Carl Michael Bellman
|Carl Michael Bellman|
|Born||4 February 1740
|Died||11 February 1795
|Known for||Poetry, Song|
|Notable work(s)||Fredman's songs|
|Patron(s)||King Carl Gustav III of Sweden|
Carl Michael Bellman ( listen (help·info); 4 February 1740 – 11 February 1795) was a Swedish poet, songwriter, composer and performer. Bellman is a central figure in the Swedish song tradition and remains a powerful influence in Swedish music, as well as in Scandinavian literature, to this day.
Bellman is best known for two collections of poems set to music, Fredman's songs (Fredmans sånger) and Fredman's epistles (Fredmans epistlar). Each consists of about 70 songs. The general theme is drinking, but the songs wonderfully combine words and music to express feelings and moods ranging from humorous to elegiac, romantic to satirical.
Bellman's patrons included the King, Gustav III of Sweden, who called him the master improviser. Bellman has been compared to Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart, and Hogarth, but his gift, using elegantly baroque classical references in comic contrast to sordid drinking and prostitution, which are at once regretted and celebrated, is unique.
Bellman's songs continue to be performed and recorded by musicians from Scandinavia and in other languages including English, French, German, Italian and Russian.
Carl Michael Bellman was born on 4 February 1740 in the Stora Daurerska house—one of the finest in the Södermalm district of Stockholm, the property of his maternal grandmother, Catharina von Santen: she had brought up his father, orphaned as a small child. Carl Michael's parents were Johan Arndt Bellman, a civil servant, and Catharina Hermonia, daughter of the priest of the local Maria parish. Her family was wholly Swedish, whereas Johan's family had German origins: they had come from Bremen in about 1660. When Carl Michael was four the family moved to a smaller, single storey dwelling called the Lilla Daurerska house. He briefly went to a local school, but was educated mainly by private tutors. He was the eldest of 15 (surviving) children. His parents had intended him to become a priest, but he fell ill with a fever, and on recovering found he could express any thought in rhyming verse. His parents appointed a tutor called Ennes who Bellman called "a genius". Bellman was taught French, German, Italian, English and Latin. He read Horace and Boileau; Ennes taught him to write poetry and to translate French and German hymns. He was familiar with stories from the Bible including the Apocrypha, many of which found their way into the songs he composed in later life. However, the Swedish tradition of hospitality left the family with no money to start him off in life with a journey to the south of Europe, such as to Spain to visit his uncle, Jacob Martin Bellman, who was the Swedish Consul in Cádiz. Carl Michael translated a French book by Du Four and dedicated it to his uncle, but the hint was ignored. Deep in debt, at the end of 1757 the family sent Carl Michael to the State Bank as an unpaid trainee. He had no aptitude for numbers, instead discovering the taverns and brothels which were to figure so largely in his songs.
As the banking career was not working out – and as trainees were (after a period with a relaxed regime) again required to sit an exam – Bellman failed hopelessly, and he took a break in 1758, going to the university of Uppsala, where Linnaeus was professor of botany. The idea of attending lectures was no more congenial than banking, and he stayed only one term; one of his songs (FS 28) records that "He contemplated Uppsala—the beer stung his mouth—love distracted his wits..." However, he met the sons (such as Carl Bonde) of wealthy and noble families, went drinking with them, and started to entertain them with his songs. He seems quickly to have fallen into financial difficulty: "a jungle of debts, sureties and bondsmen began to proliferate around him." The character of bailiff Blomberg appears in his songs (e.g. FS 14), constantly trying to track down debtors and seize all their property. The law allowed the bankrupt only one way to escape from debtors' prison: to leave Sweden. In 1763, Bellman ran away to Norway. From the safety of Halden (then called Fredrikshald) he writes to the Council applying first for a passport, and then for a safe-conduct, both of which were granted. Meanwhile, his father had first mortgaged the Lilla Daurerska house, and then sold it: the family's finances were no better than his own. Even worse, by April 1764 the Bank had become tired of the riotous behaviour of its young men: its investigations showed that Bellman had been the ringleader, leading them (the Bank wrote) into "gambling, masquerades, picnics and suchlike". Bellman resigned, his safe banking career at an end.
Poetry and song
In 1765, Bellman's parents died; deeply moved, he wrote a powerful religious poem. Then his fortunes improved: someone found him a job, first in the Office of Manufactures, then in the Customs, and he was able once again to live happily in Stockholm, observing the people of the city, with at least a modest salary. In 1768 his life's work as we now know it got under way:
Bellman had begun to compose an entirely new sort of song. A genre which 'had no model and can have no successors' (Kellgren), these songs were to grow swiftly in number until they made up the great work on which Bellman's reputation as a poet chiefly rests.
