Fredrik Lithander (1777−1823)


Fredrik Emanuel Lithander, b. in Nuckö (Estonia) 1777, where his father was vicar, d. probably in St Petersburg 1823. Pianist, music teacher and composer. Brother of the pianist and composer Carl Ludvig Lithander (1773−1843). Studied at Porvoo Grammar School and subsequently made his living as a commercial bookkeeper and piano teacher in Turku. He became a member of the Musical Society of Turku in 1796. He apparently lived in Stockholm for a time, since many of his works were published in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif and Skaldestycken satte i musik. In 1811 he moved to St Petersburg, where he was active as a private music teacher, pianist and composer.

Fredrik Lithander’s portrait is no easy one to paint, the source materials about him being both meagre and unreliable. The same goes for his output as composer. The few works now extant are not necessarily representative of his oeuvre as a whole. The main reason for these problems regarding source materials is Fredrik Lithander’s peregrinatory existence: he worked in several different places and countries. He is not alone in this respect: the same uncertainty surrounds many other composers from earlier times.


Fredrik Emanuel Lithander was born on 29 August 1777 in Nuckö, which is located on a peninsula of the coast of Estonia, just north of the town of Hapsal (Haapsalu). Johan Lithander, his father, was the vicar there. The Estonian name for Nuckö is Noarootsi, meaning ‘New Sweden’. The Nuckö vicarage must have been an intellectually and, above all, musically stimulating environment. There were eleven children. Most of the sons were successful in their professions and at least four of them became composers.

Disaster struck the big family in 1789, when both parents died within a few months of each other. The younger children sought refuge with a well-to-do uncle in Stockholm. In 1793 Fredrik Lithander and his brother Christlieb, his junior by one year, enrolled at Borgå (Porvoo) Grammar School (present-day Finland but then part of Sweden) probably because an elder brother, Ernst Lithander, was the school’s rector cantus.  In 1796 Fredrik Lithander moved to Åbo (Turku) (also in present-day Finland but then part of Sweden) and entered the academy there, but curtailed his studies in order to work as a bookkeeper. He remained musically active all the time, above all as a skilful pianist. He became a respected member of the Musical Society of Turku, serving for a time on its governing body as well as looking after its music archives. His compositions included two arias, still extant, with orchestral accompaniment, written for the Musical Society’s annual feast in 1800. In Turku he also set the widely known ‘Ordensvisa för studenter’ (‘Student! Om du det namnet värd’, words by Franz Mikael Franzén), referred to by Martin Tegen as ‘the oldest of our student songs’.

Alfhild Forslin, writing about the Lithander brothers, surmises that Fredrik Lithander had several periods of residence in Stockholm. The fact of compositions by him being published in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif (1798, 1799) and Skaldestycken satte I musik (1801, 1805) corroborates this, and also tells us that he had contacts in leading Stockholm music circles. In 1801 he accompanied the clarinettist Bernhard Crusell at concerts in Helsinki and Turku.

In 1811, for some reason or other, Fredrik Lithander forsook Turku for St Petersburg. Alfhild Forslin refers to the consequences of the war of 1808−09. Circumstances of this kind may perhaps have prompted the move, but on the other hand many musicians migrated along the Stockholm−Turku−Helsinki−Viipuri−St Petersburg axis. Be this as it may, Lithander settled in the Russian capital to work as a musician, music teacher and composer, and no longer as a bookkeeper. Judging from the available details, he successfully established himself in the city, and St Petersburg, after all, afforded better prospects of a musical livelihood than a smaller place like Turku. Unfortunately, though, there are few surviving traces of his activity. A few printed works of his are extant in St Petersburg, and probably still more were published. The dedication suggests that he moved in influential circles. Fredrik Lithander died in St Petersburg in 1823, aged 46.


There is great uncertainty, then, regarding his output as composer. Several compositions carry opus numbers and there are gaps in the sequence, which tells us that Lithander wrote more than the 14 works known to us. The surviving compositions, however, reveal a person with good insight into the prevailing genres and styles of his time. Not unexpectedly, Lithander composed above all for his own instrument, the piano. Those compositions indirectly mirror his own considerable proficiency at the keyboard. A number of works for voice and piano complete the picture.

