Johan Fredrik Grenser (1758−1795)


Johan Fredrik (Johann Friedrich) Grenser was born 1758 in Dresden, Germany and died 17 March 1795 in Stockholm, where he was a composer, arranger, member of the Royal Court Orchestra (as oboist and later flautist) and soloist. Grenser’s numerous compositions came to light in the 1780’s and 1790’s and were intended for various performers, among those his colleagues in the court orchestra. He was a very productive and appreciated musician and composer.


Johan Fredrik Grenser came from a family of musicians and instrument builders. He most likely received his education − even as a composer − in his hometown of Dresden. In 1774, at age 16, Grenser had already begun to work at the opera in Stockholm, but was transferred in 1778 to the royal court after a reorganisation related to changes in government.  From 1774 to 1783 he was employed as an oboist with the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) and then as a flautist until his death in 1794.

Grenser rapidly established himself in Stockholm, approaching the Utile Dulci; a society of freemasons which included women and entertained weekly soirees celebrating belles-lettres and music. His Six trios op. 1 was published three years after he arrived in Stockholm and is dedicated to Erik Noer, who played flute in the Utile Dulci. Grenser himself performed as oboist in chamber music concerts from 1775 to 1776 and as a soloist in an oboe concerto in 1779. By virtue of his employment with the Hovkapellet, Grenser came to be called upon for ballet performances and compositions. He also worked for the Stenborg theatre. A collection of Harmoniemusik (a form of 18th century ensemble music for wind instruments) was probably written specifically for King Gustav III’s own Harmoniemusik ensemble, brought over from Dresden in 1785.
Johan Fredrik Grenser was a Protestant, and married Maria Greta E(c)keroth (widow of Lars Hedin) on 7 March 1784.


Uncertainty prevails as to how much Johan Fredrik Grenser actually collaborated with other composers in works where several contributors are listed. Additionally, there are ambiguities regarding the dating of his works. His original manuscripts are preserved in libraries distributed around the world − in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Germany, England and the United States − which is rather unusual for a Gustavian composer.

Stage works

At the Kungliga Operan (the Royal Opera) music library in Stockholm, Johan Fredrik Grenser’s name is rarely found in writing − making authenticating the validity of works difficult. His complete ballets include Mölnare Ballet/Pantomime Le meunieres provençeau (1785) and the short Pantomime (1790?). These were composed for the theatre’s leading choreographer, Antoine Bournonville (in Stockholm 1782−95) and Jean-Rémy Marcadet (in Stockholm 1788−95), respectively. Only the second act and the finale of the ballet Slädpartiet exist. Grenser also composed the overture to the lyrical comedy Tillfälle gör tjufven. This play was probably performed at the Stenborg theatre since the theatre’s director, Carl Stenborg, wrote a vocal score for it. In Abbé Vogler’s opera Gustaf Adolf och Ebba Brahe (1783) Grenser composed incidental ballet music which occurs in act 3 no. 5; at the opera’s premiere on 26 October 1783, Grenser’s overtures to the drama Helmfeldt and opera Maskeraden (The Masquerade) were mentioned.

Orchestral works

Of the four known symphonies, three originally belonged to German duchy libraries while the fourth can be found in the Kungliga Operan library. This symphony, Sinfonia alla posta (1779), includes a piccolo French horn obbligato  which imitates a post horn. It was first performed on 9 February 1783. Regarding orchestra instruments, it is noteworthy that Grenser explicitly asks for clarino trumpets in his Sinfonia in B-flat major.

Grenser’s solo concertos include a clarinet concerto in B-flat major and an oboe concerto in C major (in London and Wrocław, respectively). The first concerto was played in the Hovkapellet by Grenser’s colleagues, including clarinettist and composer Bernhard Crusell. Additional concertos have been named in concerto announcements: a flute concerto, a bassoon concerto, a concerto for two bassoons and a Rondo for oboe, bassoon and orchestra.

Works for voice and orchestra

Two arias reveal Grenser’s skills as a musico-dramatic composer.  ‘Ah se t’adoro’ for voice and strings consists of a slow and a fast movement while ‘Med din sång du redan funnit seger i min ömma själ’ for soprano and orchestra is a fully-fledged da capo aria that goes up to a high C.


6 partitas for five winds exist in Copenhagen, Denmark. A partita in C major for the typical instrumentation of 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns and 2 bassoons can be found in Zwickau, Germany. Four partitas are preserved at Krigsarkivet (the Military Archives) in Stockholm, whereas two arrangements of dramatic music can be found in Härnösand (Nicolas Dalayrac, Raoul sire de Créqui, 1789) and at Kungliga Operan (Joseph Martin Kraus’ incidental music for Amphitryon with two additional clarinet parts).

