Gustaf Hägg (1867−1925)


Gustaf Wilhelm Hägg was an organist and composer, born in Visby 28 November 1867 and died in Stockholm 7 February 1925. In 1891 he was hired as temporary organist in Klara Church, Stockholm, and became the permanent organist in 1893. He taught harmony at the Royal Conservatory of Music from 1904−08, and from 1908 he taught organ (as professor from 1915). In 1915 Gustaf Hägg became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and is today most well known for his organ compositions; in addition he composed piano and chamber music, including a piano trio.

(Svenskt Porträttarkiv)


Family and studies

Gustaf Wilhelm Petersson Hägg came from doubly musical parentage: his father, Nils Petter Petersson, was an organ builder and musician, and his mother, Anna Helena Hägg, belonged to a well-known family of musicians from Gotland, whose most famous member was the composer Jacob Adolf Hägg (1850−1928). In the autumn of 1884 Gustaf Hägg was accepted as a student in the organist class at Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music), where he graduated in 1886 with an organist diploma, having had August Lagergren as his teacher for his major. Here he showed a special talent for playing the organ, which led to him receiving the unusual privilege of an extra term of instruction after graduation. He graduated with degrees in precentorship and as music teacher in 1889, after which he studied composition, counterpoint and instrumentation under Joseph Dente until 1891, when he was hired as temporary organist in Klara Church.

Organist and composer

Shortly after taking over as the permanent organist at Klara Church in 1893 Hägg started a regular concert series featuring the organ, which gained widespread attention and led to him being seen as the country’s most prominent organist. His official debut concert took place in 1895. The organ in Klara Church was built in 1882 by Åkerman & Lund, the leading organ building company of the time. It was already then one of the city’s better instruments, but Hägg wanted a renovation and addition to the organ in order to better realise his intentions in terms of timbre. The organ was rebuilt at the same time the church was renovated in 1906−1907, and from then on the instrument had 44 stops, an increase from the original 33. The organ in Klara Church is still preserved in the same condition it was during Hägg’s time as organist.

Gustaf Hägg also made himself known as a composer, and during the 1890’s he produced, in addition to his many organ works, a piano trio in G minor (1896) that was often performed during his time, a symphony for orchestra in D major, and a piano sonata in D minor (both composed in 1899), among other compositions. From 1897−1900 he was the recipient of Statens tonsättarstipendium (the National Composer’s Grant). He had been interested from an early age in French organ music, and it was thus natural for him to use the grant for a study tour (1898) that led him to both Germany and Paris. The most important result of the journey was his meeting the great French organ masters and composers Charles-Marie Widor (1844−1937) and Alexandre Guilmant (1837−1911), who were leading representatives of the symphonic organ school. On-going contact with Guilmant led to, among other things, a concert in 1906 at which Guilmant performed only Swedish music; a programme that was likely suggested by Hägg.

Teacher and organ expert

Besides working as a composer and organist Hägg was also a teacher. In 1904 he was hired to teach harmony at Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet. After organ professor Lagergren’s death in 1908 he became the conservatory’s organ teacher, and in July 1915 he was named Professor of Organ. The same year he was rewarded with Litteris et artibus. Hägg was an engaged and well-liked teacher who had high demands for technical proficiency and laid great importance on liturgical playing, in particular hymn playing. His most well known students include the church musicians and composers Waldemar Åhlén, Hilding Hallnäs, and Josef Hedar. He was also engaged with the on-going work on chorales by publishing, together with the priest F. M. Allard and colleagues C. W. Rendahl and I. M. Wallerius, a collection of chorales in ‘revised rhythmic form’.

Aside from the above-named duties Hägg was, as the country’s only organ professor, often consulted as an expert, inspector, and examiner of organ building. Together with Oskar Lindberg, he drew up the specification of Sweden’s first concert organ, in Stockholm Concert Hall, an instrument that he unfortunately never experienced in its finished version. He also had been given commissions of trust within Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) (on the board of the secondary school 1909−12, the composer grant committee 1909−13) and Sveriges allmänna organist- och kantorsförening (Sweden’s union of organists and cantors) (member of the central board from 1909), and was one of the founders of the Swedish chapter of Internationale Musikgesellschaft (IMG); the section, called ‘District Group Stockholm’, was formed in 1910 and was the precursor to the Svenska samfundet för musikforskning (Swedish Musicological Society), which was founded in 1919.

