Edvin Kallstenius (August 29, 1881-November 22, 1967) was a Swedish composer and librarian, who arranged the traditional folk tune used as the de facto national anthem of Sweden, Du gamla, Du fria. Born in Filipstad, Sweden, on August 29, 1881, Kallstenius studied natural sciences at the Lunds Universitet, then music at the Leipzig Conservatory under Stephan Krehl from 1904 to 1907. As music librarian at Swedish Radio from 1928-46 he made a significant contribution in the field of music administration in Sweden. He also served on the Board of the Society of Swedish Composers from 1933-1961 (Treasurer 1933-1943) and was on the board of the Swedish Performing Rights Society from 1932-1957.
“Du gamla, du fria” (English: “Thou ancient, Thou free”) is the de facto national anthem of Sweden. It was originally named “Sång till Norden” (“Song to the North”), but the first line has since been adopted as the title. The original lyrics were written by Richard Dybeck in 1844, to the melody of a variant from Västmanland of the ballad Kärestans död. It had been recorded by Rosa Wretman in the beginning of the 1840s. Dybeck published the traditional text in Folk-lore I, and the melody in 1845 in his Runa, where he also published his new text “Sång till Norden” [“Song to the North”]. This piece of old Swedish folk music was later arranged for orchestra by Kallstenius in 1933. Dybeck himself originally wrote the beginning as “Du gamla, du friska” (English: “Thou ancient, Thou hale”), but in the late 1850s personally changed the lyrics to “Du gamla, du fria” (Thou ancient, Thou free).
Although the Swedish constitution makes no mention of a national anthem, “Du gamla, du fria” enjoys universal recognition and is used, for example, at government ceremonies as well as sporting events. It first began to win recognition as a patriotic song in the 1890s, and the issue of its status was debated back and forth up until the 1930s. In 1938, the Swedish public service radio company Sveriges Radio started playing it at the end of transmitting in the evenings, which marked the beginning of the de facto status as national anthem the song has had since. Despite the belief that it was adopted as the national anthem in 1866, no such recognition has ever been officially accorded. A kind of official recognition was when the King Oscar II rose in honor when the song was played, the first time in 1893. In 2000 the Riksdag committee rejected, as “unnecessary”, a proposal to give the song legally official status, repeated later. The committee concluded that the song has been established as anthem by the people, not by the political system, and that it is good to keep it that way.
In addition to arranging Du gamla, Du fria, Kallstenius’s work includes five symphonies and eight string quartets. Also he published an annotated catalogue of Swedish orchestral works. He achieved an individual style and avoided using only tonal language by devising intense melodies reinforced with imaginative harmony. He declared that his “musical religion is called harmonics – everything else is secondary” and from this basis he worked out his ‘meticulously declamed themes.” Although in later works he employed his own personal interpretation of serial style he also composed charming versions of older Swedish music. He died at Stocksund in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 22, 1967.
The following work by Edvin Kallstenius is contained in my collection:
Du Gamla, Du Fria (arr.).