Bellman mostly played the cittern,[a] becoming the most famous player of this instrument in Sweden. His portrait by Per Krafft the elder shows him playing an oval instrument with twelve strings, arranged as six pairs. His first songs were "parody songs", a common form of entertainment at the time.
Between 1769 and 1773, Bellman wrote 65 of 82 of his Epistles, as well as many poems. He attempted to publish the poems in 1772, but was unable to obtain the king's permission as a political coup intervened. He finally managed to obtain the permission in 1774, but soon discovered that the cost of printing, especially as he was determined to publish the sheet music alongside the text, was prohibitive given his ruinous finances, and he was forced to put off his plans. In 1776 the king gave him a sinecure job as secretary to the national lottery; this supported him for the rest of his life.
On 19 December 1777, at the age of 37, he married the 22-year-old Lovisa Grönlund in Clara church. They had four children, Gustav, Elis, Karl and Adolf; Elis died young.
Throughout his life, but especially during the 1770s, Bellman also wrote religious poetry, seeing no conflict with his bacchanalian works. He wrote some ten plays (none with particularly strong plots) as divertimentos, some of them later serving as entertainments at the royal court. In 1783, Bellman brought out The Temple of Bacchus (Bacchi Tempel), perhaps hoping to establish his reputation as a poet, rather than the merry entertainer that he was in fact known as at the time; but he always stood out in people's minds as unique, a different kind of writer and performer.
Bellman's main works are Fredman's songs (Fredmans sånger, 1790) and Fredman's epistles (Fredmans epistlar, 1791), each including some 70 songs. Their themes include the pleasures of drunkenness and sex. Against this backdrop, Bellman deals with themes of love, death, and the transitoriness of life. The settings of his songs reflect life in 18th century Stockholm, but often refer to Greek and Roman mythological characters such as the goddess of love, Venus (or her Swedish equivalent, Fröja), Neptune and his retinue of water-nymphs, the love-god Cupid, the ferryman Charon and Bacchus, the god of wine and pleasure. Many of Fredman's Epistles are peopled by a cast which includes the clockmaker Jean Fredman, the prostitute or "nymph" Ulla Winblad, the alcoholic ex-soldier Movitz, and Father Berg, a virtuoso on several instruments. Some of these were based on living models, others probably not. Fredman's songs also include Old Testament figures such as Noah and Judith.
Bellman achieved his effects of rococo elegance and humour through precisely organised incongruity. For example, Epistle 25, Blåsen nu alla! (All blow now!), begins with Venus crossing the water, as in François Boucher'sTriumph of Venus, but when she disembarks, Bellman transforms her into a lustful Ulla Winblad. Similarly, the ornate and civilized minuet melody of Ach du min Moder (Alas, thou my mother) contrasts with the text: Fredman is lying with a hangover in the gutter outside a pub, complaining bitterly about life. Ulla Winblad (vineleaf) recurs through the Epistles; Britten Austin comments that
Ulla is at once a nymph of the taverns and a goddess of a rococo universe of graceful and hot imaginings.
The songs are "most ingeniously" set to music, the melodies accentuated by the bold construction of music, word pictures and choice of words, while the music brings out a hidden dimension not seen if the words are simply read as verse. The poems themselves, far from being the brilliant improvisations that they appear, are striking in their "formal virtuosity". They may be drinking songs in name, but in structure they are tightly woven into a precise metre, situating the "frenzied bacchanalia within a strict and decorous rococo frame."
Bellman was a gifted entertainer and mimic. He was able to
go into a room apart and behind a half-open door mimic twenty or thirty people at the same time, a crowd pushing its way on to one of the Djurgården ferries, perhaps, or the uproarious atomosphere of a seaman's tavern. The illusion was so startling, his listeners could have sworn a mob of 'shoe-polishers, customs spies, seamen … coalmen, washerwomen … herring packers, tailors and bird-catchers' had burst into the next room.
In 1790, the Swedish Academy awarded Bellman its annual Lundblad prize of 50 Riksdaler for the most interesting piece of literature of the year. Although Fredman's Epistles was neither exactly literature as understood by the academy, nor meeting the standards of elegant taste, Johan Henric Kellgren and the King ensured that Bellman won the prize.
After the assassination of the King at the Stockholm opera in 1792, support for the liberal arts was withdrawn. Bellman, already in poor health from alcoholism, went into decline, drinking increasingly heavily. His drinking very likely contributed to his gout, which troubled him badly in 1790. He also caught tuberculosis: the disease had already killed his mother, and by the winter of 1792, he was seriously ill.
