Anders Wesström (1720-1781)


Anders Wesström, born 1720/21 and died 7 May 1781 in Uppsala, succeeded his father as organist and music teacher in his hometown of Hudiksvall at the age of 13. After studying law in Uppsala and earning his Master’s degree in 1744, he moved to Stockholm, where he was engaged as a violinist by the Royal Court Orchestra. After a lengthy study trip around the continent, he took to combining his orchestral duties with virtuoso solo performances at home and abroad. He spent his final years in self-inflicted hardship as an organist and music teacher in Gävle. His oeuvre features both orchestral and chamber music.

Childhood and student years, 1720/21−44

Anders Wesström was born in 1720 or 1721, probably in Sala, where his father (of the same name) was employed as an organist. In 1726 the family moved to Hudiksvall, where Wesström senior had found work as an organist and music teacher at the local grammar school.

It was also his father who schooled the young Wesström, who seems to have been something of a prodigy judging by the fact that as a mere 13-year old he took over his father’s duties after his death from consumption in 1734. This position he held for almost a decade, even after having enrolled to study law at Uppsala University in the autumn of 1738. He crowned his studies in 1744 with his thesis De abdicatione regia examining the legal aspects of and reasons for royal abdications.

Violinist at Hovkapellet, 1744−73

On leaving university, Wesström headed for Stockholm, where he eventually became a legal trainee at the Svea hovrätt (Svea Court of Appeal) while also working as a temporary violinist for the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra). Given that both these positions were unpaid, Wesström’s first years in Stockholm must have been quite distressing for him. It was not until 1748 that he was promoted to the Hovkapellet on a regular salary. However, the income this brought him was meagre and it was many years before Wesström’s financial situation could have been called anything other than strained. In 1750, in an effort to improve his lot, he applied for a vacancy as an organist for the parish of St. Mary, but was turned down. It is likely that he spent his life supplementing his income as a private tutor.

In 1756 Wesström was given leave by the Hovkapellet to take further studies abroad. His trip was meant to last two years, but sickness and other circumstances prolonged it to over four. After a brief sojourn in Berlin, he travelled to Dresden, where he studied for violinist Francesco Maria Cattaneo (1697−1758). Here he also discovered the musically gifted youngster Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741−1801), whom he offered to take on the next leg of his journey to Italy. Having lodged for a while in Hamburg, the pair stopped off in Venice before moving on to Padua in the early summer of 1758, where Wesström took up studies for violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692−1770). With his education complete (according to Tartini’s own testimony) Wesström returned to Stockholm in 1760.

Just a few months after his return, Wesström began to appear as a soloist, performing frequent public concerts in the city. This he would continue to do during the 1760s and 70s, introducing new music that he had brought with him from Italy as well as his own compositions to Swedish audiences. 

Wesström’s concert performances were not confined to the capital, however. In the summer of 1761, he was granted leave again to travel to Hamburg and performed on several occasions in Gothenburg and Lübeck, spending the spring of 1766 in England. Wesström seems to have had particularly good relations with Gothenburg, where he performed on numerous occasions and applied, again in vain, for a vacancy as cathedral organist. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Wesström also performed elsewhere in the country, although there is no evidence for this. 

In the early 1770s, it appears as if the financial worries that had dogged Wesström throughout his life were finally over. For once, people were now indebted to him instead of vice versa; but it was not to last.

The final years, 1773−81

In February 1773, Wesström petitioned to resign from the Hovkapellet, and was granted a modest pension for the rest of his life. For the next 12 months or so he performed more concerts in Stockholm and Gothenburg before disappearing from public life in April 1774. Tragically, his final years were marked by increasing degeneracy and alcoholism.

Complaints about circumstances and colleagues betray the strained relationship that he had with his environment early on. It is not impossible that the two-year leave he was granted in the autumn of 1767 on the ostensible grounds of weak health, spasms, ague and haemorrhaging of the lungs was linked to his alcoholism, and after his resignation things went rapidly downhill for him. By 1773 Wesström was still fraudulently taking out a full salary, and when this came to light, it was decided that the misappropriated sum would be deducted from forthcoming disbursements, which left Wesström without a pension for the next five quarters. In the autumn of 1774 he applied for a permit to travel abroad for a year in the hope of improving his situation. The papers were granted, but there is no evidence that he ever embarked on the journey.

One opportunity to resolve his financial predicament came in the spring of 1776 with the advertisement of a vacancy in Gävle as organist and music teacher at the city gymnasium. Wesström was the only applicant and the city’s parish council was so pleased with the recruitment that, before he knew it, they had doubled his promised salary. However, they no doubt soon came to regret their decision when Wesström failed to turn up as promised, and despite threats of dismissal − which he seemed not to take seriously − it was not until a year later that he deigned to appear.

Even when he was installed, it appears that the hopes of the parish council remained unfulfilled. Wesström cut a dishevelled, unhealthy figure, and within the first couple of years the council was complaining that he had allowed two of his school students to practise on the church organ unsupervised. It was therefore decided that henceforth he would only be trusted with the church keys when the organ needed tuning. The following year he appeared in front of the council accused of having played ‘herding-horn music’ during a service.

His final years were marred by a string of complaints, and Wesström’s behaviour deteriorated. Around Christmas 1780 he was particularly violent, and in January he fled to Stockholm, closely followed by a notice of dismissal and a prosecution. However, before the resulting court could pass sentence, he absconded to Uppsala, where he died on 7 May 1781 of ague and jaundice.


Just how much Wesström composed is unknown, but his output was probably much greater than has been preserved. We know from concert programmes of at least one violin concerto, several solo sonatas and a variation piece based on ‘Gustafs skål’ for violin, all of which have since been lost. Amongst his extant works are six string quartets (many with alternative settings), a sonata for violin and cello, two symphonies, two overtures and an allegretto for the organ.

Wesström composed in a virtuoso, soloist style, both in his chamber and orchestral works, the latter of which are distinguished by imaginative, contrast-rich instrumentation. Wesström seems to have had a certain penchant for variation pieces, amongst them Poloneze Suozoso with its 20 variations on the folk tune ‘Många de som fria sökia’, which features in the duo sonata. The quartets are composed in the divertimento style, and the alternative instrumentations and figured bass notations of some of the quartets invite performances with larger ensembles than the intimate string quartet.

Wesström drew his influences from the continent; Sammartini and the early Haydn are two commonly mentioned sources of inspiration. As perhaps the leading Swedish violinist of his time as well as a creative composer in his own right, Wesström should have left a greater music legacy; sadly, however, his character and living conditions proved too much of a handicap.

Mårten Nehrfors © 2013
Trans. Neil Betteridge


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Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Växjö stadsbibliotek (Stiftsbiblioteket)

Summary list of works

2 sinfonias, 2 overtures (both to the opera Armida), 6 string quartets (some with alternative settings), 1 sonata for violin and cello, 1 Allegretto for the organ.

Works by Anders Wesström

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

Number of works: 9