Pehr Frigel (1750−1842)


Pehr Frigel (Frigelius) was born in Kalmar on 2 September 1750 and died in Stockholm on 24 November 1842. Composer of church music, cantatas, occasional music, songs, chamber music and orchestral works. Director of music for the Utile Dulci society during the 1780s. Elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1778 where he was secretary (1797−1842), librarian (1797−1840), professor of the theory, aesthetics and literature of music (1814−30) and supervisor of its educational institution (1811−34).


Pehr Frigel was for an incomparably long time − almost fifty years − doubtlessly Sweden’s most pivotal musical figure on a formal and bureaucratic level, renowned both at home and abroad as a music theorist and as a collector of books and music. As a composer, while his contemporaries saw him as experienced and highly erudite, his interest in contrapuntal artifice, cantus firmus treatment and other such antiquated compositional techniques unusual within Sweden at the time earned him recognition primarily in the field of church music. The image of Frigel as a dry and conservative ‘desk composer’ has been exaggerated in more recent historiography, however, as becomes especially evident on closer study of his solo songs and secular cantatas.

Frigel was born in Kalmar to castle pastor, grammar school lecturer and doctor of theology Pehr Frigelius (the elder) and his wife Ingrid Helena (née Wahlberg). In 1755, his father was made vicar of Madesjö, where the family settled until Frigel was enrolled at Kalmar grammar school. During his school years he studied violin, organ and music theory for cathedral organist Hans Björkman Hansson; then from 1770 to 1776 he pursued further studies in Uppsala, where he also served as deputy both for the university’s director musices and for the cathedral organist.

After having received his Master’s degree from Uppsala University in 1776, Frigel was appointed private tutor for cabinet minister Baron Johan Liljenkrantz’s family in Stockholm, where he was soon drawn into the relatively newly formed learned societies Utile Dulci (presumably through Hans Björkman Hansson’s contacts) and Arla Coldinu, and into the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) (1778). From 1780 he was director of music for Utile Dulci, and many of his works from this period take the form of funeral oration music and cantatas for recently elected or deceased members. During this period, he studied privately with some of the capital’s leading teachers of theology, philosophy and composition (in the latter case with, among others, his close friend Joseph Martin Kraus). The access he had to the academy’s library and archive led to the extensive music studies that became his life-long vocation and that brought him particular recognition.

On the recommendations of several influential people (amongst them Francesco Uttini) a pledge of 150 riksdaler from the royal purse was secured in the 1770s to send the promising young composer Frigel on a European grand tour of study, a privilege that had not befallen any native composer since the time of J.H. Roman. For reasons unknown, however, the promise was wanting in fulfilment, as Frigel puts it in a much later autobiographical sketch. Instead, he secured a job in the state and crown bureaucracy, first as a clerk and then as secretary to the treasury (1784 −1809).

In 1797 Frigel was elected the Musikaliska akademien’s secretary and librarian, offices that he formally held until shortly before his death 45 years later, even though Erik Drake took practical charge of the library in 1840. He died in 1842 at the age of 92, having just recently been awarded a medal in his image for his long service to the academy. He was celebrated during his final years, as well as privately and publicly at his death, with Jenny Lind singing at his funeral in the Klara Church, Stockholm.

Author and teacher

After becoming professor of the theory, aesthetic and literature of music in 1814, he devoted his time to lofty public lectures on a speculative and systematic study of music that was without parallel in the activities of the academy. He personally insisted that like the professors in Uppsala he occasionally be given leave to spend a term with private scholarship (which was not, however, granted). Frigel corresponded with Sigismund Neukomm, François-Joseph Fétis, Giuseppe Baini, William Horsley, Paul Struck and others both officially and privately, and in so doing helped to build up the academy’s unusually rich collection of autographs and rare works.

Already back in 1796, Frigel had drawn up plans in an ambitious and lengthy tract for a conservatory to be established on similar terms to the one in Paris founded the year before, but due to a dearth of suitable teachers and students, the plans were soon moderated. However, it was not until under Frigel’s direction from the 1810s onwards that the educational institution had its first real heyday, initially in the form of a singing school and later as an academy offering teaching in most instruments and − most importantly at this juncture − the accreditation and examination of musicians who had been taught elsewhere. Henceforth, Frigel trained a long succession of students in composition and counterpoint. It is worth mentioning that for this latter subject he held a special class for women, which, from an international perspective, was remarkably early for such musical disciplines. His handwritten counterpoint treatise probably dates from this time, and as by all accounts  the first ever in the Swedish language is as important to lexicography (with terms translated directly from Latin, German, Italian and French) as it is to the history of music theory. Frigel borrows extensively from J.G. Albrechtsberger, whose Gründliche Anweisung zur Composition he also used in the academy’s composition classes. Many of the leading Swedish musicians and composers of the 19th century were students of Frigel, either through the academy or privately.

