Johan Agrell (1701−1765)


Johan Joachim Agrell (Agrelius) was born on 1 February 1701 in Löth parish, Östergötland and died on 19 January 1765 in Nuremberg. He was a violin and keyboard virtuoso, composer, theorist, mainly employed in Germany. 1723 violinist and continuo player in the Kapelle of Prince Maximilian von Hessen-Kassel. In 1733−46 he toured as a virtuoso in Italy, France and England. From 1746 until his death he was Kapellmeister, ‘Director Chori Musici’, for the city of Nuremberg and organist at the Frauenkirche.


Childhood and student years

Johan Joachim Agrell was born on 1 February 1701 in the parish of Löth, just west of Norrköping. His father was a minister and most likely provided his earliest education. He attended school in Linköping, where he received some musical education under school regulations dating from 1693. Accordingly, he probably participated in the musical activities of the Linköping cathedral, likely as a chorister.

He also received instruction in violin, keyboard, and theory from Andreas Phallenius, Andreas Duraeus, and, most importantly, Thomas Ihre, who was the dean at the cathedral and a proficient, if amateur, violinist.

Because of his extensive education in Linköping he matriculated in jurisprudence at the University of Uppsala in 1719. Here, he likely performed with the Kungliga Akademiska kapellet (the Royal Academic Orchestra) under director musices Eric Burman (1692−1729), who was also Professor of Astronomy. Burman had organised biweekly academies to enhance the practice of music among the students, and it is likely that Agrell participated in these concerts. During this time, he was also tutored in music theory, particularly Johann Mattheson’s important Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte.

In the three or four years he spent at Uppsala, he may also have become friends with the new vice kapellmästare (second chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra), Johan Helmich Roman, who had returned to Sweden in 1721. Their interaction, however, is unclear, although in later years Agrell seems to have been in contact with Roman on both a collegial and friendship basis. An example of this was to come later in 1742 when Agrell sent Roman music from Kassel in response to a request. Other influences, according to several scholars, may have included the extensive collection of Protestant church music collected by Olof Rudbeck, Anders Düben, and others, as well as Swedish folk music, echoes of which appeared later in Agrell’s own works.

Leaving Uppsala for Kassel

In 1723 Agrell came to the attention of the Margrave of Hessen-Kassel, Maximilian, who heard him perform on the violin at a concert in Uppsala. As the brother of Swedish King Frederick, the Margrave was recruiting musicians for hiscourt and apparently sought to engage Agrell immediately. When he arrived in Kassel on a permanent basis, however, is not entirely clear. Although he may have spent more time in Kassel after 1726, when Burman was suspended from his post in Uppsala and the academic orchestra fell into disarray, the only surviving evidence places Agrell as a resident member of the more prestigious ducal Kapelle first in 1734. Margrave Maximilian may have been intensely interested in music but was constantly in debt, and therefore it is entirely likely that Agrell’s position was shared among the Margrave’s family, including the ducal Kapelle of his brother under Fortunato Chelleri. The only mention of Agrell in household records seems to be as an ordinary domestic, and therefore it can be assumed that he had other duties than music in the Margrave’s household.

Nonetheless, Maximilian did gather notable musicians during the period 1726−34, including invitational visits by Johann Sebastian Bach, Jean-Marie Leclair, and Pietro Locatelli. Agrell may also have completed his musical education under Chelleri, for by 1736 he took over many of the elder composer’s teaching duties. Theatre historian Wilhelm Lynker noted in 1863 that Agrell was so well thought of in Kassel at this time that he was awarded the post of Kammermusikus, in addition to instructing composers such as Bernhard Hupfeld. This statement, however, lacks documentary proof, although throughout his period in Kassel Agrell established a reputation both as a violinist and as a composer, as can be seen by his inclusion in the famed Schouwburg Theatre early symphonies manuscript from the centennial concert of 1738. His reputation may also have been enhanced by regular tours outside Hessen-Kassel.

