Oskar Ahnfelt

Oscar Ahnfelt

Born: May 21, 1813, Gull­arp, Skåne, Swe­den.
Died: Oc­to­ber 22, 1882, Karls­hamn, Blek­inge, Swe­den.
Buried: Hvil­ans Kyr­ko­gård, Karls­hamn, Blek­inge, Swe­den.

Hymns by Oskar Ahnfelt

Jenny Lind
Jenny Lind

Jenny Lind, known as the “Swedish Nightingale,” was a world-renowned opera singer of the 19th century. Born in Stockholm in 1820, she rose to international fame for her exceptional soprano voice and charitable works. Lind toured extensively in Europe and America, captivating audiences with her remarkable talent and humble demeanor. A devout Christian and fellow pietist, she played a crucial role in popularizing Lina Sandell’s hymns, set to music by Oscar Ahnfelt.

Oscar Ahnfelt: Sweden’s Spiritual Troubadour

Oscar Ahnfelt, born on May 21, 1813, in Gullarp, Skåne, Sweden, was destined to become a pivotal figure in Scandinavian hymnody. The son of Jonas Ahnfelt, a pastor in Gullarp and later Knästorp parish, Oscar initially planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest. However, his life took a different turn when he realized his true calling lay in music.

In 1840, Ahnfelt’s musical journey began in earnest when he accompanied Bishop Johan Henrik Thomander to Stockholm. There, he studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, laying the foundation for his future as a composer and musician.

The Pietist Preacher and His 10-String Guitar

Ahnfelt’s faith and music intertwined as he joined the Evangelical Revival movement, becoming an itinerant preacher and singer. Known as “Sweden’s Spiritual Troubadour,” he traveled throughout Scandinavia, spreading the word of God through music. His signature instrument was a 10-string guitar, which he used to accompany himself as he sang.

Collaboration with Lina Sandell: A Musical Partnership

One of Ahnfelt’s most significant contributions to hymnody came through his collaboration with Lina Sandell, a prolific hymn writer. Ahnfelt composed or arranged the music for all of Sandell’s hymns, creating a partnership that would leave an powerful mark on Scandinavian church music. So effective was his musical interpretation of Sandell’s lyrics that she once remarked, “Ahnfelt has sung my songs into the hearts of the people.”

Pietistic Hymns and Royal Approval

The popularity of Ahnfelt’s pietistic hymns didn’t sit well with the state church authorities (doesn’t this sound similar to today’s worship wars!) Anticipating a royal injunction against the singing of Sandell’s songs, they ordered Ahnfelt to perform before King Karl XV. However, after hearing the hymns, the King gave his approval, saying, “You may sing as much as you desire in both of my kingdoms.”

Global Impact of Sandell-Ahnfelt Hymns

The Sandell-Ahnfelt hymns spread far beyond Scandinavia, gaining popularity worldwide. Two of their most well-known compositions in English are “Children of the Heavenly Father” (Tryggare kan ingen vara) and “Day by Day” (Blott en dag). These hymns continue to be sung in churches across the globe, proof of their enduring appeal.

Jenny Lind: The Swedish Nightingale’s Support

Ahnfelt’s work received significant support from Jenny Lind, the world-renowned “Swedish Nightingale.” A fellow pietist, Lind popularized Sandell’s hymns in the United States and wherever she performed. She also provided financial backing for Ahnfelt’s “Andeliga Sånger” (Sacred Songs), first published in 1850.

Legacy and Final Years

Oscar Ahnfelt’s impact on Swedish hymnody and the pietist movement was profound. After teaching guitar at Jöns Petter Cronhamn’s School of Music in Stockholm, he established his own guitar school, further spreading his musical influence.

On October 22, 1882, Ahnfelt passed away in Karlshamn, Blekinge. He was laid to rest in Hvilans Cemetery in Karlshamn. Today, his legacy lives on through the countless hymns he brought to life with his music, continuing to inspire and comfort people around the world.

Don Chapman

Don Chapman

Composer/arranger Don Chapman has created HYMNDEX as a labor of love to help new generations learn about the lives, legacies and lyrics of historic hymn writers.