Eric Ferling (1733−1808)


Eric [Erik] Ferling [Färling], born in 1733 and died in Turku on 20 December 1808, was a violinist, conductor and composer employed by the Royal Court Orchestra beginning in 1761 and was the orchestra’s concertmaster from 1773 until 1790. In 1772 he became the secretary for the instrument division of the educational institution of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and the following year was elected as a member of the academy. In 1790 he was called to be the conductor of the newly founded Turku Music Society. He held this post until his death in 1808. Works for which he is known include a violin concerto, some dance pieces, as well as one vocal work.


Royal musician and concert organiser in Stockholm

Nothing is known about Eric Ferling’s birthplace, background or music education. The first information about him comes from the early 1760s. In the beginning of June 1761 he performed at a concert in Gothenburg, and in the same month he received a commission as a royal musician in the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) in Stockholm. From an exchange of letters that began in 1763 with Patrick Alströmer in Gothenburg, it is known that Eric Ferling’s economic situation was quite bad and that, on a couple of occasions, he asked for a loan. When Alströmer received the job of organising the tasks in the newly founded Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music), Ferling was appointed secretary and teacher for the instrumental division within the academy’s educational institution. The teaching lasted for over year, but was discontinued due to lack of funds.

Eric Ferling was early on active as a soloist and orchestra leader in concert activities that many musicians in the Hovkapellet were engaged in. For example, he led the performance of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat mater on Good Friday in the Riddarhuset (the House of Nobility) for several years. Beginning in the summer of 1772 he organised music evenings in the orangery in the Kungsträdgården (Kings garden in central Stockholm) and the following year, he introduced public performances of chamber music in Stockholm. In a description of music life in the 1770s Stockholm by Gustaf Johan Ehrensvärd, Ferling is said to have been ‘the foremost and could with encouragement have become the most skilled violinist we have ever had in Sweden; however, poverty oppressed him, and the debtor’s prison was his academy’. In 1773 he was, however, awarded with a membership in the Musikaliska akademien. That same year he became concertmaster for the Hovkapellet, which from that year onward received more advanced duties as the orchestra of the Kungliga Operan (the Royal Opera), that is to say, Gustav III’s new opera house. There, Ferling was ‘director of copying’ from 1787 until 1790.

Conductor of the Turku Music Society

In 1790, several influential amateur musicians, among them the future archbishop in the Swedish Church, Jacob Tengström, and mathematics lecturer Isak Nordberg, founded a music society in the Finnish city of Turku (at that time a part of Sweden). This was the first of its kind in a Swedish city outside of Stockholm. Eric Ferling was engaged as the conductor and probably had a great influence over the by-laws that were developed, and upon which later, similar music societies in other northern European cities were modelled. The by-laws prescribed rehearsals and internal orchestral concerts, and a least one annual concert for charity.

It was also ruled that, among other activities, there would be particular ‘lady’s concerts’ to which ‘the city’s as well as traveling honourable ladies’ had access. The performing members were a little more than ten amateurs (professors, students, officers), however, certain professional musicians (violinists and military musicians) were engaged when needed. Singers also occasionally took part as soloists and choir members when they performed sections from operas or works such as Pergolesi’s Stabat mater. During Ferling’s time as conductor the society built up a sheet music archive that became one of the largest at the time within the Swedish kingdom. Otherwise, knowledge about the orchestra’s repertoire is only available through a few preserved concert programmes. It is feasible that Ferling’s violin concerto, together with contradances and minuets that he composed expressly for the society, were a part of the repertoire, which generally was based on music of contemporary composers such as Joseph Haydn.

Eric Ferling was also the society’s music teacher and some less-than-successful attempts were made to schedule more regular training. There is evidence that he was a teacher for a number of violin students in Turku and that he also re-trained some military musicians as violinists. Very little else is known about Ferling. A silhouette that is preserved in the National Museum in Helsinki vaguely shows his facial features and clothing, with hair in a queue and a frilly neck scarf. Poverty seems to have followed him up until the end. In March 1808, Russian troops overtook Turku and the Swedish royalist music society dissolved shortly thereafter for political reasons. Ferling lost his livelihood. A little over one month before his death on 20 December 1808, ‘some music lovers’ announced a concert to benefit him in order ‘to some extent seek to ease the burden of subsistence for a grey-haired man who, for many dynamic years, has been fortunate to receive his fellow citizens’ undivided respect and devotion, however now, with a lack of the most needed of life’s sustenance, we call for compassion and generosity’.