Travelling Europe as a virtuoso

Although information is lacking, all biographical references note that during the period 1734−46 Agrell made a number of tours as a traveling virtuoso (both as a keyboardist and violinist) to Italy, France, and England. Only the Italian journey is documented, however, as a request for 162 Thalers for expenses was made by the composer in 1733. Given that the Margrave visited his cousins at the court of Hessen-Darmstadt frequently, it is likely that Agrell accompanied him, and in the process became acquainted with the significant composers there, Johann Christoph Graupner and Johann Samuel Endler, both of whom were important forerunners of the galant style.

Between 1737−42 he was active in the service of Margrave Wilhelm VIII, and for three years, 1743−46, he was paid only sporadically as the court underwent financial difficulties. In 1743, for example, he was owed over 900 Thalers in back wages by his former employer, Maximilian, but the bankruptcy commission resolving the Margrave’s debts retained him as one of the few remaining servants, even bestowing an increased stipend. This makes his normal duties with the ducal court equivocal, and although he was continually if not formally engaged there, he probably also performed frequently as a guest at the nearby courts of Berleburg and Eisenach.

Kapellmeister in Nuremberg

The precarious state of the ducal finances was the impetus for Agrell to seek employment elsewhere. He may well have hoped to return to Sweden, according to a dedication on a set of published works in which he complained of his exile from his homeland. Although Roman was still nominally kapellmästare, the election of a new crown prince for the childless Fredrik I, Adolph Fredrik Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, brought north the Duke’s own court orchestra under Hinrich Philip Johnsen in 1744, leaving no position open. In Germany, however, the death of Maximilian Zeidler in Nuremburg brought Agrell the opportunity of a prestigious position in one of the most prosperous free cities of the region.

In 1746 he was appointed to the post of city Kapellmeister in Nuremberg, which included additional duties as director musices, leader of the Stadtpfeifer (town music guild), and musical director-organist at the Frauenkirche. He also served as a ‘chief wedding and funeral’ coordinator and official town composer of occasional music (Ratsmusik), as well as functioned from time to time in the other churches in the city. He also began to publish his music with Johann Ulrich Haffner, with his first set of six symphonies appearing as his op. 1 in 1746. Despite this activity, Agrell found himself overwhelmed by his new post, so much so that a year later he relinquished a portion of his duties to Johann Schwindl.

Little is known of his life during the last two decades. On 3 September 1749 he married Margaretha Förtsch, a singer. In 1749 he was granted full citizenship in the city, but in 1753, when his wife died in childbirth, he gradually appears to have fallen into disfavour with the city council. His death is recorded on 19 January 1765, though several other apocryphal pieces of information claim the year to have been 1767 or 1769. The funeral services were minimal and perfunctory, an irony for an important personage of the city.

Agrell as musician and composer

There can be no doubt that Johan Agrell was a proficient soloist on both the violin and keyboard. His final training in Uppsala may have been under Burman, who also functioned as organist at the Uppsala Cathedral, though he also benefited from the extensive musical education received in Linköping early on. Agrell may even have been given some lessons on the violin by his friend Roman, part of the push for professional music education noted by Abraham Hülphers as a sine qua non requisite for future professional musicians.

In Kassel, he continued his studies both formally and informally as he continued the practice of that time by being an assiduous collector of music, which he no doubt studied thoroughly. Although his tours may have contributed to a substantial reputation as a performer, documentation of his specific prowess is lacking, and the occasional reference to his talent and ability probably do not reflect his virtuosity. In any case, his work in Nuremberg seems mostly to have been as a composer, with performance taking a secondary, mostly official role in his musical life.   

As a composer, Agrell concentrated upon the publication of instrumental works, which he began publishing in sets with Nuremberg publisher Haffner in 1746. These include the following:

Op. 1 Six Symphonies (Nuremberg, 1746).
Op. 2 Six Sonatas for Keyboard (Nuremberg, 1748).
Op. 3 Three Harpsichord Concertos (Nuremberg, 1750).
Op. 4 Three Harpsichord Concertos (Nuremberg, 1750).