During the 1809 parliament, Frigel was engaged as musical advisor to the estate of the clergy in matters relating to the Swedish hymnal, and in 1811 he was appointed to the hymnal committee. It was also at around this time that he became embroiled in a heated public polemic over liturgical music with his former companion J.C.F. Haeffner. Frigel stood squarely on the side of the musical and political establishment in this feud with the irascible Hæffner, and indirectly exploited his formal roles and Stockholm contacts.

For many years, Frigel was correspondent for Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung on behalf of Sweden and Stockholm. He has also, with varying degrees of reliability, been identified as the author of several anonymous debate pieces published in the Stockholm newspapers during the early 1800s.


As a composer, Frigel was reputed to be bookishly inclined and technically affected, with a particular penchant for counterpoint. This somewhat exaggerated portrayal, which modern musicologists have often accepted uncritically from his contemporary polemicists (not least of all from Hæffner), stems not only from the fact that during the first half of the 19th century he was at least one − and towards the end two − generations older than the youngest active composers, but also from the academic image he acquired through his fondness for garnishing his public debates and writings, as well as his music, with learned Greek and Latin aphorisms.

Frigel composed in all the important genres of his time with the exception of music for the stage (although he did write extensive arrangements of other composers’ works and the odd aria for comic operas and stage works), and was particularly productive in the 1780s and 1790s, notably in the writing of occasional cantatas and songs.

His solo vocal works span many stylistic idioms, from folk-song-like strophic songs to extensive da capo arias in the spirit of C.H. Graun and J.A. Hasse (a style that Frigel was still cultivating in his later years). In that he mainly composed on commission and for larger social and civic gatherings at which greater ensemble resources could be assumed, he wrote many more arias with orchestral accompaniment than for keyboard only, and as musical director for occasional music often composed only after having first tried in vain to enlist another leading composer to do the job.

What really made a celebrity of Frigel amongst contemporary audiences was a relatively late work, his grand oratorio Försonaren på Oljoberget, to words by Samuel Ödmann. This lengthy, three section work was first performed under Eduard Du Puy’s direction at the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera) in March 1815, and again on Good Friday 1820 in a revised version in the grand hall of the Riddarhuset (the House of the Nobility). Both performances were great public successes, and Frigel was presented with a golden box as a personal gift from the impressed crown prince. The oratorio also gained him prestige abroad, and prompted Austrian composer Sigismund von Neukomm to write in a letter to Frigel in 1827 that this work alone would have been enough to guarantee him a place in the history books, ‘had only [your] humility not concealed it from the critics’.

Frigel’s sinfonias, overtures and solo concertos manifest a solid sense of form and orchestration, both skills presumably honed during his years as director of Utile Dulci’s orchestra, which was large and proficient for its time. The overtures are characterised by motivically unified and contrapuntal textures. Harmonically, he consistently spurns the mediant and enharmonic progressions that were all the rage amongst the upcoming generation of Swedish composers in the first decades of the 19th century. 

During the last twenty years of his life, Frigel composed only a handful of works for public performance. However, reams of contrapuntal sketches, some of which were sent to like-minded correspondents on the continent, show that he continued composing well into his autumn years alongside his rather taxing responsibilities in administrative matters in the academy as well as in Swedish music and society at large.

In his funeral sermon for Frigel, dramatist Baron Bernhard von Beskow is recorded to have said that ‘[m]usic became for him, by both disposition and duty, an object of most serious study. Within our fatherland I daresay that such extensive, deep, robust knowledge of the laws of music has probably never been allowed anyone else,’ − emphasising the compositional craft that was so highly valued in Frigel’s youth and that in his larger works for soloists, choir and orchestra was given a free rein in a way that is unique in Swedish music history.

Mattias Lundberg © 2015
Trans. Neil Betteridge

Publications by the composer

Dissertatio physica, sistens observationes quasdam circa motus corporum ex percussione, diss. Uppsala University, 1775. Edman. Praeses: Samuel Duraeus. [As respondent pro exercitio.]
Observationes philologicae in praefationem Lucae evangelii Diss. Uppsala University, 1776. Edman. Praeses: Johan Floderus. [As respondent pro gradu.]
'Krauses musicaliska caracter', in: G. Stridsberg, Åminnelsetal öfver … Joseph Kraus, Stockholm, 1798, pp. 20−32.