Hägg was also engaged with folk music; he published a number of very popular collections of folk songs from Sweden and Finland with his own piano accompaniment, and even four songs for fiddle in the style of the well-known fiddler from Öland, Johan (John) Andersson (also called ‘Spelare-Johan’).

Hägg’s later years were clouded by terrible suffering from stomach ulcers, which led to several operations, and worsened after his wife’s death in 1924. He passed away on February 7 1925.


Gustaf Hägg’s compositional activity can mostly be divided into three main categories: concert instrumental music, larger organ works, and compositions and arrangements intended for amateurs and less technically advanced (church) musicians. Aside from these main categories there are a number of solo songs, some choral works including cantatas for special occasions.

Most of the instrumental concert music was produced before the turn of the century, and most of the larger organ works were composed in the years around 1900, while the smaller compositions were written regularly throughout his active period. However, the majority of his compositional deeds were committed during the early years.

Instrumental works

Hägg composed his first orchestral work, a concert overture, as a degree project at the end of his studies under Dente in 1891. Three unpublished chamber music works are also attributable to his student years: ‘Souvenir’ for violin and piano, a string quartet in G minor, and a string sextet in D minor, all of which were composed around 1890. Hägg became an internationally established composer when his piano trio in G minor (1896) was published in Leipzig. Three years later came his only orchestral symphony, in D minor, which does not seem to have enjoyed the same success and remained unpublished. After that Hägg’s production of orchestra and chamber music more or less ceased, with the exception of a temporary re-blossoming in 1906−07, when he wrote two romances for violin and piano, as well as a ‘Liebeslied’ for the same instrumentation. The latter two were printed in Leipzig. Hägg’s last piece of chamber music was an Adagio for violin and organ from 1909.

Gustaf Hägg’s production of compositions for organ is relatively limited in both number and size, despite the fact that he was the country’s leading organist. The larger compositions for organ that have survived are all single-movement works and have an often meditative, sometimes pompous character, and lack any sort of distinctive virtuosic passages. Many of the works have detailed registration indications, which show Hägg’s ability to, in the French spirit, utilise the late romantic organ’s capacity for timbre differentiation. The bigger organ works are consistently homophonic (though there are examples of both canon and fugue in his smaller works for organ or harmonium), with an expressive harmony inspired by César Franck and his followers in the French symphonic organ school.

Hägg’s debut work as a composer for organ (1890) was, however, of a different sort: a prelude and fugue, which was never printed and is now lost. Five years later his first collection of larger pieces, Quatre morceaux, came out (Hägg was partial to the use of French titles for his organ pieces), and this was followed in 1903 by [5] Orgelkompositioner (5 Organ Compositions, a couple of which had previously been printed in other contexts). Aside from these, he composed a large number of smaller pieces for organ or harmonium and, in addition, a significant number of arrangements.

Hägg’s piano output includes several concert works, but consists mainly of compositions intended more for the salon, with an orientation towards music making in the home. The most ambitious work is the piano sonata in D minor from 1899.

Vocal works

Up to around 1895 Hägg composed a large number of solo songs; after this he seems to have lost interest in the genre. His production of vocal works is generally speaking sparse; only one choral song was printed, and of the many unprinted compositions, three cantatas for special occasions are worth mentioning. Two of these were composed in conjunction with religious festivals in Klara Church.