In addition, other sets were published in London, including Six Duets for Two Flutes or Two Violins (also labelled op. 2) and Six Trio Sonatas (also as op. 3), as well as a collection entitled A Collection of Easy Genteel Lessons for the Harpsichord and several individual works. Manuscripts of his music, however, can be found throughout Europe, indicating that he was well-known and well-regarded as a composer in other musical courts and centres. This is particularly true of sources in Sweden, which indicate that he was known in his homeland. When he began to compose music is, however, not known as none of his early works appear to have survived. Moreover, much of the official music written for the city of Nuremberg has been lost, and therefore it is impossible to obtain an overall picture of his compositional activity, given that these were mainly vocal works. In terms of instrumental genres, Agrell must be reckoned as one of the foremost contributors to their rise in importance.

Agrell was an early proponent of the emerging symphony, the earliest works of which probably date from around 1735. His style in these works, as in the concertos, are highly experimental for the time, with incipient thematic contrasts and the nuances now known as trademarks of the galant style. The appearance of one of his pieces in the Schouwburg centennial concert in 1738 indicates that his forays into this new genre were already known at this early date. In comparison, his friend Roman’s works were still in a formative stage at this time, and it may well be that Agrell’s advanced musical ideas helped to influence Roman’s newly emerging symphonic style in the 1740s. By the publication of his op. 1 in 1746 he had added woodwinds and horns to the string core, thus becoming an important contributor to the standard classical orchestration of the genre.

His concertos, of which the bulk are for keyboard, reflect his knowledge of the style of Antonio Vivaldi, although they are more adventurous in terms of harmony, virtuosity, and formal structure. The use of contrasting themes, particularly in the opening movements, is a harbinger for the traditional classical concerto, while the finales reflect interesting and original glosses on the usual dance-derived conclusions. A set of three double concertos for flute, violin, and strings foreshadows the popular sinfonia concertante of the 1760s.

His chamber music, however, still adheres to the baroque idiom, being akin mainly to the music of Telemann. The solo keyboard works, however, have elements of the galant in their rhythmic complexity juxtaposing duple and triple. Of his vocal works, only 17 motets survive. These are old-fashioned, conservative pieces that were probably standard Gebrauchsmusik for local consumption, with careful and not too complex counterpoint. His writing style is often fluid and inventive in terms of harmony, while he lacks a clear sense of melody, resulting in a judgment by Daniel Schubart in the 1806 Ästhetik der Tonkunst that he was ‘a true artist, but [with] a cold nature.’ Although considered primarily a German composer, he never forgot his Swedish origins, insuring through his friend Roman that works were sent to and performed in Sweden, and even in the dedication to his op. 2 sonatas to Adolf Fredrik, the crown prince, he notes his longing for his ‘dear homeland’ and that ‘fate had so far forced him to live abroad’. While it appears that this subtle appeal to the new potential ruler fell on deaf ears, the continued performance of Agrell’s music nonetheless linked him indelibly to Sweden.

Publications by the composer

Pedagogical Works
Tabellen für General-Bass und Satzkunst (lost).
Anleitung zur Komposition (lost).


