Hinrich Philip Johnsen (1717−1779)


Hinrich (Henrik) Philip Johnsen, b. Germany 1716/17(?), d. Stockholm 12 February 1779. Organist, harpsichordist and composer, came to Sweden with Adolf Fredrik’s royal court orchestra in 1743. Organist of Klara Church 1745, court organist 1763. Chief conductor of the French theatre company 1763−71, member of the Order of Freemasons 1757. Founding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music 1771, archivist 1771−72. Concurrently, he taught music theory at the educational institution of the academy. Although Johnsen wrote orchestral works, incidental music and chamber music, first and foremost he was an organist and teacher.


From Germany to Sweden

Hinrich Philip Johnsen was born in 1716 or 1717, probably in Germany. He died in Stockholm in 1779, where the parish register gives his age as 62. Very little is known concerning his early years, but he was probably employed as both footman and ‘claverist’ at the court in Eutin (Holstein-Gottorp) from 1735 onwards. In 1743, when Prince Adolf Fredrik was summoned to Sweden as Crown Prince, Johnsen went with him as a member of the prince’s royal court orchestra. Only two years after arriving in Sweden, he was appointed organist of Klara Church. The rapidity of this appointment suggests that he was well regarded at court, and this is corroborated by him being one of the three best-paid musicians performing Kungl. begravnings- och kröningsmusiken (royal funeral and coronation music) in 1751, and by his being made Queen Lovisa Ulrika’s teacher of harpsichord and basso continuo in 1753. In 1763 he was made court organist.

Johnsen was well known for his ability to improvise while playing the organ and was a popular teacher, with many pupils; Abraham Abr:son Hülphers puts the number at over 30. Notable among them were Johan Wikmanson, organist of Storkyrkan, Stockholm (now Stockholm Cathedral), and Hinric Bäck, organist of Gustafi Church in Gothenburg). It is thanks to Bäck that a copy of the book of hymn tunes (koralbok) compiled by Johnsen remains extant.

Johnsen published a brief theoretical work on the subject of continuo playing. He wrote the preface to A. A. Hülphers’ book Historisk afhandling om musik och instrument (Historical dissertation on music and instruments) and an appendix to the same book, entitled ‘Orgelwerkens-Beskrifning’ (The organ described).

Musician, chief conductor and founder of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien

Adolf Fredrik’s court orchestra gave several concerts in Rådhussalen (Stockholm Town Hall) during the 1740s. The first mention of Johnsen comes in November 1745, when he gave two concerts together with the concertmaster Anton Perichon (on 2 and 7 November). Few concert advertisements include programme details, but on 13 January 1749 Johnsen appears with a composition of his own, a cantata celebrating the fourth birthday of Prince Gustaf. A similar piece by Johnsen, Pastoral eller Herda Qväde, was performed on Adolf Fredrik’s birthday, 28 April 1750. After this, Johnsen disappears from the concert advertisements, reappearing as a soloist on 20 April 1760 in a keyboard concert at Riddarhuset (the House of Nobility). In addition, he conducted performances of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in 1761, 1762 and 1764, and gave two solo harpsichord concerts in 1761 and 1762.

In 1763 Johnsen was appointed chief conductor of the French troupe of players which had been in Stockholm since 1753. The accession of Gustav III to the throne transformed the Stockholm music scene: the French company, which had come to Sweden at the instance of the royal family, was dismissed in 1771. The two court orchestras − one princely, one royal − were amalgamated into a single orchestra, tasked primarily with playing in the new opera house.  Johnsen stayed on with the new court orchestra until his retirement in 1778.

Johnsen was a founding member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1771. As archivist, he was in charge of its collections of literature and music in 1771−72, concurrently with teaching music theory in the academy’s educational institution.


Stage music

Johnsen’s duties as chief conductor of the French theatre company included compiling, adapting and also composing music for its performances, which makes it odd that no music by him is to be found in the material extant. All but one of his stage music compositions were written for the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera). 