Ahlbeck, Bengt: 'Musikutbildning och examination vid Kungl. Musikaliska akademien under "Pehr Frigel-epoken", 1796−1842', lic. diss., Mitthögskolan, Härnösand, 1994.
Beskow, Bernhard von: Minnesteckning vid Sekreteraren Herr Pehr Frigels Jordfästning, Stockholm: Nordstedt, 1843.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 1983.
'Frigel, Pehr', in: Leonard Höijer, Musik-Lexikon, Stockholm: 1864, pp. 139−140.
Larsson, Gunnar: 'Pehr Frigels tankar år 1796 om Musikaliska Akademien och dess "offentliga informationsinrättning"', in: Svenska musikperspektiv, ed. G. Hilleström, Stockholm: Nordiska musikförlaget, 1971, pp. 42−59.
Lundberg, Mattias: 'Pehr Frigel’s Om Contrapunkten (c. 1815): The Earliest Extant Counterpoint Method in the Swedish Vernacular, Edited and Translated with Historico-Critical Commentary', STM-online, vol. 15, 2012.
−−−: 'The First Hundred Years of Music Librarianship at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music: 1771-1871', Fontes artis musicae, vol. 57, no. 3, 2010, pp. 236−249.
−−−: 'Två Samuel Ödmann-oratorier som exempel på kompositorisk och musikteoretisk rivalitet 1800−1820: Haeffner vs. Frigel', Dokumenterat, no. 46, 2014, pp. 4−31.
Mörner, C.G. Stellan: 'Frigel, Pehr', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 16, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1964, pp. 563−565.
Nisser, Carl: Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830: Nominalkatalog, Stockholm: 1943.
Walin, Stig: Beiträge zur Geschichte der schwedishen Sinfonik, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1941.
−−−: 'Den musikteoretiska undervisningen i Sverige under romantiken', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 15, 1933, pp. 84−137.


Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Nordiska museet, Riksarkivet.
Per Frigel in the database Gelegenheitsmusik des Ostseeraums vom 16. bis 18. Jahrhundert.

Summary list of works

Orchestral music (2 sinfonias, 3 overtures, flute concerto etc.), vocal music with orchestra (Försonaren på Oljoberget, cantatas, etc.), other vocal music (songs, recitatives and arias), keyboard works.

Collected works

Instrumental music
Adagio un poco grave in F minor for violin and orkester.
Alla Polacca / Polonaises in G major for orchestra.
Ballo in F major for orchestra.
Introduzzione, C major. 1. Grave e maestoso, 2. Andante mosso e trionfale. [See also Skynda Euterpe! below.]
Concerto in A major for flute and orchestra.
March ('Marche funebre') in C minor for orchestra, 1801.
March in D major for orchestra, 1789. [Several partly deviating version.]
March in D major for orchestra, 1791.
March in F major for orchestra, 1817.
March in G minor for orchestra, 1812. [Several partly deviating version.]
Minuet in E-flat major for orchestra.
Minuet ('Minuetto festivo') in C major for orchestra, 1795.
Minuet in A minor for orchestra, 1805.
Overture in C minor for orchestra. 1. Adagio e staccato, 2. Allegro non tanto e staccato, 3. Adagio.
Overture in D major for orchestra. 1. Maestoso, 2. Fugue. [See also Skynda Euterpe! below.]
Overture in F minor for orchestra. 1. Mesto e sostenuto, 2. Fugato. Allegro con forza.
Sinfonia in D major, 1779. 1. Vivace; 2. Alla siciliana; 3. Allegro.
Sinfonia and fugue in F minor with obligato violoncello part. [Performed as an introduction to the first ever known Swedish performance of W.A. Mozart's requiem 1805.]