The published works predominating among those still extant could be tritely classed as compositions aimed at the music-making of the salon, but the same goes for practically all printed compositions at this time. The above mentioned arias with orchestral accompaniment tell as that as a composer Fredrik Lithander was in fact capable of greater things than writing just for gifted or not-so-gifted amateurs. Despite their limited length, they have unmistakable operatic touches, showing Lithander to have been acquainted with that kind of repertoire. His piano works, especially, are often pitched above the amateur plane. Alfhild Forslin aptly terms them ‘deftly written’.

Gunnar Ternhag © 2014
Trans. Roger Tanner


Forslin, Alfhild: 'Musikbröderna Lithander', in Musikaliska sällskapet i Åbo 1790−1965. Festskrift till 175-årsjubileet, Åbo: Musikaliska sällskapet i Åbo, pp. 129−150.
Forslin, Alfhild
: 'Fredrik Lithander', Sohlmans Musiklexikon, vol. 4, pp. 348−349, Stockholm: Sohlman 1977.
Lappalainen, Seija: 'Fredrik Emanuel Lithander − säveltäjä keisarillisessa Pietarissa', in Helena Tyrväinen (ed.), Muualla, täällä: kirjoituksia elämästä, kulttuurista, musiikista: juhlakirja Erkki Salmenhaaralle, Jyväskylä 2001, pp. 191−200.
Nisser, Carl: Svensk Instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830, Nominalkatalog, 1943.

Summary list of works

Piano pieces, songs.

Collected works

Piano works
Romance de l'Opera Le secret [av Jean Pierre Solié] variée à quatre mains pour le clavecin ou piano forte, op. 4. Dedication: à Mademoiselle Therese et à Monsr. le Baron Louis de Stedingk). St Petersburg: F. A. Dittmar, 1811(?) and Helsinki: Fazer, 1981 (Documenta Musicae Fennicae).
Sonate facile, op. 8:1−2. Dedication: Mademoiselle Annette Collins). Paez: St Petersburg, n. d. and Helsinki: Fazer, 1980 (Documenta Musicae Fennicae).
Theme by Haydn, with variations. Printed in Musikaliskt tidsfördrif, 1799 and Helsinki: Fazer, 1978 (Documenta Musicae Fennicae 15).
Rondo 'La jouissance' in D major. Dedication: Monsieur le Colonel Vitzthum. St Petersburg, n. d.
Polonaises in G major. Transcription in Anna Fredrica Choréus's collection, 1788. Sibeliusmuseum, Åbo.
'Et vouisse fatest', polonaise for clavier. In F.A. Meijer's album, 1802. Sibeliusmuseum, Åbo.

Voice and instrument
Aria ('Kunde Orphé uti fordna dar') for song, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets and 2 french horns. Performed at the feast-day of the Musical Society [in Turku] on 24 January 1800. 
Aria ('Måtte länge på Auras strand')or song, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets and 2 french horns. Performed at the feast-day of the Musical Society [in Turku] on 24 January 1800.
Romance avec accompagnement de Pianoforte ... Paroles de Monsieur Yves de Guiraud. Dedication: to Mademoiselle Therese and Monsieur le Baron Louis de Stedingk. St Petersburg: J. Brieff, ca 1815.
Minnet och hoppet ('Livets vissa mål är döden', M. Choraeus) for voice and piano.
Sällskaps-visa ('Mer lycklig än Kresus, de Lydiers kung', J. Tengström) for voice and piano.
Ordensvisa för studenter ('Student! Om du det namnet värd', F.M. Franzén). Printed in Skaldestycken satte i musik, IX, 1801 and in Martin Tegen: Populär musik under 1800-talet, Stockholm, 1986, pp. 116−118.
Sjömansvisa ('När bland kärlekens försåt'), for voice, flute and piano. Printed in Skaldestycken satte i musik, 1805.
Cantatina ('Ún moto, un affetto'), for voice, flute and piano, op.15:3, 1806.

Works by Fredrik Lithander

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

Number of works: 6