Sverker Jullander © 2015
Trans. Nicole Vickers


Edholm, Dag: S:ta Cecilias tjänare − om kyrkomusikens utövare i Stockholm under fem århundraden, Stockholm: Edward Vincents Orgelstiftelse, 2002.
Englund, David
: ‘Svensk originalmusik för harmonium’, Orgelforum, vol. 13, no. 2, 1991, pp. 6−9.
Gustafsson, Ralph
: Biography and work commentary in liner notes to the CD Gustaf Hägg, The Complete Works for Organ, Swedish Society Discofil SCD 1080, 1995.
Gustafsson, Ralph
: ‘Gustaf Hägg och hans verk’, Orgelforum, vol. 17, no. 3, 1995, pp. 10−13.
Gustafsson, Ralph: ‘En Hägg som doftar romantisk syrén’, Kyrkomusikernas tidning, vol. 62, no. 9, 1996, pp. 166−169.
Hedin, Svante: Alla dessa Häggrar, Visby: Visum, 1995.
Percy, Gösta
: ‘Hägg, Gustaf’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, 2. ed., vol. 3, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1976.
Rosengren, Finn
: ‘Gustaf W P:son Hägg’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 19, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1971−73.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (1 symphony, etc.), chamber music (string quartets, string sextets, piano trio, etc.), piano music (sonatas, piano pieces), organ music (Quatre morceaux, 5 Orgelkompositioner, etc.), works for harmonium, solo songs (romances, spiritual songs, children’s songs), choir music (with and without organ), cantatas (Kantat vid Klara kyrkas återinvigning 1907, etc.), folk song arrangements.

Collected works

Orchestral works
Overture, 1891 or earlier.
Wedding march (tr. in piano version 1895).
Symphony in D major (1899?).

Chamber music
Souvenir for violin and piano, ca 1890.
String quartet in G major, ca 1890.
String sextet in D minor, ca 1890.
Trio for piano violin and violoncello op. 15, 1896, Leipzig, 1897.
Romanze in E major for violin and piano op. 23, Stockholm, 1906.
Romanze no. 2 in E minor for violin and piano op. 26, Leipzig, 1907.
Liebeslied for violin and piano op. 27, Leipzig, 1907.
Adagio for violin and organ op. 34, Leipzig, 1909. [Also in: Orgelstücke moderner Meister, ed. Johannes Diebold, vol. 3, Leipzig, 1909.

Piano music
Fantasy, 1888.
Zigenarlif, 1888.
Three pieces, 1889.
Concert walts in D-flat major, 1889.
Valse-Caprice, Stockholm, 1891.
Gavott, 1892.
Romance sans paroles, 1892.
Celebratory march, 1893 or earlier.
Wedding march, Stockholm, 1895.
Sorgetoner vid Viktor Rydbergs bår (funeral music), Stockholm, 1895.
Några stämningsbilder (6 pieces) op. 9, 1887–94, Stockholm, 1895.
La coquette, valse de salon, op. 10, 1893, Copenhagen 1896. [Also exists in Fru Musica, vol. 2, 1916.]
Valse lente op. 11, Copenhagen, 1896.
Sommartankar (6 pieces) op. 14, Stockholm, 1896. [No. 4 also in music attachment to Svensk musiktidning 1896.]
Celebratory march, music attachment to Svensk musiktidning, 1897.
Elegy in C minor, in memory of Zacharias Topelius, Stockholm, 1898.
Fantasy, in: Musik för piano af svenska tonsättare, Stockholm, 1898.
Stämningar (4 pieces) op. 17, Stockholm, 1898.
Four piano pieces op. 18, Stockholm, 1898.
Pastorale, music attachment to Svensk musiktidning 1899 (=Pastoral i Stämnings-stunder vid orgelharmonium, book 3, Stockholm, 1900).
Sonata in D minor op. 19, Stockholm, 1899.
Impromptu-Scherzo, Nocturne, Albumblad (1899), Ballad, Humoresk (1900), op. 21, Stockholm, 1902. [Impromptu-Scherzo also in music attachment to Svensk musiktidning 1900, Ballad also in Svenskt pianoalbum, Stockholm, 1913, Humoresk also in music attachment to Svensk musiktidning 1900.]
Elegy in C minor, music attachment to Svensk musiktidning 1904.
Drei Fantasiestücke op. 24, Stockholm, 1906.
Öfver djupen mot höjden och Impromptu funébre op. 30, Stockholm, 190?.
Genrebilder (5 pieces) op. 36, Stockholm, 1915.
Fyra tonbilder op. 40, Stockholm, 191?.
Sommarnatt (4 pieces) op. 41, Stockholm, 1919.
I midsommartid (4 pieces), Stockholm, 1919.
Elegy in F minor, Stockholm, 1921.
På månbelyst sjö, 1921.
Från rosornas och minnenas stad (8 pieces), 2 books, Stockholm: Emil Carelius 1922.
Elegy in A minor, ‘vid min älskade makas bortgång’ (for the passing of my darling), Stockholm, 1926.
I aftonens stillhet.
I tankar.
March in D major.
March in E major.
Waltz in B-flat major.
Waltz in D major.

