Emil Sjogren

Emil Sjogren


• 1853 1918


Emil Sjögren was best known for his lieder, though he also wrote a significant body of works for piano, organ, and chorus. Arguably, he was the greatest Swedish lieder composer of his generation and among the finest his country ever produced. He was prolific in the genre, producing about 200 songs in all, many quite still quite popular among Swedish audiences and a good number highly regarded by critics and musicologists. Iconic tenor Jussi Björling did much to popularize his songs with international audiences via numerous major concert appearances and recordings. Sjögren's vocal writing evolved over the years from his early, somewhat generic Swedish national style, to one carrying the voice of Schumann, and then to a mature style incorporating a more cosmopolitan approach, with a noticeable nod to French music, particularly to Franck. His piano music also became a fairly sophisticated amalgam, but again with French composers, especially Saint-Saëns and Fauré, divulging a discernible influence. Still, Sjögren was imaginative and fairly original in his maturity, achieving in his songs an effective expressive manner, even if salon strains often hover nearby.

(Johan Gustav) Emil Sjögren was born in Stockholm on June 16, 1853. At 16, he enrolled at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, where he studied until 1874 under Hermann Johan Berens (harmony), Johan Hermann Mankell (organ), and Hilda Thegerström (piano). At the Berlin Conservatory, he studied composition with Friedrich Kiel from 1879-1880.

Sjögren's earliest song sets date to the hiatus period in his student years, the 4 Poems, Op. 1 (1876), and 3 Songs, Op. 2 (1877). Although they showed talent, his Op. 22 set (1887), on texts by Jens Peter Jacobsen, divulged a marked progressive character in its harmonies and a deepening of expressive language. By this time he had spent much time abroad and had soaked up the influence of Franck and other composers in France and elsewhere.

In 1891 Sjögren departed his organist post at Stockholm's French Reformed Church, where he had served since 1881, and accepted the organist post at St. John's Church, also in Stockholm. Throughout the 1890s Sjögren frequently traveled to Paris and from 1901-1914 regularly appeared there in concert. Sjögren's Op. 54 Songs (1911), on texts by Li-Tai-Po, exhibit the composer's broadening imagination with their deft sense of exoticism and harmonic invention. Sjögren maintained his organist post at St. John's until his death on March 1, 1918.