Gubben Noak

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"Gubben Noak"
Art song
Sheet music
First page of sheet music for 1791 edition
EnglishOld Man Noah
WrittenBy 1766, probably earlier
Textpoem by Carl Michael Bellman
MelodyMost likely by Bellman himself
Composedby 1766
Published1791 in Fredman's Songs
Scoringvoice and cittern

"Gubben Noak" ("Old Man Noah", originally "Om gubben Noach och hans fru" or just "Gubben Noach", and since 1791 also "Fredmans sång n:o 35")[1] is a traditional Swedish song, a drinking song and bible travesty written in 1766 or earlier by Carl Michael Bellman.[2] The song is possibly the best known of all Bellman's works.

The song was initially published anonymously for fear of the church. In 1768 the Lund chapter attempted to have all copies of the song and other biblical travesties destroyed.


Carl Michael Bellman is a central figure in the Swedish ballad tradition and a powerful influence in Swedish music, known for his 1790 Fredman's Epistles and his 1791 Fredman's Songs.[3] A solo entertainer, he played the cittern, accompanying himself as he performed his songs at the royal court.[4]

Jean Fredman (1712 or 1713–1767) was a real watchmaker of Bellman's Stockholm. The fictional Fredman, alive after 1767, but without employment, is the supposed narrator in Bellman's epistles and songs.[5] The epistles, written and performed in different styles, from drinking songs and laments to pastorales, paint a complex picture of the life of the city during the 18th century. A frequent theme is the demimonde, with Fredman's cheerfully drunk Order of Bacchus,[6] a loose company of ragged men who favour strong drink and prostitutes. At the same time as depicting this reality, Bellman creates a Rococo picture of life, full of classical allusion, following the French post-Baroque poets; the women, including the beautiful Ulla Winblad, are "nymphs", and Neptune's festive troop of followers and sea-creatures sport in Stockholm's waters.[7] The juxtaposition of elegant and low life is humorous, sometimes burlesque, but always graceful and sympathetic.[4] The songs are "most ingeniously" set to their music, which is nearly always borrowed and skilfully adapted.[8]


Music and verse form[edit]

The song is in 2
and is marked Andantino; the rhyming scheme is ABCCDB. The melody appears to have been written by Bellman; no earlier sources have been found.[2]


The song is based on the biblical mention of Noah becoming drunk, as shown in this fresco of drunken Noah by Michelangelo.

Bellman had completed the song by 1766, but it was probably written earlier.[2] The setting for the song is the time when Noah from the Old Testament had come to rest on the mountains of Ararat, and as mentioned in the Book of Genesis 9:20–21, Noah established a vineyard and got drunk from drinking the wine. The rest of the story departs from the biblical account. Along with Fredman's Songs 36–43, such as "Joakim uti Babylon" and "Ahasverus var så mäktig", Gubben Noak is one of the biblical travesties that made Bellman popular during the 1760s.

First stanza of song 35
Carl Michael Bellman, 1791[9] Paul Britten Austin, 1977[10]

Gubben Noach, Gubben Noach
Var en hedersman, :||:
När han gick ur arken
Plantera han på marken
Mycket vin, ja mycket vin, ja
Detta gjorde han.

Old man Noah, old man Noah,
   was the man for me.
When the Flood abated
Noah cultivated
Many a vineyard. Many a vineyard.
   Planted 'em did he!


Being somewhat afraid of the church, Bellman chose to first publish the song anonymously on broadsheets throughout the country; although it was generally known at the time who had composed the extremely popular song. In 1768 the Lund chapter reacted by sending a letter to the priests of the diocese, attempting to collect all prints and transcripts of "Gubben Noach" and other biblical travesties, in order to have them destroyed.[2][11][12]

In 1791 "Gubben Noak" was included in the song book Fredmans sånger, along with eight other biblical travesties, such as "Gubben Loth och hans gamla Fru" (Songs of Fredman no 35–43). Simplified and more innocent versions of the song, such as Björnen sover ("The bear's asleep"), have become popular as children's songs. The song was included in the 1936 compilation of poems by J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, Songs for the Philologists.[13]

English versions of "Gubben Noak" have been recorded by Adam McNaughtan [14] and the Linköping University Male Voice Choir.[15]


  1. ^ Bellman, Carl Michael (1791). "N:o 35 Gubben Noak" (in Swedish). Retrieved 2008-10-17.
  2. ^ a b c d "N:o 35 (Kommentar tab)" (in Swedish). Retrieved 2008-10-17.
  3. ^ Bellman 1790.
  4. ^ a b "Carl Michael Bellmans liv och verk. En minibiografi (The Life and Works of Carl Michael Bellman. A Short Biography)" (in Swedish). Bellman Society. Archived from the original on 10 August 2015. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  5. ^ Britten Austin 1967, pp. 60–61.
  6. ^ Britten Austin 1967, p. 39.
  7. ^ Britten Austin 1967, pp. 81–83, 108.
  8. ^ Britten Austin 1967, p. 63.
  9. ^ Hassler 1989, pp. 222–224.
  10. ^ Britten Austin 1977, pp. 127–129.
  11. ^ Domkapitlet i Lund (1768). "Som til Consistorium blifwit inlemnade ..." (in Swedish). Retrieved 2008-10-17.
  12. ^ "Bellman. Verken" (in Swedish). Retrieved 2008-10-17.
  13. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R.; Gordon, E. V. (1936). Songs for the Philologists. Privately printed in the Department of English, University College London. p. 19: Gubben Noach.
  14. ^ Last Stand At Mount Florida (Cockenzie: Greentrax Recordings, 1996).
  15. ^ In English (Linköping: Linköpings studentsångare, 2013).


External links[edit]