Those works of Eric Ferling that are extant were composed during his time in Turku. They include a violin concerto in D major, a number of dances, together with the vocal work O Auras sångmör samlen er that was composed for Isak Nordberg’s burial in 1797. The violin concerto has three movements: Allegro non troppo, Adagio and Tempo di Menuetto e Rondeau. Powerful tutti parts in the introductory movement are balanced by a soft vocal theme in the middle movement. The brisk last movement requires a certain virtuosity of the soloist. A recording of the violin concerto plus a selection of the contradances Ferling composed for the Turku Music Society was made in 2001.

Music by Eric Ferling found its way into the 18th century’s Swedish fiddlers’ tradition. In the collection of music notation of the Folkmusikkommissionen (The Traditional Music Commission), whose task between 1908 and 1976 was to collect Swedish folk music, as well as in the fiddlers’ books from the Musikmuseet (Stockholm Music Museum), there are four instances of songs attributed to Ferling in sheet music from ca 1770 to 1800.

Boel Lindberg © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Andersson, Otto: Musikaliska sällskapet i Åbo 1790−1808, Helsingfors: 1940.
Berg, Wilhelm
: Bidrag till musikens historia i Göteborg 1754-1892. Gothenburg: Wettergren & Kerber, 1914.
Dahlgren, Fredrik August
: Förteckning öfver svenska skådespel uppförda på Stockholms theatrar 1737−1863 och Kongl. theatrarnes personal 1773−1863 med flera anteckningar, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1866.
Ehrensvärd, Gustaf Johan
: Dagboksanteckningar förda vid Gustaf III:s hof, vol. 2, Journal för år 1780, bref och minnen 1770−79 samt ministerdepescher 1780−83, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1878.
Dahlström, Fabian:
'Ferling, Eric', in: Biografiskt lexikon för Finland, vol. 1, Svenska tiden, Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2008.
Frimuriska tonsättare och frimurisk musik. Uppsala: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, 2006, p. 286
Jonsson, Leif & Anna Ivarsdotter (eds):
Musiken i Sverige, vol. 2, Frihetstid och gustaviansk tid 1720−1810, Stockholm: Fischer, 1993.
Lager, Birgitta
: 'Eric Ferling', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 15. Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1956.
Marvia, Einari
: 'Eric Ferlingin saapuminen Suomeen', Pieni Musiikkilehti, no. 6 1966.
Morales, Olallo & Norlind, Tobias
: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien 1771−1921: minnesskrift, Stockholm: Lagerström, 1921.
Norlind, Tobias & Trobäck, Emil
: Kungl. Hovkapellets historia (1526−1926). Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand,1926.
Vretblad, Patrik
: Konsertlivet i Stockholm under 1700-talet, Stockholm: 1918.
Walin, Stig
: Kungl. svenska musikaliska akademien: Förhistoria, första stadgar och instiftande. En studie i det musikaliska bildningsväsendets historia i Sverige. Uppsala: Uppsala University, 1945.


Turku, Finland
Ferling's preserved musical works in the Turku Music Society score library are transcribed in Otto Andersson's monography of the society,  p. 360 (see above). The score library now reside at the Sibelius Museum/Turku Music Society score library.

Uppsala, Sweden
6 letters written by Eric Ferling to Patrik Alströmer preserved in the archive Släkten Alströmer, Uppsala University Library, for musical scores and handwritten manuscripts.

Summary list of works

1 violin concerto, 3 minuets, 3 contradances, 1 quadrille, a vocal work (O, Auras sångmör samlen er).

Collected works

Violin concerto in D major.
Three minuets.
Three contradances.
O Auras sångmör samlen er, vocal work.