhat haphazard and superficial.

Angelina Liljevall © 2016
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Rabulistens resa, Stockholm, 1838.
En pfiffig karls missöden: Komisk roman, 3 vol., Stockholm, 1842.
Komministerns dotter, in: Stockholms Dagblad, series, 1849.
Den fria kärleken: Framtidsroman, Stockholm: Hjerta, 1840.
Yttersta domen: Fantasistycke, 2 vol., Stockholm, 1846.
Förvandlingarne: sagor för barn och äldre. Stockholm, 1846.
Eremiten på Ekensberg: bilder ur Stockholmslifvet
. Stockholm, 1883.
Konsten att fria
, Stockholm, 1856.
Några minnesblad, Stockholm: Beijer, 1877.
Musikalisk Katekes, en handbok till begagnande vid undervisning i pianospel, 1852.

Czar och timmerman, eller Borgmästaren i Sardam: komisk opera i tre akter, musiken [och texten] af Albert Lortzing, Stockholm: Gust. Rylander, 1843.
Eugène Sue, Parisiska mysterier, Stockholm, 1844. [Together with other translators.]


Hofberg, Herman: ‘Rosén, Johan Magnus’ in: Svenskt biografiskt handlexikon, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1906, p. 362.
Höijer, Johan Leonard: ‘Rosén, Johan Magnus’, in: Musik-Lexikon, Stockholm: Lundquist, 1864, pp. 408−409.
Kuschner Jonas: ‘Rosén (Rosén, von Rosenstein, von Rosén), släkt’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 30, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1998−2000.
Ljungquist, Sara: Den litterära utopin och dystopin i Sverige 1734–1940, diss., Hedemora: Gidlund, 2001.
Rosén, Johan Magnus: ‘Minnesblad’ [on Eric Drake], Svensk musiktidning, vol. 2, no. 22, 1882, pp. 172−173.
Rosén Johan Magnus: Några minnesblad, Stockholm: Beijer, 1877.
[Obituary for Johan Magnus Rosén], Svensk musiktidning, vol. 5, no. 13, 1885, p. 101.


Kungl. Biblioteket, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.

Summary list of works

1 operetta (Der Singmeister), 1 fantasy (Det brustna hjärtat), 3 tone poems (Pompejis sista dag, Det hvilande representationsförslaget, Die Schreckenstage von Paris op. 50), marches, piano music (1 polonaise, 1 etude, waltzes), songs with piano (e.g. May lied Szischen waisen und Korn, Brudtärnan, Morgonen gryr se töcknen försvinna, O, hulda barndoms ängel).

Collected works

Der Singmeister (written during the composer’s time in Hamburg)

Det brustna hjärtat, op. 40.

Tone poems
Die Schreckenstage von Paris, quartet arrangement, op. 50.
Det hvilande representationsförslaget.
Pompejis sista dag, quartet arrangement, ca 1840.

Die Wasa, op. 116.
Grande Marche Triomphale


Polonäs, op. 7.
Etude, 1832.
Inclination, coquetterie, declaration. En trio valser, op. 37. (Hamburg)
Theme finlandais varié pour le piano

Voice with piano
Abendlied für die Entfernte (A.W.V. Schlegel).
Mailied: Zwischen Weizen und Korn.
Morgonen gryr se töcknen försvinna.
O, hulda barndoms ängel.
Svensk krigs-sång, for soprano or tenor with accompaniment by the piano, Stockholm: Rylander, [1849].

Works by Johan Magnus Rosén

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

Number of works: 1