As if sickness were not enough, he was imprisoned—after struggling with debts and haunted by the threat of ruin and imprisonment all his life—"for a wretched[ly small] debt of 150 Rdr". The rumour was that a former Customs colleague, E. G. Nobelius, had had his advances to Louise Bellman rejected, and in revenge had sued Bellman for the debt, knowing he was penniless: he owed a total of almost 4,000 Riksdaler. On 11 February 1795, he died in his sleep in his house in Gamla Kungsholmsbrogatan. He was buried in the churchyard of the local parish church of Sankta Clara with no gravestone, its location now unknown. The Swedish Academy belatedly placed a memorial in the churchyard in 1851, complete with a bronze medallion by Johan Tobias Sergel.
The comparison with Hogarth was no accident. Like the English portrait painter, Bellman drew detailed pictures of his time in his songs, not so much of life at court as of ordinary people's everyday.
Bellman is unique among great poets, I think, in that virtually his entire opus is conceived to music. Other poets, of course, notably our Elizabethans, have written songs. But song was only one branch of their art. They did not leave behind, as Bellman did, a great musical-literary work nor paint in words and music a canvas of their age. Nor are their songs dramatic.
Major interpreters of Bellman's songs include Fred Åkerström and Cornelis Vreeswijk. Other recordings have been made by modern Swedish artists including Evert Taube and his son Sven-Bertil Taube, and as rock music by Joakim Thåström, Candlemass or Marduk. They are also performed as choral music and as drinking songs. Bellman has been translated into English, most notably by Paul Britten Austin, and into German, for example by Hannes Wader. German Communist leader Karl Liebknecht liked Bellman's songs and translated some into German. Hans Christian Andersen was one of the first to translate Bellman into Danish. Bellman's songs have been translated and recorded in Icelandic (by Bubbi), Italian, French, Finnish (for instance by Vesa-Matti Loiri), Russian, Chuvash and Yiddish. English interpretations have been recorded by William Clauson, Martin Best, Sven-Bertil Taube, Roger Hinchliffe and Martin Bagge.
Books in English with translations of Bellman's work have been written by Charles Wharton Stork in 1917, Hendrik Willem van Loon in 1939, Paul Britten Austin in 1967 and 1990, and the historian Michael Roberts in 1977–1991. In English the most thorough treatment of Bellman's life is also by Paul Britten Austin.
Van Loon's The Last of the Troubadours: The Life and Music of Carl Michael Bellman (1740–1795) was inspired by a visit to Sweden, and tried to introduce the unknown Bellman to an American audience, but critics felt his version of twenty of the songs was "stiff and often ungraceful", not doing justice to their composer. For example, he translates the first lines of Epistle 25, as follows:
|Epistel 25||Literal translation||van Loon: Ulla's Trip to the Deer Park|
|Blåsen nu alla,||Blow now all,||Blow one and all,|
|hör böljorna svalla,||hear billows surge,||Hear the thunder's call,|
|åskan går.||there is thunder.||And the surging sea;|
|Venus vill befalla,||Venus wants to command,||Neptune rules,|
|där Neptun rår.||where Neptune disposes.||but Venus the Queen shall be.|
Swedish schoolchildren tell Bellman jokes about a person named Bellman, an antihero or modern-day trickster with little or no connection to the poet. The first known Bellman joke is in a book from 1835, which quoted a letter written in 1808 by a contemporary of Bellman. 19th century Bellman jokes were told by adults and focused on Bellman's life at court; they often related to sex. In the 20th century, the 'Bellman' character became generic, the jokes were told by schoolchildren, and often related to bodily functions. The jokes have been studied by anthropologists and psychologists since the 1950s.
- Bacchi Tempel (Temple of Bacchus) (1783)
- Fredmans Epistlar (Fredman's Epistles) (1790)
- Fredmans Sånger (Fredman's Songs) (1791)
- The instrument was inherited from his grandfather, Johan Arndt Bellman (1663–1709), a professor and later chancellor of the University of Uppsala, who supposedly bought it in Rome. It has survived, and has been exhibited at the National Museum in Stockholm.
- "The Life and Works of Carl Michael Bellman. A Short Biography". The Bellman Society. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 43–46.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 47–51.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 53.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 55–56.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 58–59.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 60.
- Poulopoulos, Panagiotis (2011). The Guittar in the British Isles, 1750–1810 (PhD Thesis). University of Edinburgh. p. 199.
- Kleveland & Ehrén, 1984. page 7.
- "Carl Michael Bellman" (in Norwegian). Store Norske Leksikon. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- Britten Austin, 1967. facing page 72
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 61
- Hägg, 1996. pages 156-157.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 82.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 63.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 62.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 42.
- Britten Austin, 1967. page 163.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 164–166.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 168–170.
- Britten Austin, 1967. pages 172–173.
- Kleveland & Ehrén, 1984. page 6.
- Hägg, 1996. page 149.
- Hassler, 1989. page 6.
- Britten Austin, 1967, page 11
- Hägg, 1996. page 162.