The exception is the opera Johnsen wrote in 1742, Die verkaufte Braut, in five acts and with a cast of only four. This is an opera buffa on Italian lines, and it bears witness to Johnsen’s ‘fertile imagination and grasp of form’ (Hans Eppstein), with lively, manifold music and arias intended for performance by trained singers. This work has never been performed, as far as is known.

The Kungliga Teatern has Johnsen’s autograph of an operatic ballet, Neptun & Amphitrite. It is uncertain how much of this composition was actually written by him, but musicologist Stig Walin regards this overture as his third sinfonia. The music for the opera Procris och Cephal was compiled by Lars Lalin after the original composition by André Grétry, plus a few arias and choruses by Johnsen, as well as contributions by others. A heroic ballet based on George Frederick Handel’s Acis och Galathea includes some choruses written by Johnsen. The music for the divertissement Birger Jarl och Mechtild was composed by Johnsen and Francesco Uttini, and includes a short opera in one act by Johnsen, Aeglé. This is a pastoral about the shepherdess Aeglé who is wooed by Apollo (in disguise!). The music is unpretentious, depicting rural bliss and Aeglé’s innocence.

Orchestral works

Johnsen wrote three sinfonias. The first two are in F major and are constructed on the lines of the Italian operatic sinfonia common at that time. They make easy listening, the first of them better-profiled than the second. They were possibly meant to be played at concerts, but they seem more suitable as introductory or entr’acte music for the theatre. The third sinfonia − the overture to the operatic ballet Neptun och Amphitrite − is also cast in three movements, after the Italian fashion. Its richer instrumentation makes it more elaborate than the other two.

Johnsen composed four concertos, two for harpsichord, both in D major, one for two bassoons and one for horn. The harpsichord concertos are written in classical style. One might have expected an elaborate solo part, the harpsichord being Johnsen’s own instrument, but this is not the case. Possibly he counted on the solo part being improvised during performance. The two concertos for wind instruments are also in classical style. They are written with great dedication, and Lennart Hedwall ranks them ‘among the very best of his instrumental music’. The bassoon concerto is rewarding for the soloist but is artistically inferior to the horn concerto. In the latter, according to Hans Eppstein, Johnsen gives proof of ‘good melodic development and a fine interplay between soloist and orchestra’.

Chamber music

Johnsen’s chamber music works comprise ten trio sonatas for two violins (with flauto traverso given as an alternative instrument in two of them) and basso continuo. They are in three movements, quick-slow-quick, and more than anything else, like the genre itself, are to be regarded as a relic of the late Baroque. They are not uniform; one is entitled ‘Ouvertyr’, another ‘Sinfonia’. Stylistically too, they vary. They are fairly uncomplicated but well-crafted. The same goes for a sonata in galant style for violin and basso continuo.

Keyboard music

The prestigious publishing house of Hummel in Amsterdam published six fugues by Johnsen for organ (or alternatively harpsichord). These may seem somewhat formulaic, but possibly Johnsen saw them as a framework for improvisations. He was interested in a ‘well-tempered’ system of intonation and had plans for publishing a set of keyboard sonatas in all 24 keys, a matter mentioned in a letter of his to Hülphers. No such work has been found, and probably none was published, but there are six sonatas which may have been intended as a start to the well-tempered collection. Written in single movements and inspired by Domenico Scarlatti, they possess good qualities as concert pieces. Johnsen also wrote a harpsichord sonata in several movements (published in Nuremberg in 1757). The middle movement, especially, displays his technical proficiency in a beautiful, sensitive style.

Vocal music

In 1754, at his own expense, Johansen published 24 oder af våra bäst poeteres arbeten, based on poems from the collection Våra försök published by Tankebyggarorden. Odes, i.e. songs with continuo accompaniment, were quite common in Germany at this time, and Johnsen appears to have made these his model. They show a gift for melody but are not outstandingly vocal, and indeed, the preface states that they can be played on the violin or flute as well. This work also includes ‘Korta och nödiga reglor till General Bas’ (Brief and necessary rules for continuo writing).

