Eric Arrhén von Kapfelman (1790−1851)


Eric Jacob Arrhén von Kapfelman was born 21 October 1790 in Västervik. After graduating from secondary school in Lund in 1809, he worked as a clerk at the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency and the War Office until November 1816. Beginning in 1820 he started employment as a music teacher at the Royal Military Academy at Karlberg Palace and was named Director of Music there in 1833. He was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1841. Arrhén von Kapfelman never married. He died in Stockholm 23 May 1851.


After completing his studies in Lund, followed by work as a government clerk, Eric Jacob Arrhén von Kapfelman began employment as a music teacher at Kungliga Krigsakademien (the Royal War Academy) at Karlberg Palace in Stockholm. Several sources indicate that he began working at Krigsakademien in 1820; others report the year 1824. In addition to the uncertainty as to when exactly he began working as a teacher, there is a lack of information about his own music education. He probably took piano lessons from Thomas Byström, who was a music teacher at Karlberg during the early 1800’s. Arrhén von Kapfelman also had a reputation as a good violinist. In 1833 he was named Director of Music at Karlberg. Whether or not he had a formal education, he must have had the necessary qualifications in order to acquire such a post.

Kungliga Krigsakademien was founded in 1792. Up until the mid-19th century it was not only a military school − it also offered a basic education for young boys, since government-funded schools did not yet exist at the time. A certain amount of instruction in music was included in the educational programme. However, no teacher held a position of permanent employment there during the early 1800’s. Instruction was conducted by appointed teachers with part-time contracts. Students were taught piano, violin or double bass, and lessons were in all likelihood optional. Singing lessons were also offered, and in the 1840’s great attention was made of the fact that all students could sing.

Once Arrhén von Kapfelman had permanent full-time employment at the school, there was now someone who could take responsibility for the music education programme as well as for organising music performances as required. Many of his compositions for male voice quartet were performed at the school. The same was most likely the case for the incidental music he wrote for several tragic dramas by Pehr Henrik Ling, such as Medea, Engelbrekt Engelbrektson, Agne, Blotsven and Den heliga Birgitta. Ling was gymnastics and fencing teacher at Karlberg from 1813 to 1825. Most likely Arrhén von Kapfelman and Ling collaborated together on these tragedies, but information as to how and when these works were performed is lost. The music to these plays was probably unheard of outside the walls of Karlberg.

Compared with other school subjects at Karlberg, music did not have a particularly high status. But, despite this fact, there was a continuous, stable music curriculum led by Arrhén von Kapfelman until as late as 1850. One of his students, Oscar Byström (1821−1909), received his first lessons in composition from Arrhén von Kapfelman and dedicated three songs to him the summer of 1848.

Besides work at Karlberg, Arrhén von Kapfelman was also an active participant in other musical events in Stockholm. His immersion in the music society life of the capital city is evidenced by the visible presence of the Kungliga Teatern’s (the Royal Opera’s) choir that sang at his funeral, which was also attended by many members of Kungliga Teatern and Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music).


A great deal of Arrhén von Kapfelman’s music was composed for the contexts in which he concurred. Compositions and arrangements for male voice choir or male voice quartet dominate his production. The song for male voice choir ʻVårsång på Valborgsmässoaftonenʼ (Spring song on Walpurgis night), with text by poet, priest and Member of Parliament Carl Fredrik Dahlgren − it is most famous for the first line of lyrics ʻVåren är kommenʼ (Spring has come) − came about in the early 1820’s. It was performed by the cadets at Karlberg and soon adopted by student vocal ensembles in the university town of Uppsala. There it became a part of the spring singing tradition, which continued with works by composers such as Prince Gustaf and J.A. Josephson. That Arrhén von Kapfelman had an affinity for the Swedish student song tradition during this time is also apparent from the voice part settings in many of his male choir pieces. They fluctuate between movements consisting of three voices with piano accompaniment to a cappella four voice parts, which was typical for early Swedish student songs from this time period.

Among his arrangements, one of the most well known worth mentioning is ʻKung Carl den unge hjelteʼ (The young hero King Charles), with melodies by O.E. Westermark and text by Esaias Tegnér. It became very popular in student song circles and was perceived by current society as one of the most important national songs.

Arrhén von Kapfelman also composed several works for mixed choir. One frequently performed work was ʻHosiannaʼ. The Bible text is recognisable from Abbé Vogler’s composition, upon which it is based. It is in one homophonic movement of four sections plus one contrasting fluctuating section. In a notebook from 1807, consisting of composition assignments, Arrhén von Kapfelman copied several works by other composers, including ʻHosiannaʼ by Vogler, which probably influenced his own composition. 

