Thursday, February 06, 2014

Library of Congress "Swedish Song" website w/ links to 78rpm recordings of Olle i Skratthult


"Swedish Song," The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America. Performing Arts Encyclopedia. Library of Congress.


... The largest wave of Swedish emigration to the United States was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Swedish communities were established in many parts of the United States, but especially in New England, the upper Midwest, and the Northwest.

Swedish song in the United States has often had an appeal far beyond the Swedish community. Jenny Lind, an internationally famous Swedish operatic soprano, became wildly popular in the United States through a concert tour sponsored by P. T. Barnum between 1850 and 1852, famously giving her earnings to charity. She included Swedish songs in her performances along with selections from German and Italian operas. Sheet music was published based on her songs and many places and products were named for her.

In the late nineteenth century Scandinavian and Swedish festivals, often held at midsummer, became popular in the parts of the country where there were Swedish communities and these were venues where songs, music, and dances would be performed. Swedish immigrants formed many choral societies. These groups gave performances in the Swedish community, at Scandinavian festivals, and for general audiences. Swedish American choral groups often performed a combination of art songs, popular songs, religious songs, and traditional songs. The December twelfth festival of Saint Lucia, as celebrated by Swedish Lutherans, often includes choral singing, especially the most famous song associated with the holiday, "Santa Lucia."

  • Hjalmar Peterson, who immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1906, created a character very similar to Lars Bondeson, named Olle i Skratthult (Olle from Laughtersville), and performed for enthusiastic Swedish American audiences. His performances included skits, monologues, and songs – a Swedish language version of American vaudeville entertainment. In this example he sings "Storbönnernas vals" (a well-to-do farmer's waltz). "Finska valsen" ("Finnish Waltz"), composed by Hesekiel Wahlrot with lyrics by the popular Swedish performer Ernst Rolf tells of a boy at a rural dance, and was another favorite on the American Swedish stage as performed by the character Olle i Skratthult. The character of Olle i Skratthult was immensely popular, allowing Peterson to form his own company and tour the United States in 1916.
  • Charles G. Widdén was another comic actor and singer popular among Swedish American audiences in the early twentieth century who made use of rustic comedy inspired by Lars Bondeson. He created his own rustic character, Olle ve kvarna (Olle of the Mill). In this example from his comic repertoire, he sings a traditional song, "Nikolina," in which a young man's hopes of marrying his girl are dashed when he asks her father for his hand and is beaten off, with the violence described in comic terms. In the end the couple resolves to marry after her father is dead (this was also one of the favorite songs performed by Olle i Skratthult). In addition to comic songs, Widdén sang popular songs of the early twentieth century, such as "Kostervalsen," a waltz by the Swedish song writing team of Göran Svenning and David Hellström.


After World War I the United States put severe limits on immigration, greatly reducing the number of new Swedish immigrants. Swedish Americans, always a highly literate and ambitious group, strove to assimilate. By the mid-twentieth century the vast majority of Swedish Americans spoke only English. Professional variety entertainment by and for Swedish speakers had largely disappeared by the1950s. Festivals and choral music also declined. But in the 1960s and 1970s there was a revival due to a strong desire of a new generation to return to their roots. Swedish and Scandinavian festivals are now held in many states. This has once again created venues for choirs and performers singing songs in Swedish. The member groups American Union of Swedish Singers report that they now sing about half their songs in English and half in Swedish, appealing to the audiences of mixed English and Swedish speakers they now encounter.

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