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Music / Carl Michael Bellman

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Tycker du att graven är för djup? Nå välan, så tag dig då en sup.
(Do you think your grave is too deep? Very well, then take a drink.
— Fredmans epistel n:o 21

Carl Michael Bellman was an 18th century Swedish songwriter, and is still considered by many to be Sweden's greatest poet... EVER. Even if one thinks he has been surpassed later on, he fills the same role in Swedish music and poetry as Shakespeare does in English theatre: every later practicioner will have a relation to him. His main works are the Songs of Fredman (Fredmans sånger) and the Epistles of Fredman (Fredmans epistlar), each including some 70 songs, many of which are about four major forces that ruled 18th century Stockholm; angst, lust, booze and death.


Most of Bellman's songs are narrative stories, revolving around a group of characters living in 18th century Stockholm. Also the songs are often quite humorous, so they are kind of like episodes of a sitcom. However, a lot of the humour comes out of a cognitive dissonance that isn't apparent today, in the way he mixed Biblical figures with drunkenness and lewdness, causing several scandals during his life. In a way, his social and artistic experimentation was so successful that we later on can't easily see the humour intended.

Bellman's songs are still very much a living part of Swedish culture. Many contemporary musicians (including Candlemass and Marduk) have recorded versions of one or more of his songs, and you can still hear some of his songs sung by rowdy partiers if you stroll through Stockholm's Old Town late at night.


These are the most common characters that are being used in Bellman's works (mainly the Epistles of Fredman)

Fredman is a watchmaker "without workshop or clocks".

Movitz is an Army bugler by day and virtuoso of many instruments by night. Fredman's constant companion and old drinking buddy.

Ulla Winblad is a "seamstress" and the target of Fredman's mostly unwanted affections.

Jergen Puckel (Jergen Hump) is a humpbacked German, dancer, gambler, and womanizer.


Bellman, his music and his writings contain examples of:

  • All Women Are Lustful: Pretty much all of Bellman's female characters, with a few noteable exceptions; Susanna, for example.
  • Bawdy Song: Bellman defines this trope, while still keeping his songs very artistic and beautiful. This versatility is what many people consider to be why his songs are so popular.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Linguistic skills was the ne plus ultra of the scholastic or educated mind at the time. Bellman has mixed in at least German, French, and Danish phrases in his songs.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: In Bellman's world, this is a Polish national trait. In fact, he describes several wild nights with the phrase "drank, fought and danced like a Polishman".
  • Bowdlerise: "Gubben Noach" has become a very popular children's song, which usually leaves out all the references to wine (in other words, leaves out 7 1/2 verses of 8).
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Every single male character.
  • Deal with the Devil: Jergen apparently signs over his soul to the Devil once every two years.
  • Death's Hourglass: "Death has put his hourglass by my glass, his arrows lie scattered among my bottles..."
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Pretty much every character in the songs, Movitz in particular though.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Jergen Puckel (though technically he's half-German).
  • Informed Ability: Meta-example. Bellman is said to be the most famous composer in Swedish culture, but it so happens that he actually snitched most of his tunes from others (traditional tunes and old folk songs are easy to find). This is said to make a rather ironic twist to the subject of Swedish cultural history. His lyrics, however, are a different matter.
  • Juxtaposition Gag. Used frequently.
    • In Epistle 72: Glimmande Nymf, the original text goes from classical references to panic to comic disaster during a sex act.
    • In Song 35: Gubben Noach and other songs the patriarchs of the Bible are portayed as lewd drunkards.
    • Epistle 80: Liksom en herdinna starts out with a direct paraphrase about the proper way of writing poetry according to the high fashion of the day: tasteful, subdued, and adorable. It ends with sex, being too drunk too stand, and general chaos.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Epistle 81, "Behold, How Our Shadow", with its detailed and heart-rending depiction of a funeral, has become one of his most enduring songs, performed by everyone from balladeers to Candlemass.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Ulla Winblad
    Move over, Norström; the lady belongs to all of us!
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: "Glimmande Nymf" has the subtitle "A note left by Cajsa Lisa's bed late at night".
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Frequently.
    Drinking, boozing, and having your girl: This is the gospel of Saint Fredman!
  • Scatting: In his own performances, Bellman would often accompany himself on the lute and sing all other instruments. This got written into the songs, and many of his songs require the singer to imitate cellos, oboes, flutes...
  • The Alcoholic: Almost all the characters of the songs, and Bellman himself.
  • We All Die Someday: The mortality rate was high in 18th century Stockholm (no less so among those who drank as hard as Bellman and his characters), so death is a constant presence in many songs and the main topic of songs like "Oh, Death Is A Dreadful Bear" or "Drink Up, See, Death Awaits You".
  • Wretched Hive: Stockholm. Taken Up to Eleven in "Proud City!", which opens with what can only be described as a long rap about someone trying to make their way through the city at rush hour.
    Was ist das? Make room by the rowers' stairs! Gangway, fiddlers, shoeshiners, customs officers and sailors! Hooray, put the herringtail on the beerbarrel! Trumps! Shut up, bitch. Matches, matches, six for a groat! Trump, eightpence bet! Courage, you old grenadier! Out of my way, coalmerchants, cleaning women and milkmaids! Cheers, this one's on me! Let Movitz pass with the bass fiddle. Make room, herring packers, baker's boys, peddlers, tailors and birdcatchers. Step aside, Mister Superintendent or Hyperintendent or whatever kind of rascal you are. Help that blind man with the lyre. Stop shoving! Punch him in the face!...


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