Organ music
Celebratory march and Funeral march , Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1894.
Quatre morceaux pour orgue op. 12, Stockholm, 1895. 1. Prélude, 2. Pastorale (1890), 3. Invocation, 4. March triomphale).
Méditation op. 16, Stockholm, 1898.
[4] Organ compositions op. 22. 1. Aftonfrid, 2. Sorg, 3. Cantabile, 4. Festhymn. Stockholm,: Gehrmans, 1903. [The edition also includes op. 16, Cantabile also in Från tonernas värld årgång 2, 1901.]
Elegy, Stockholm: Dahlströms, 1900.
Abendgebet, in: Orgelkompositionen aus alter und neuer Zeit, ed. O. Gauss, Leipzig, 1910. [New print, as Aftonbön, Slite: Wessmans, 1973.]
Celebratory prelude to the chorale 55, in: Från tonernas värld, vol. 12, 1911.
Sorgmarsch vid Gustaf Frödings jordfästning (funeral march), 1911.

Music for organ or harmonium
Lofsång, in: Bibliotek för kammar-orgel [organist], book 3, Stockholm, 1897.
Aftonbön, in: Stämnings-stunder vid orgelharmonium, book 2, Stockholm, 1898.
Elevation, in: Stämnings-stunder vid orgelharmonium, book 2, Stockholm, 1898.
Pastoral, in: Stämnings-stunder vid orgelharmonium, book 3, Stockholm, 1900 (= Pastorale för piano).
Sommarafton, in: Album för orgelharmonium, book 1, Stockholm, 1900.
Bröllopsmarsch, in: Organistens orgelalbum, book 1, eds N.E. and E. Anjou, Gävle 1900.
På klagodag, in: Nordiskt orgelalbum, eds N.E. and E. Anjou, book 1, Leipzig, 1903.
Förtröstan, in: Album för kammarorgel, book 2, Stockholm, 1904.
I grafkapellet, in: Album för kammarorgel, book 2, Stockholm, 1904.
För hem och landskyrka (5 pieces), Stockholm, 1907.
6 originalkompositioner op. 29 (= Album för orgelharmonium, book 3, Stockholm, 1907).
6 lätta tonbilder op. 32, Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1908. 1. Aftonskymning, 2. I bön, 3. Elégie, 4. Feststycke, 5. Bröllopsmarsch, 6. Pastorale.
Preludium, in: Präludienbuch zu den Chorälen der christlichen Kirche, ed. H Trautner, Kaiserslautern 1909.
Elegi, in: Album för kyrk-orgel, Stockholm, 190?.
7 karaktärsstycken op. 28 (= Stämnings-stunder vid orgelharmonium, book 4, Stockholm, 190?.)
Preludier byggda på koralmotiv, 3 books (75 pieces), Stockholm, 190?.
Improvisation, in: Les maîtres contemporains de l’orgue, vol. 3, ed. Joseph Joubert, Paris 1912.
Improvisation sur un thème de passion suédois, in: Les maîtres contemporains de l’orgue, vol. 5, ed. Joseph Joubert, Paris 1914.
Legend, Stockholm, 1915, also in Stilla stunder vid orgelharmonium, Stockholm, 192?
Stämningsbilder (5 pieces), Stockholm, 1917.
Andante funébre, in: Favorit-marscher för orgelharmonium, Stockholm, 1923. [Simplified arrangement of Sorgetoner in op. 9 for piano.]
Bröllopståg, in: Favorit-marscher för orgelharmonium, Stockholm, 1923.
Sorgmarsch, funeral march in B-flat minor.