Only two cantatas by Johnsen have survived complete. The Pastoral on the occasion of Adolph Friedrich’s birthday (1750), to words by Anders Hesselius Americ, is an artistically painstaking, mellifluous composition for soprano, tenor and bass with chorus and orchestra.  In 1757, for the church at Leufsta Bruk, Johnsen composed Easter music, Kyrko-Musique på Påska-Dagen, for soprano, two flutes, two violins and basso continuo. Musicologist Hans Eppstein finds this composition well-organised and carefully worked out.

Johnsen arranged seven hymns for choir and strings and also compiled a ‘chorale book’ giving tunes and figured bass. Johann Christian Friedrich Haeffner declared it to have been ‘carefully and authoritatively written’.

Veslemøy Heintz © 2014
Trans. Roger Tanner

Publications by the composer


Bengtsson, Britta: 1751 års män: anteckningar om amatörer och hovkapellister vid 'Kongl. Begrafnings och kongl. Krönings musiquerne år 1751', Stockholm: Statens musikbibliotek, 2001.
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.
Eppstein, Hans
: Till frågan om H. Ph. Johnsens härkomst, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 32, 1950, pp. 192−194.
−−−: Henrik Philip Johnsen, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 20, 1973/75.
−−−Henrik Philip Johnsens 'vältempererade' sonater, in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 59, no. 2, 1977, pp. 79−80.
−−−: 'Kompositionerna', Nordenfelt, Eva, Hinrich Philip Johnsen, Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1982.
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik. Uppsala 2006: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, p. 284.
Hedwall, Lennart
: Hovmusik och konserter, in Leif Jonsson & Anna Ivarsdotter-Johnson (eds), Musiken i Sverige: frihetstiden och gustaviansk tid, Stockholms: Fischer, 1993, pp. 61−88.
Hedwall, Lennart:
Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 1983.
Hülphers, Abraham Abrah:s Son: Historisk afhandling om musik och instrumenter, Västerås: Hülphers, 1773.
Nordenfelt, Eva
: Hinrich Philip Johnsen 1717−1779: biografi med verkförteckning, seminar essay in musicology, Stockholms universitet, 1976.
Nordenfelt-Åberg, Eva
: Hinrich Philip Johnsen, Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1982 [biography and list of works: Eva Nordenfelt-Åberg, compositions: Hans Eppstein].
Törnblom, Folke H.
: Biografiska studier över Henrik Philip Johnsen, Stockholm: Stockholms högskola, 1933.
Walin, Stig
: Beiträge zur Geschichte der schwedischen Sinfonik : Studien aus dem Musikleben des 18. und des beginnenden 19. Jahrhunderts, Stockholm: Norstedts, 1941.
Van Boer, Bertil H., Jr (eds)
: The symphony in Sweden, vol. 2, New York: Garland, 1982.
Wiberg, A
: När utkommo Johnsens '24 Oder'?, in Tidskrift för Nordisk boktryckarkonst, 1947.
Vretblad, Patrik: Konsertlivet i Stockholm under 1700-talet, Stockholm: Nordstedt, 1918.


Landsarkivet i Härnösand, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Kungliga Biblioteket Stockholm, Stiftelsen för musikkulturens främjande Stockholm (Nydahlsamlingen), Kalmar läns museum, Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Västerås stadsbibliotek

Summary list of works

2 operas (Die verkaufte Braut, Aeglé), 1 operatic ballet (Neptun och Amphitrite), contributions to/adaptation of 3 operas and 1 ballet (Procris och Cephal, Birger Jarl och Mechtild, Acis och Galathea,), 1 ballet (Ismene och Ismenias, lost), 2 occasional pieces (Pastoral, Äreminne), 3 sinfonias, 4 solo concertos (2 for harpsichord, 1 for bassoon, 1 for horn), chamber music (10 trio sonatas for 2 violins and basso continuo, sonata for violin and basso continuo), 7 fugues for organ or harpsichord, harpsichord music (7 sonatas, 5 short pieces, Murki), songs (including 24 Oder af våra bästa poëters arbeten), church music (including Kantat för påskdagen, Koralbok).