Bengtsson, Ingmar: ‘Johan Helmich Roman’, in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Kassel et al.: Bärenreiter, 1963.
Daffner, H.: ‘Die Entwicklung des Klavierkonzertes bis Mozart’, Publikationen der Internationelle Musikgesellschaft, Beihefte Folge II, Hft 4, 1906.
Demandt, Karl: Geschicte des Landes Hessen, revised edition. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1972.
Dupont, Wilhelm: Werkasugaben Nürnberger Komponisten in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Nürnberg: Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, 1971.
Engelbrecht, Carl: ‘Die Hofkapelle des Landgrafen Carl von Hesse-Kassel’, Zeitschrift des Vereins für hessische Geschichte und Landeskunde, vol. 68, 1957, pp. 141−173.
Engelbrecht, Christiane: ‘Die Hofkapelle des Landgrafen Carl von Hessen-Kassel’, Zeitschrift des Vereins für hessiche Geschichte und Landeskunde, vol. 68, 1957, pp. 141−173.
Fryklund, Daniel: ‘Utkast till förteckning över kompositioner av Johan Agrell i Berlins och Köpenhamns bibliotek upprättat till Carl Fredrik Hennerbergs sextioårsdag’, ms., 1911.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1983.
Heussner, H.: ‘Der Musikdrucker Balthasar Schmid in Nürnberg’, Die Musikforschung, vol. 16, 1963.
−−−: ‘Zur Musizierpraxis der Klavierkonzerte im 18. Jahrhundert’, Mozart-Jahrbuch 1967 (1968), pp. 165−175.
−−−: ‘Nürnberger Musikverlag und Musikalienhandel im 18. Jahrhundert’, in: Richard Baum & Wolfgang Rehm (eds), Musik und Verlag, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1968.
Hoffmann-Erbrecht, Lothar: ‘Der Nürnberger Musikverleger Ulrich Haffner’, in: Acta Musicologica, vol. 26, 1954, pp. 114−126.
Hülphers, Abraham: Historisk afhandling om music och instrumenter, Västerås, 1773.
Jonsson, Leif & Anna Ivarsdotter (eds): Musiken i Sverige, vol. 2, Frihetstid och gustaviansk tid, 1720−1810, Stockholm: Fischer & Co., 1993.
Lindfors, Per: En studie över Johan Agrells liv och musikaliska stil, in: Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 19, 1937, pp. 99−112.
Lynker, Wilhelm: Geschichte des Theaters und der Musik in Kassel, Kassel: Kay, 1865.
Norling, Sara: ‘Johan Agrell 300 år: en svensk musikexport med hemlängtan’, in: Tidig Musik, no. 4 2001, pp. 22−25.
Scheerin, Jeanette Morgenroth: ‘Agrell, Johan’, in: Mary Sue Morrow and Bathia Chrigin (eds), The Symphonic Repertoire, vol. 1, The Eighteenth Century Symphony, Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press, 2012, pp. 240−265.
−−−: ‘Agrell, Johann, Five Symphonies’, in: The Symphony 1720−1840, ser. A, vol. 1, New York: Garland, 1983.
−−−: The Symphonies of Johan Agrell (1701−1765): Sources, Style, Contexts, diss. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1986.
Valentin, Karl: ‘Johan Agrell’, in: Svensk Musiktidning, årg. 30, no. 4, 1911, pp. 1–2.
−−−: ‘Johan Agrell’, in: Svensk biografiskt lexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1918.
Walin, Stig: Beiträge zur Geschichte der schwedischen Sinfonik, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1941.


Landsarkivet Härnösand, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Statens Musik och teaterbibliotek, Kungliga Biblioteket, Skara Stifts- och landsbibliotek, Växjö Stadsbibliotek, Lunds universitetsbibliotek

Summary list of works

Extant works: Orchestral works (ca 25 symphonies, 34 solo concertos), chamber music (10 sonatas for two flutes or violins, 6 trio sonatas, 8 violin sonatas, a viola d'amore sonata), keyboard music (12 sonatas), vocal music (17 motets).
Lost works: 5 serenades, 80 cantatas, sacred music (occasional music and collections).

Collected works


The symphonies are listed chronologically according to their Sheerin numbers.
Symphony in E major (E1/E:131511, ca 1738).
Symphony in C major (C1/C:531531, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in D major (D1/D:135175, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in D major (D2/D:111117, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in F major (F1/F:135111, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in F major (F2/F:165671, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in F major (F3/F:317153, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in G major (G1/G:131531, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in A major (A1/A:111567, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in B major (B1:B:551533, ca 1740−1746).
Symphony in D major (D3/D:151515, ca 1745−1750).
Symphony in D major (D4/D:567111, ca 1745−1750).
Symphony in E major (E1/E:111233, ca 1745−1750).
Symphony in G major (G2/G:111117, ca 1745−1750).
Symphony in D major (D5a/D:557111a, ca 1748−1750).
Symphony in D major (D5b/D:557111b, ca 1748−1750).
Symphony in F major (F4/F:112334, ca 1748−1750).
Symphony in E major (E2/E:115153, ca 1750−1756).
Symphony in G major (G3/G:511234, ca 1750−1756).
Symphony in D major (D6/D:111345, ca 1755−1765).
Symphony in D major (D7/D:123455, ca 1755−1765).
Symphony in D major (D8/D:171111, ca 1755−1765).
Symphony in G major (G4/G:111111, ca 1755−1765).
Symphony in G major (G5/G:567133, ca 1755−1765).
Symphony in A major (A2/A:551533, ca 1755−1765).