I Skoven, 1887.
Syng kun i din Ungdoms Vår, 1887.
Ro, 1888.
Tillegnan, 1888.
Vintervaggsång, 1888.
Slummersång, 1888, in: music attachment to Svensk musiktidning, 1895, and in: Songs of Sweden, ed. G. Hägg, New York 1909.
För sent!, 1889.
Svärmeri, Stockholm, 1892–93.
Amorösa, Stockholm, 1894.
Farväl!, Stockholm, 1894.
Ungdomsdrömmar, Stockholm, 1896.
Maj, Stockholm, 1897. [Also in: Sång-album af svenska tonsättare, Stockholm, 1897.]
Dagen somnar, in: Svensk sång, vol. 2, Stockholm, 1901.
Barnaglädje, 15 små visor för barn, Stockholm, 1905.
De herdarna förde fåren i bet, in: Julens melodier, book 2, 191?.
Förtröstan, in: Mot höjden, religiösa sånger vid orgeln, Stockholm, 191?.
Barmhärtig och nådig är Herren.
Till hembygden.

Choral music
Mixed choir a cappella
Lofva Herren min själ.

Choir and instruments
Påskhymn (Easter hymn) for mixed choir and organ, 1894 (or earlier?).
Julsång: Jublen, jublen, I himlar, for soprano or tenor solo and mixed choir with piano or organ accompaniment, op. 20, Stockholm, 1900.
Kantat vid musiksällskapet Concordias i Gävle 100-årsfest, cantata for solo, choir and orchestra, 1905.
Kantat vid Klara kyrkas återinvigning 1907, cantata.
Kantat vid kyrkoherdeinstallation i Klara kyrka 1918, cantata.

Arrangements and collections (arranger, editor/publisher)
I ungdomsåren. Värdefulla lätta pianostycken af kända tonsättare, 2 books (46 pieces), Stockholm, 1896–?).
Piano-album (12 pieces), Stockholm, 1904.

Folk music (piano or song with piano accompaniment)
Från dal och fjäll (piano), Stockholm, 1897.
Finlands skönaste folkvisor (42 pieces), Stockholm, 1897 (piano), Stockholm, 1898 (song and piano).
Det var en Lördag Aften (folk songs and romances), Stockholm, 1898.
50 svenska folkvisor (song and piano), Stockholm, 1908.
Songs of Sweden (87 pieces; folks songs and other songs), New York 1909.
Spelar-Johns låtar (4 pieces), Stockholm, 190?.
Svenska folkvisor (piano), 2 books (75 pieces), Stockholm, 190?.
Omtyckta sånglekar för piano, Stockholm, 190?.
Ring- och danslekar i potpourriform (piano), Stockholm, 1925.

Organ and harmonium, incl. liturgical music
Bibliotek för orgelspelare/kammarorgel, book 2–3 (60 pieces), Stockholm, 1896, 1897.
Stämnings-stunder vid orgelharmonium, 4 books (60+7 pieces), Stockholm, 1896, 1898, 1900.
Album för orgelharmonium, 3 books (37+6 pieces), Stockholm, 1900, 1903, 1907.
Bihang, upptagande utdrag ur musiken till svenska mässan, in Svensk koralbok (after Hæffner), Stockholm, 1903.
Album för kammarorgel, 2 books (30 pieces), Stockholm, 1903, 1904.
12 postludier och karaktärsstycken för orgel, Stockholm, 1904.
Album för kyrkorgel (12 pieces), 190?.
Tolf valda orgelstycken, Stockholm, 190?.
Tjugoåtta koraler i reviderad rytmisk form, eds F.M. Allard, Gustaf Hägg, C.W. Rendahl and I D Wallerius (Stockholm, 1912).
Klassiska marscher [for harmonium] (8 pieces), Stockholm, 191?

Works by Gustaf Hägg

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

Number of works: 20