Carl Michael Bellman is the supreme writer of sung poetry. In his songs he creates on the one hand a picture of lightness and grace and on the other a scenario of despair, drunkenness and cynicism. It is a combination which even today holds his fellow Scandinavians in thrall from the cradle up. A Bellman concert is still, nearly 200 years after his death, sure-fire box office; moreover, although his images are dense, his verses thick with classical allusion, his choice of melodies refined, and the speed of his thought bewildering, his appeal is universal; everybody in Scandinavia knows and loves Bellman.
Carl Michael Bellman was a towering presence in 18th century Swedish poetry. Many a scholar has maintained that if he had written in French, German or English he would have been a central author, irrespective of nationality. It should be noted, though, that his poetry was written to be sung, rather than just read, and his way of weaving words and music together was distinctive. Primarily he wrote his songs and epistles to be performed by himself. There are several written testimonies that he was a masterly performer, expressive and able to imitate sundry instruments. Conscientious research has revealed that few of his songs are original compositions; there is plenty of evidence that he borrowed melodies from instrumental works (Roman, Naumann’s Gustaf Wasa) and French opera-comique. There is even a quotation from the opening chorus in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. But, great artist that he was, he changed, reworked and adjusted the melodic material to fit his texts. We encounter a very conscious artist in these songs and epistles.