Carl August Stieler (1780−1822)


Carl August Stieler, born on 18 July 1780 Beierfeld, Saxony, died in Stockholm on 15 April 1822, was a singer, singing teacher and composer. He received his music education at St Thomas School in Leipzig during 1792−1799. He moved to Stockholm in 1802 where, in 1809, he became a cantor in the St James’ Church congregation. In 1812 he became second song master at the Royal Opera and in 1814 was appointed singing teacher at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music where he also became a member in 1818.


Early years

Carl August Stieler was born as the son of a farmer in Beierfeld, Saxony. Early on he showed signs of musical talent, which he later was able to develop through his studies at St Thomas School in Leipzig from 1792 to 1799. Alongside music he also studied theology. His singing teacher was the cantor at St Thomas Church, Johann Adam Hiller.

After having personal contact with, among others, Swedish barons Nils von Höpken and Abraham Niclas Edelcrantz, Stieler decided to move to Sweden in 1802. The barons’ allurement was that they saw him as a likely soloist for the opera stage. But that it would be in Sweden was not a given − at around the same time he had received a similar invitation from the Netherlands.

Activities in Stockholm

In Stockholm, Carl August Stieler was employed as singing teacher and actor at the Kongl. Spectaclerna (the royal theatres). In 1811 he married Sophia Elisabeth Liljeström and together they had four children between 1812 and 1821.

On 13 May 1812, Mozart’s The Magic Flute had its Swedish premier under the title De egyptiske mysterierne eller Trollflöjten (The Egyptian Mysteries or the Magic Flute). Stieler, who sang the role of Sarastro, had moved to Stockholm in the hope of establishing a singing career. However, Sarastro was to be his only successful role, and his lack of theatrical talent could not be compensated by his melodious bass voice. On stage he radiated dignity, solemnity and gravity. He went on to sing the role of Sarastro more than twenty times, up until 1816.

At this point Carl August Stieler was established in Stockholm as both a cantor and as second song master at the Kungliga Operan (the Royal Opera), which meant that he taught young singers. The first song master taught the established singers.

In the case of The Magic Flute, Stieler had taught one of the young girls, Anna Sofia Thunberg, who at the beginning had an alto voice. After working with him, she could sing the soprano role of the Queen of the Night at the Swedish premier, something that became a huge success and resulted in her being employed as a soloist.

Alongside singing teaching and after having left the stage, Stieler became increasingly engaged in church singing. He seems to have been afflicted with prolonged ill health, which worsened in the spring of 1822, and he died on 15 April. He students sang at his funeral.

Singing teacher

In his pedagogical work Carl August Stieler developed a system in his singing classes in which the students also taught one another. The lessons would also be academically based. He was encouraged to write a song textbook to be used in schools, which resulted in Lärobok i de första grunderna i musik och sång (A textbook on the rudiments of music and singing). It was printed in Leipzig and published in 1820, the same year that a school for cantors was established in Stockholm with Stieler as director.

The purpose of the printed song textbook was to give teachers who worked in regular schools the tools and good advice on how to proceed in teaching. As the textbook includes secondary school it also concerns the problem of puberty-caused voice breaking. Stieler discourages singing during the period of voice change in puberty, which according to him most often occurs between the ages of 15 and 16 (later than it occurs today). According to Stieler, the reason there is a greater lack of good men’s voices than women’s is because boys have not let their voices rest during puberty.

The basics of vocal instruction include work on intonation: ‘A pure intonation is the first and most indispensable requirement for music ...’.

One practices by working with four long, sustained notes that should be sung cleanly and without changing the pitch as long as the note is held. After that one works with different intervals. The last part of Stieler’s song textbook contains practice examples for the students.


Carl August Stielers’s creative musical output is not large. The extant works are limited to a piece for male trio, ‘Svearne fordomdags drucko ur horn’, and incidental music for August von Kotzebue’s Korsfararne from 1804, which was performed in Stockholm more than 140 times.

The reason the above-mentioned song survived is likely because the Götiska förbundet (the Geatish Society) saw it as an ideal song for the association. It is short, only 16 bars long, with the melody part in the bass register, and it was published for the first time in 1810 in the music journal Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif. The only word that the Götiska förbundet needed to change in the title was to replace svear (Swedes) with götar (Geats). Those looking for the piece can search for both titles. Stieler, who was a bass, shall have performed the song in Uppsala, and the male trio was then accompanied by wind instruments.

The play Korsfararne contains three short music sections: ‘Turkarnes Marche’, ‘Begrafnings Musik’ and ‘Nunnornas Chor i Templet’. The version that is preserved in the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden) has choral and piano parts. It is not clear from the sheet music if it was orchestrated at the time it was performed in the play.


In summation one can say that Carl August Stieler’s activities were dominated by his singing teaching, both practical and theoretical. Today, his published song textbook gives us insight into the singing ideals as well as vocal pedagogy of the early 19th century as those German singing masters who settled in Stockholm practiced it.

Iwa Sörenson von Gertten © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

Lärobok i de första grunderna för musik och sång vid ungdomens undervisning i skolor och gymnasier, Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1820.


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, pp. 261, 458.
Dillmar, Anders:
Dödshugget mot vår nationella tonkonst’ Hæffnertidens koralreform i historisk, etnohymnologisk och musikteologisk belysning, diss. in musicology, Lund University, 2001, pp. 30, 281−285, 288, 300, 312, 319, 323, 328, 332, 339, 352, 358, 369, 383, 387−388, 400−405, 412, 417, 418, 420−421, 423, 512, 539, 545, 553.
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik, Uppsala: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, 2006, p. 295.
Hedrén, Johan Jacob:
‘Carl August Stielers Lefnads-omständigheter’, in: Theophrosyne: Läsning för kyrkans och skolornas Vänner, vol. 1, 1823, p. 108. 
Jonsson, Leif: ’Uppfostran till patriotism. En idéhistorisk exposé över manskörsångens århundrade ur ett upsaliensiskt perspektiv’, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, 1983 pp. 27−49. 
Personne, Nils
: Svenska teatern/Karl XIV Johans första år 1810−1818, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1915.
Staffans, Helmer
: Sångundervisning och sånglärare i Finlands lärdomsskolor före år 1870, pro gradu in musicology, 1936. Turku, 1985, p. 59
Tegen, Martin
: ‘Den åhlströmska sångrepertoaren 1789−1810’, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, 1983, pp. 69−108. 

Summary list of works

Incidental music (Korsfararne), vocal music (male trio Svearna fordomdags drucko ur horn).

Collected works

Incidental music
Korsfararne, music to August von Kotzebue's drama, 1804.

Vocal music
Svearna fordomdags drucko ur horn, for three voices.

Works by Carl August Stieler

There are no works by the composer registered