Cantatas, oratorios, choral and liturgical music
Agnus Dei for choir and orchestra, 1801.
Vid Åminnelsehögtiden i Sällskapet Nytta och Nöje efter Wikmanson, cantata (G.A. Silverstolpe), 1802.
Du eviga beslut, kantat (J.H. Kellgren) vid parentation över C.F. Leijonhielm, cantata, 1780.
Esaiae prophetenom hände [Sanctus] for soprano solo, choir and basso continuo.
Firom denna glada dagen.
Fröjdens Herran, for double choir and orchestra.
Fulle äro himlarne, for 5-part choir and orchestra, 1814. [See also Försonaren på Oljoberget.]
Försonaren på Oljoberget, oratorio in three sections (S. Ödmann), ca 1814. Parts of the second section printed in Musikaliskt tidsfördrif, 1820. [Perf. at the Royal Opera 12 March 1815 and in a revised verion at grand hall of the Riddarhuset on Good Friday 1820.]
Helig, Herre Gud Zebaoth, for double choir and orchestra (version of movement from Försonaren på Oljoberget)
In Coenam Domini (for Maundy Thursday).
Heliga Anda, for choir and organ.
Herre Dig i nåd förbarma, litany for soprano, alto, choir and orchestra at the decease of King Gustav III (S. Ödmann).
Hvad fröjd för Pygmalion, for unison choir and orchestra, 1804.
Hvem är i himlens rike störst?, cantata for soprano, alto, choir and orchestra, 1793.
Inauguration music (J.H. Kellgren).
Lef för verlden, solo cantata with piano, 1802.
Länge, Swea, saknade ditt öga, cantata (A.G. Silverstolpe) at the engagement of Gustav IV Adolf. [Performed at grand hall of the Riddarhuset on 15 September 1795.]
Min själ skall lofva Herran, Psalt. no 86, for choir and orchestra, 1798. [Performed in the Great Church at the coronation of Karl XIII on 29 June 1809.]
Sanctus and Benedictus for orchestra and double choir, 1791.
Skynda Euterpe!, cantata for soli, choir and orchestra (J.O. Wallin). [Performed in the Great Church on 21 December 1816. See also Overture in D major and Introduzzione in C major above.]

Songs, recitative and arias
Ack, hvad himmelsk glädje brinner, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1781.
Ack, hvad nöje njuter vi, aria with clavier and solo clarinet in B-flat major.
Ack, kärlek, hvad du plåga gifver, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1781.
Ack, lyckliga hjerta, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1779.
Ack, sälla stund, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1780.
Den svenska världen gläds, aria accompanied by orchestra. [Performed in Utile Dulci 1778.]
Du Gudamakt / Ljuva tjusning, recitative and aria accompanied by orchestra, 1778.
Ej större vällust själen känner, duet.
Fly, falska hopp utur ett hjärta, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1776.
Genom dalens stilla famn (Källan) (A.M. Lenngren). Prined in Musikaliskt tidsfördrif, 1799. [Also exists in autograph.]
Gud, nu har du förvandlat, aria, 1791.
Herden under eken hvilar, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1799.
Hvad röst af himmelsk fröjd.
I vårens skugga fann jag dig, aria accompanied by clavier (trans. by F.G. Klopstocks Das Rosenband).
Ljuva tjusning. [See Du Gudamakt above.]
Kom, Zephis du min ömhets liv, aria, 1775.
Kärlekens yra livar mitt bröst, aria accompanied by clavier. [Song part missing.]
Låt Segervinnarens hjeltemod, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1776.
Naturen mig lärde (Visa). Printed in Musikaliskt tidsfördriv, 1793. [Also exists as autograph.]
Naturen vaken är och du, recitative accompanied by orchestra. [Performed in Utile Dulci 1782.]
Naturens glada prakt, aria accompanied by orchestra.
Om de lågor fåfängt brinna, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1778.
O död, hvar är din udd?, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1793. [Performed in St James's Church on Easter Sunday in 1794). Exists in several partly deviating versions.]
O död hvar är din udd?, aria. [Same as above in a piano vocal score in Musikaliskt tidsfördrif, 1796.]
Om sig min höghet sårad finner, aria accompanied by orchestra, 1777.
Så den svenska verlden gläds, aria. [Performed in Utile Dulci on the birthday of Gustav III on 24 January 1778.]
Sällhetsskapande förmåga! (C.G. af Leopold's Swe. trans. of F. Schiller's An die Freude).
Till min hydda sänkte sig från skyn (Sällskaps-visa).
Song to text by J. Elers (Glada quäden, Stockholm, 1792).

Pieces for comic operas and other stage works
To the drama Äfventyraren, aria accompanied by orchestra (”Kors, hur väl jag då skall”), 1791.
To the opera Arbace, solo and orchestra, recitative ('Dove son io') and aria ('Mentre ti lascio o figlia'), 1795.
To the drama Eremiten, aria and duet, 1797.
To the drama Nyårsnatten eller Midnatten (trans. Isac Reinhold Blom), two ariasaccompanied by orchestra ('Jag gick i däldens lugna famn' and 'Ni kom så är till Jordens tröst'), 1801.

Keyboard works, fugue expositions, canon pieces, dance pieces, chorales, arrangements of medieval school songs etc.

Works by Pehr Frigel

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 28