Tove Jansson playing the accordion. Photo: Per-Olov Jansson.

Tove Jansson’s hidden song lyrics finally out in the open


Tove Jansson is widely known as a multitalented artist, who has become famous especially for her Moomin stories, illustrations and comics, but also her adult fiction, oil paintings and caricatures. But did you know she also wrote song lyrics, and that music played an important role in her life? The story goes she even met her life companion, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä by the record player.

When Finnish-Swedish singer and actress Emma Klingenberg was invited to Tove Jansson’s studio home three years ago to research her music, she had no idea what a treasure chest just had been opened for her. Until then, no one had ever systematically gone through and collected all the song lyrics Tove Jansson wrote, and the findings were striking:

“It was very inspiring and I felt like life had given me a huge gift. I also thought that [Tove Jansson biographer] Boel Westin had probably found these lyrics before and written about them, could it really be possible that no one had done this before me, but I realised no one had, so I went to work”, Emma Klingenberg describes at the Tove festival in Helsinki, September 2021.

“I felt like life had given me a huge gift”

Music never published before – Autumn song only the tip of the iceberg

Klingenberg was researching for a concert based on Tove Jansson’s music, and quickly realised there was a lot more material than anyone had ever imagined, also songs that had never been published before. That Jansson had written songs for Moomin theatre plays and other songs together with composer and pianist Erna Tauro – the most famous one being “Höstvisa” (Autumn Song) – is no secret, but Klingenberg discovered that Tove Jansson’s material relating to music could be found in many different places, so she  went through Tove Jansson’s notebooks, binders and drawers, and combined her findings with archive materials. 

“Tove has organized diligently, there are binders from different productions and I went through them all to be sure I had found everything there was. She had attached her own answers to different letters, which was very helpful because I thereby knew what she thought about various offers and suggestions she had received. The atelier was full of sheet music and some scores and a lot of lyrics to songs, which was great.”

Klingenberg has found four different categories of songs by Tove Jansson. Firstly, The Moomin songs, where almost every character has their own song. Then there are individual lyrics like the collection “Visor till min dam” (Songs to my lady) which are love songs, mostly written to Vivica Bandler, but also a song to Atos Wirtanen. There are also songs written for friendsand songs written for plays. 

Music labelled “joyful and improper”

Especially one set of songs caught Emma Klingenberg’s attention:

“I was in the atelier and there was this big box full of cutouts from newspapers. I was digging through it and suddenly I found a plastic pocket labelled “joyful and improper” and I wondered what it contained.”

“I really feel Tove is with me when I sing it, she´s there beside me happy and rowdy”

That´s when Klingenberg found a paper saying “Mymmelvisan: to all small ghosts. Music by Povel Ramel.” An established fact is Tove Jansson and her Swedish-speaking entourage used the word “ghost” when talking about themselves or others being queer. Also the word “mymla”, referred to in the title Mymmelvisan” is a synonyme for having sex – and also the original Swedish name of the Moomin character Mymble, read more about that on The lyrics are written to a famous song by Swedish musician and entertainer Povel Ramel, which has a very high tempo and repeats certain words at a very high pace. In Tove Jansson’s version, a Swedish word for “pussy” is frequently used.

“My reaction was ´yes!´. It´s such a great song to sing, I really feel Tove is with me when I sing it, she´s there beside me happy and rowdy.” 

“I get goosebumps when I think about the fact that homosexuality was illegal when Tove Jansson wrote this song. And now 70 years later you are performing it, how does that feel?”, moderator Nanette Forsström asks.

“It feels amazing and I think it´s important that this side of her personality, her humour, is brought forth”, Klingenberg answers.

Emma Klingeberg now performs Mymmelvisan and a selection of Tove Jansson’s songs in her touring concert “Tove Jansson – Visdiktaren” (Tove Jansson – The Lyricist). She will also be performing some of these songs at the coming Tove Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland on September 10th and in Tampere, Finland on December 2nd. Watch a sneak peek of Emma Klingenberg performing here:

Music played an important role in Tove Jansson’s life

Music did have a profound and natural place in Tove Jansson’s life. According to Emma Klingenberg, the family listened to music a lot at home and during parties, Tove Jansson would lie in her bed listening and trying to learn the songs by heart.

“They listened to classical music like Tchaikovsky and Bach and discussed the works of these composers. As an adult, Tove travelled a lot and bought music abroad. She also kept notes of which music had inspired her on her travels, like Edith Piaf for example. So music was a very intrinsic and important part of her life.

In the filmed material of Tove Jansson, you can also see how she enjoyed dancing, and she also played the accordion (and it sounded good, according to her niece Sophia Jansson).

Met the love of her life by the gramophone

The story also goes Tove Jansson even met her life companion, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä by the gramophone at a party. According to Boel Westin, professor of literature who has written the biography “Life, Art Words” and was also a friend of Tove Jansson, their paths had crossed before, but it was at a Christmas party at the Arstists’ Guild in 1955 when they actually became acquainted.  Westin describes in the biography how they both had brought

“their best 78rpm records with them and were unwilling to let anyone else meddle with the music. Tove asked Tuulikki for a dance, but Tuulikki didn’t think it suitable – on that occasion. But soon a Christmas card reached the studio: a striped cat, signed ‘Tuulikki Pietilä’. It hangs there on the wall to this day. A little time passed, they telephoned, and when, a little after New Year, Tove set out from her door on Ulrikasborgsgatan and headed for Tuulikki’s studio at Nordenskiöldsgatan 10, in ‘further Tölö’, she knew what she wanted.”

Watch the music panel “The Sound of Moomins” at the Tove festival in Helsinki, September 2021, with musicians/composers Lauri Porra, who is currently making an audio brand identity for Moomin, Samuli Kosminen, who has written the score for the animated series Moominvalley and Emma Klingenberg, talking about the role of music in the universe Tove Jansson created:

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