During his lifetime, most of Arrhén von Kapfelman’s compositions were only available in manuscript, but a few were published. In January 1824 a music dealer in Stockholm advertised songs for four part choir with piano accompaniment by Arrhén von Kapfelman, in addition to several other Swedish and international composers. Solo songs with piano accompaniment were also published in similar advertisements. These songs were most likely accepted as salon music by coeval society, and thus compatible with the music making at home that was commonplace from the early 1800’s onwards.

Arrhén von Kapfelman composed songs to texts by Swedish bards such as Esaias Tegnér and E.J. Stagnelius, but he also wrote his own lyrics to a great extent. In 1819 he finished ʻBlommornaʼ (The flowers) for mixed choir and instrumental accompaniment: a collection of songs composed after ʻ12 poemsʼ by P.D.A. Atterbom. Each song is named after a flower: ʻHyacintenʼ, ʻNattviolenʼ, ʻRosenʼ (The hyacinth, The violet, The rose), etc. and depicts different emotions. They are fused together into one composition with modulations between shifting keys, in a late classical style.

A particularly intense discussion surrounding the creation of a new national folk song in commemoration of the succession of Oscar I to the crown inspired Swedish composers such as Arrhén von Kapfelman, Franz Berwald, Gunnar Wennerberg and A.F. Lindblad to write pieces celebrating the event. Arrhén von Kapfelman composed a folk song in correlation with the coronation. However, the most popular commemoration would not be a work by any of them, but instead ʻUr svenska hjärtans djupʼ (Deep from the Swedish heart) by Otto Lindblad.

Arrhén von Kapfelman did not compose much purely instrumental music, except for several piano compositions and the incidental music mentioned above. He did write music for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which was performed by Djurgårdsteatern 1838−39. His symphony, mentioned in earlier biographies, has not been found.

Vocal music in his own times and in the repertoire

Arrhén von Kapfelman’s solo songs and choral works generally received a positive reception during his own lifetime. In his study of ‘the Swedish art of music’, Abraham Mankell particularly mentions beautiful, simple melodies and the range of emotions which are characteristic of the songs by Arrhén von Kapfelman.

Of Arrhén von Kapfelman’s extensive production, only a few choral songs are still standards in the male voice choir repertoire. ʻVåren är kommenʼ has been sung year after year since it first appeared. It was for example performed by the Allmänna Sången choir from Uppsala at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878, and many male voice choirs still frequently perform it in concert. As a result of his many years of service as music teacher and as a composer of music for everyday life, Eric Jacob Arrhén von Kapfelman was an important figure for Swedish music society in the beginning of the 19th century.

Karin Hallgren © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Fjell-blommor, Stockholm, 1836.


Dahlgren, F.A.: Anteckningar om Stockholms theatrar, Stockholm, 1866.
Ekstrand, Sigvard
: Karlberg. Kungl. Krigsakademiens och Kungl. Krigsskolans historia 1792−1936. Stockholm: Generalstabens litografiska anstalts förlag, 1937.
Hedwall, Lennart
: Oscar Byström. Ett svenskt musikeröde från 1800-talet, Hedemora: Gidlunds förlag, 2003.
Helmer, Axel
: 'Den romantiska solosången', in: Leif Jonsson & Martin Tegen (eds), Musiken i Sverige, vol. 3, Den nationella identiteten, Stockholm: Fischer & Co 1992, pp. 253−264.
Hofberg, Herman
: 'Erik Jakob Arrhén von Kapfelman', in: Svenskt biografiskt handlexikon, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1906.
Jonsson, Leif
: Ljusets riddarvakt. 1800-talets studentsång utövad som offentlig samhällskonst, diss., Uppsala universitet, 1990.
Kallstenius, Gottfrid
: 'Eric Jacob Arrhén von Kapfelman', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 2, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1920.
Lindfors, Per
: 'Eric Jacob Arrhén von Kapfelman', in: Svenska Män och Kvinnor, vol. 1, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1942.
Mankell, Abraham
: Sveriges tonkonst och melodiska nationaldikt, Stockholm, 1853.
Norberg, Erik (ed.)
: Karlberg. Slott och skola. Utbildning till officer 1792−1992, Krigsskolan Karlbergs historiekommitté, 1992.
Rosén, Johan Magnus
: 'Minnesblad. Arrhén v. Kapfelmann', Svensk musiktidning, no. 23, 1882.
Törnblom, Folke H
: "Arrhén von Kapfelman, Eric Jacob", in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1975.
Wennerström, Thorsten
: Kungl. krigsakademien och Kungl. krigsskolan åren 1792−1935. Personhistoriska uppgifter, Stockholm: Generalstabens litografiska anstalts förlag, 1936.
Wiberg, Albert
: Den svenska musikhandelns historia, Stockholm: Svenska musikhandlare föreningen, 1955.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket

Summary list of works

Incidental music (6 plays by P.H Ling and one by Shakespeare), more than 20 songs, piano music, vocal music (about 35 works for mixed choir, male voice choir and male voice quartet).