Collected works

Stage music
Die verkaufte Braut, opera in 1 act.
Ägle, opera in 1 act (included as part of Birger Jarl).
Neptun & Amphitrite, opera ballet in 1 act.
Procris och Cephal, opera in 2 acts by André.E.M. Grétry, H.P. Johnsen and others, arranged by Lars Lalin.
Acis och Galathea, heroic ballet based on the music to Georg Friedrich Händel's opera with two choirs by H.P. Johnsen.
Birger Jarl, divertissement, music by Francesco Antonio Uttini and Hinric Philip Johnsen, solo arias and choirs.
Ismene och Ismenias, ballet in 1 act [the work is lost].

Instrumental music
Sinfonia in F major.
Sinfonia in F major.
Sinfonia in E major [overture to the opera ballet Neptun och Amphitrite].
Concerto for cembalo and string orchestra in D major.
Concerto for cembalo and string orchestra in D major.
Concerto for 2 bassoons and string orchestra  F major.
Concerto for horn and string orchestra in E-flat major.

Chamber music
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 1 in G minor.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 2 in B-flat major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 3 in E minor.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 4 in A major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 5 in E minor.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 6 in G major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 7 in G major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 8 in C major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 9 in A major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo no. 10 in D major.
Sonata for 2 violins and basso continuo in E-flat major.
Contre-dance for violin in G major.

Music for clavier or organ

Fugue for organ or cembalo no. 1 in C major.
Fugue for organ or cembalo no. 2 in D major.
Fugue for organ or cembalo no. 3 in E-flat major.
Fugue for organ or cembalo no. 4 in Gmajor.
Fugue for organ or cembalo no. 5 in E minor.
Fugue for organ or cembalo no. 6 in C minor.
Fugue for organ or cembalo in D minor.
Sonata for cembalo no. 1 in B minor.
Sonata for cembalo no. 2 in F-sharp minor.
Sonata for cembalo no. 3 in C minor.
Sonata for cembalo no. 4 in E major.
Sonata for cembalo no. 5 in E minor.
Sonata for cembalo no. 6 in C minor.
Sonata for cembalo in A minor.
Andante for cembalo in D major.
Vivace for cembalo C major.
Andantino for cembalo in F major.
Minuetta for cembalo D major.
Minuetta for cembalo C major.
Murki for cembalo.

Vocal music

Äreminne till Printz Gustafs fyra-åriga födelsedag den 13 januari 1749 [text is extant, music is lost].
Pastoral eller Herda Qväde, På Hans Kongl. Höghets Sveriges Rikes Arf-Furstes Prins Adolph Friedrichs Högsthugneliga Födelse-dag, Den 3 Maij 1750, cantata for soprano, tenor, bass, choir and orchestra.
Kyrko-Musikque på Påsk-Dagen. 1757 i Leufstad Bruks-Kyrkio. Upfördt, och till Brukets Nådige Herrskapet ödmjukast dediceradt, cantata for soprano, 2 flutes, 2 violins and basso continuo.
Sta. Mariae Kyrkans Inwignings Musique [music lost].
Koralbok (Chorale book).
7 chorales for soprano, alto, tenor, bass and string.
24, Oder af Våra Bästa Poëters Arbeten i Musik bragt, for soprano and basso continuo.
Härwid han drog sitt svärd, song for one voice and basso continuo.
Tidens och Lyckans Obeständighet, song for soprano and orchestra.
Philosophisk Afton Bön, song for soprano and basso continuo [also in version for soprano and strings].

Works by Hinrich Philip Johnsen

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

Number of works: 12