Other symphonies, lost.
5 Serenades for the city of Nuremberg (lost).

Concerto in F major for flute and strings (ms, D-MÜu).
Concerto No. 1 in G major for flute and strings (ms, D-Rtt, GroF 1644).
Concerto No. 2 in G major for flute and strings (ms, GroF 2143).
Concerto in D major for flute and strings (ms, S-L, GroF 1643).
Concerto in F major for keyboard and strings op. 3/1 (1751).
Concerto in D major for keyboard and strings op. 3/2 (1751).
Concerto in A major for keyboard and strings op. 3/3 (1751).
Concerto in B major for keyboard and strings (1755−61).
Concerto in D major for keyboard and strings (1755−61).
Concerto in D major for keyboard and strings (1755−61).
Concerto in A major for keyboard and strings (1755−61).
Concerto in F major for keyboard and strings (ms, S-Sk).
Concerto in A major for keyboard and strings (ms, S-Sk).
Concerto in B major for oboe and strings (ms, S-L).
Concerto in G major for violin and strings (ms, S-L).
Concerto in F major for violin and strings (ms, F-Pc).
Concerto in D major for violin and strings (ms, US-Wc).
Concerto in B major for violin and strings (ms, S-L).

Double Concertos
Concerto in A major for flute/violin, keyboard and strings op. 4/1 (1753).
Concerto in B minor for flute/violin, keyboard and strings op. 4/2 (1753).
Concerto in G major for flute/violin, keyboard and strings op. 4/3 (1753).

Trio Sonatas
2 flutes/violins, basso.
No. 1 in G major op. 3/1 (c1757).
No. 2 in G major op. 3/2 (c1757).
No. 3 in C major op. 3/3 (c1757).
No. 4 in G major op. 3/4 (c1757).
No. 5 in G major op. 3/5 (c1757).
No. 6 in G major op. 3/6 (c1757).

Sonatas with Keyboard
Flute/Violin Sonata (1762−65, lost).
Flute/Violin Sonata (1762−65, lost).
Viola d’amore Sonata (ms, S-Uu).
Violin Sonata in G major (1752).
Violin Sonata in B minor (ms, US-BEm).
Violin Sonata in A major (c1743).
Violin Sonata in E major (1752).

Keyboard Sonatas
Sonata in B major op. 2/1 (1748).
Sonata in G major op. 2/2 (1748).
Sonata in F major op. 2/3 (1748).
Sonata in E minor op. 2/4 (1748).
Sonata in D major op. 2/5 (1748).
Sonata in G minor op. 2/6 (1748).
Sonata No. 1 in A major, A Collection of Easy Genteel Lessons, Book 2 (c1767).
Sonata No. 2 in B major, A Collection of Easy Genteel Lessons, Book 2 (c1767).
Sonata No. 3 in G major, A Collection of Easy Genteel Lessons, Book 2 (c1767).


17 Motets, including:
            Beständigkeit erkämpft die Krone der süßesten Zufriedenheit.
            Den Frommen bleibt nur dieser Ruhm.
            Ehrlich vom Geblüte redlich vom Gemüte.
            Gottes Rat ist wunderbarlich.
            Halte dich an Gott und weiche nicht.           
            Hoffnung ist das Herz der Freude.
            Schönster Himmel mein Verlangen.
            So man von Herzen gläubet so wird man gerecht.
            Weicht ihr Sorgen aus den Herzen denn ich bin.
            Wirf ein Anliegen auf den Herrn.
            Wohl dem der sich begnüget der had genug.

80 Cantatas (lost).

Other Occasional secular vocal works for Nuremberg.


Works by Johan Agrell

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

Number of works: 24