Collected works

Incidental music
Agne, tradegy with choirs by P. H. Ling. 1. Ouverture, 2. choirs, 3. finale.
Blotsven by P. H. Ling. Three part male choir.
Engelbrekt Engelbrektson, tradegy by P. H. Ling. 1. Mass for mixed choir, 2. Terzett and choir, 3. Folk song.
Den heliga Birgitta, tradegy by P. H. Ling. 1. Alvah’s song, 2. Romance in Swedish folk song style, 3. Quartet.
Macbeth by W. Shakespeare. 1. Song of the witches, 2. Melodrama, 1st act, 4th and 5th scenen.
Medea, opera (Bengt Lidner). 1. Kärlek är naturens lif, 2. Chor af Drömmar, 3. O hulda kärlek, 4. Cavatina, 5. Så glatt så glatt en sjömans lif förflyter, 6. Vid vassen af den krökta ström, 7. Vill du af lifvets sällhet njuta.
Riksdagen 1527 (P.H. Ling). 1. Prologue, 2. Chor af Munkar, 3. I himmelsk glans, 4. Pastoral.

Instrumental music
Fantasy for French horn, strings, flute and horn.
String quartet in E-flat major.
String quartet in E-flat major.
Swensk wallsång, 'suited for 3 French horns'.

Works for song with instrumental accompaniment
Blommorna (P.D.A. Atterbom) for solo song, strings, flute and horn, 1819.
Floden (E.J. Stagnelius) for song, strings, flute, clarinet and horn.
Frithiofs saga (E. Tegnér). 1. Frithiof kommer till Kung Ring (orchestra and vocal parts) 2. På skeppsdäck satt …, 3. Frithiofs frestelse (song with piano accompaniment) 4. Frithiofs lycka (song and instrumental parts)
Hymn till morgonen, song and instrumental parts.
I vår ungdoms sköna vår (Aria) for soprano solo, mixed choir, strings, flute, oboe, clariets, bassoons and horn.
Konung Carl XII:s fältmarsch for male choir, flutes oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horn, trumpets, trombone and percussion.
Song from Mollberg's Epistlar with accompaniment for harp or piano and one French horn (at will).
Tricordium ('Hur längtar hjärtat, när vid skogens bryn …', Arrhén von Kapfelman) for male choir and 4 horns.
Ynglingasång (C.F. Dahlgren) for solo song, strings, bassoons and horn.

Works for solo song with piano accompaniment
Aftonen (Aria).
Axel och Walborg (Åke och Elsas wisa in Sorgespelet Axel och Walborg).
Cantate, arrangée pour Clavecin avec Accompagnement pour E. J. Arrhén ('Vid alt som händer på vår jord …').
Elegie (Ulrica Carolina Widström).
Konstnärens sista vallfart.
Kärleken (Utur Kärleken af Ling).
En rysning.
Souvenir, tillägnad H. R. Bostedt.
Vid allt som händer.
Vid Lauras graf.
Vårsång ('En ängel är den sköna vår …', E.J. Stagnelius).

Works for four part mixed choir
Christus till sin församling, 6 parts.
De lekte guldtaffel.
Flyttfoglarne (E.J. Stagnelius).
Folkvisa ('Det sitter en dufva …').
Folkvisa om Swen Swanehvit.
Gläd dig av lifvet.
I korsets här.
Nu när dagens fackla målar.
Religious hymn.
Se, morgonen randas.
Den siste kämpen (E.G. Geijer), 1816.
Skandinavisk folksång (E.J. Arrhén von Kapfelman).

Works for male choir
Grekisk stridssång, 3 parts.
Jag ej klagar, 3 parts.
Jägarsång, 3 parts.
Kring blomsterkullen, 3 parts.
Lyd nöjets röst, 3 parts.
Nordisk krigssång.
Samlens bröder.
Sjömans-sång, 3 parts.
Skandinavisk folksång (E.J. Arrhén von Kapfelman).
Skandinavisk härsång.
Skön är en ros.
Studentsång, 3 parts.
Den unge krigarens sång (Romance, in Swedish folk ballad style).
Vårsång på Valborgsmässoaftonen (C.F. Dahlgren). [Also famous under the title Våren är kommen.]
Weichselns uppbrott, 1831.
Yngling, o du som i qvalmiga staden.