- "Carl Michael Bellman (1740–1795)". Classical Archives. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- "Drinking Songs". The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Burstein, Dan; Keijzer, Arne de (9 June 2011). Secrets of the Tattooed Girl. Orion. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-297-86497-4.
-    medieval.org
- Stork, 1917.
- Van Loon and Castagnetta, 1939.
- Britten Austin, 1999.
- Roberts, 1977–1981.
- Britten Austin, 1967.
- Minnen, Cornelis van (14 October 2005). Van Loon: Popular Historian, Journalist, and FDR Confidant. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 189. ISBN 978-1-4039-7714-4.
- van Loon, 1939. p. 25
- Klintberg, Bengt af. (November 1987). "Varför är Bellmanhistorierna roliga?" [Why are Bellman jokes so funny?]. Børne-og UngdomsKulturSammenslutningen (BUKS) (in Swedish) 9.
- Britten Austin, Paul. The Life and Songs of Carl Michael Bellman: Genius of the Swedish Rococo. Allhem, Malmö American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1967. ISBN 978-3-932759-00-0
- Britten Austin, Paul. Carl Michael Bellman: Sweden's Shakespeare of the Guitar Song. Stockholm: Proprius, 1998.
- Britten Austin, Paul. Fredman's Epistles and Songs. Stockholm: Proprius, 1990 and 1999.
- van Loon, Hendrik Willem and Grace Castagnetta. The Last of the Troubadours. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939.
- Roberts, Michael. Epistles and Songs. Grahamstown, three volumes, 1977–1981.
- Stork, Charles Wharton. Anthology of Swedish lyrics from 1750 to 1915. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1917.
- Andersson, Ingvar, Agne Beijer, Bertil Kjellberg, Bo Lindorm (1979). Ny svensk historia – Gustavianskt 1771–1810 [New Swedish history - Gustavian 1771-1810]. ISBN 91-46-13373-9.
- Eriksson, Lars-Göran, ed. (1982). Kring Bellmann [Around Bellman]. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN 91-46-14135-9.
- Hassler, Göran; Peter Dahl (illus.) (1989). Bellman – en antologi [Bellman - an anthology]. En bok för alla. ISBN 91-7448-742-6.
- Henrikson, Alf (1986). Ekot av ett skott – öden kring 1792 [The echo of a shot - life around 1792]. Höganäs: Bra Böcker. ISBN 91-7752-124-2.
- Hägg, Göran (1996). Den svenska litteraturhistorien [The Swedish literature history]. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN 91-46-17629-2.
- Jonshult, Bengt Gustaf (1990). Med Bellman på Haga och Carlberg [With Bellman at Haga and Carlberg] (Nr 6 i serien Småskrifter). Solna: Solna Hembygdsförening. ISBN 91-971109-1-4, ISSN 0280-3062.
- Kleveland, Åse; Svenolov Ehrén (illus.) (1984). Fredmans epistlar & sånger [The songs and epistles of Fredman]. Stockholm: Informationsförlaget. ISBN 91-7736-059-1. (with facsimiles of sheet music from first editions in 1790, 1791)
- Matz, Edvard (2004). Carl Michael Bellman – Nymfer och friskt kalas [Carl Michael Bellman – Nymphs and splendid feasts]. Lund: Historiska Media. ISBN 91-89442-97-0.
- Hjord, Bengt, ed. (1989). ""Carl Michael Bellmans okända släkt" by Marianne Nyström pp. 209-226 and "Skalde-Anor: Carl Michael Bellmans härstammning" by Håkan Skogsjö pp. 227-236". Stadsbor i gångna tider: Släktforskaren och staden: Årsbok 1989 [City dwellers in olden times: The genealogist and the town]. Stockholm: Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, Norstedts Tryckeri. ISBN 91-87676-03-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Carl Michael Bellman.|
|Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article about Carl Michael Bellman.|
- Free scores by Carl Michael Bellman in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Bellman.net: Carl Michael Bellman homepage
- Litteraturbanken: Recordings of Bellman Epistles (in Swedish, English and German)
- Carl Michael Bellman at the Internet Archive (includes the music for all the Epistles and Songs)
- Runeberg: Carl Michael Bellman, author presentation in Project Runeberg
- Wikisource: Carl Michael Bellman
- Discography of American Historical Recordings: Carl Michael Bellman
- The Bellman Society (Bellmanssällskapet) (also in Swedish and other languages)
- Carl Michael Bellman at AllMusic
- Review of The Last of the Troubadours at the Internet Archive
- John Irons: Translations
- FE 30 Drick ur ditt glas at the Library of Congress (Joel Mossberg)
- FE 33 Stolta stad at the National Library of Sweden (Sven-Bertil Taube)
- FE 34 Ack vad för en usel koja at the National Library of Sweden (Tommy Körberg)
- FE 75 Skratta mina barn och vänner at the Internet Archive (Joel Mossberg)