Chamber music

The flute has a particularly prominent role in Grenser’s chamber music but he also writes soloistic parts for other wind instruments. Six trios op. 1 was published in 1777 by Hummel in Berlin; each trio is a three movement work in gallant style. In the four movement Trietto for flute, cello and harpsichord, all of the parts are independent and each of the instruments takes a turn as soloist. Duo pour le Clavecin et Violon is in five movements; it is stated to have been arranged by Mr Lorentz in Copenhagen. In the United States, each of the duets in Sex duos for two clarinets (1797) consists of three short, unpretentious movements.

Modest marches and such for piano were published in the 18th century Swedish magazine Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif. In Turku, Finland there is an arrangement by Grenser for zither of Bond Pålska from his ballet Slädpartiet. Most noteworthy is the Rondo pollones which is part of a musical clock built by Per Strand in 1794 that can now be found in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Grenser’s style

Grenser composed mostly instrumental music which was frequently performed at concerts at Riddarhuset (the House of Nobility) by his colleagues in the Hovkapellet. His music is light and fluent and well-designed, in 8 measure phrases with a structure patterned after sonata form. Major keys prevail. His works are generally in several movements and the movement order is often in the form of the First Viennese School. Sinfonias follow the Neapolitan style. Six trios op. 1 is in a gallant style with richly ornamented upper voices and a figured bass. Grenser was greatly appreciated by his contemporaries as a musician and composer. In a letter to Stockholms Posten ‘Bref om herr Noëlli’ the sender writes: ‘Several virtuosi deserve to be honoured like this [by election to the Kungl. Musikaliska akademien]; If capable playing of instruments can be a reason, we have had many […] Taking on the other hand studies and insights as ground, we have Grenser, who has on several occasions, until this day, shown most talented proof.’

Jan Olof Rudén © 2015

Trans. Thalia Thunander


Blomkvist, Magnus: Balettmusik vid Kungliga Teatern i Stockholm 1773−1806: Förteckning över numren och inledningstakterna i den bevarade musiken, bachelor's thesis in musicology, Stockholms universitet, 1973.
Boer, Bertil H. van: 'Introduction', in: Johann Friedrich Grenser, Landsby Mölleren i Provence, Recent researches in the music of the Classical era, Middleton, Wisc: A-R Editions, 2006, pp. vii−xiv.
Brandel, Åke: 'Johan Fredrik Grenser', in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm: Sohlman, p. 209.
Hall, Harry H. (ed.): Six duos for 2 clarinets. Bellingham, Wash: Medici Music, 1985.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1983, pp. 75−76.
Karle, Gunhild: Kungl. hovkapellet i Stockholm och dess musiker 1772−1818, Uppsala: Tryck-jouren 2000.
Ljungar-Chapelon, Anders: 'Introduction', in: Six trio sonatas op. 1, 4 for two flutes and b.c.; 2 for flute, violin and b.c., Stockholm: Autographus musicus, 1987.
Morsman, Marieke: Royal music machines, Utrecht: Nationaal Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement, 2006.
'Johan Fredrik Grenser', in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 5, p. 817.
'Johann Friedrich Grenser (1758−1795)', in: Bertil H. van Boer (ed.), The symphony in Sweden, vol. 2, New York: Garland 1983, pp. xxxviii−xl.
Musiken i Sverige, vol 2., eds Leif Jonsson, Anna Ivarsdotter-Johnson, Stockholm: Fischer & Co, 1993, pp. 397.
Nisser, Carl: Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830, Nominalkatalog, Stockholm: Gothia, 1943.
Tour, Peter van (ed.): Tre stycken för spelur, Ur ett spelur av Per Strand, Transkriberade för klaverinstrument, Slite: Wessman, 1995.
Walin, Stig: Beiträge zur Geschichte der schwedischen Sinfonik, Stockholm-Uppsala, 1941.
Vretblad, Patrik: Konsertlivet i Stockholm på 1700-talet, Stockholm: P A Norstedt & Söner, 1918.


Landsarkivet Härnösand, Statens Musik- och teaterbibliotek.

Summary list of works

4 ballets (Mölnarebalett, Pantomime för herr Marcadet, Slädpartiet, incidental ballet music in Vogler’s Gustaf Adolf och Ebba Brahe), orchestral works (4 sinfonias, 1 overture, 2 solo concertos, 2 arias with orchestra (Ah se t’adoro, Med din sång du redan funnit seger i min ömma själ), chamber music (trios, duets), works for wind ensemble (14 partitas, 2 arrangements), piano pieces, etc. In addition, a large number of lost works.

Collected works

In concert programmes mentioned works without extant scores within square brackets. Dates of performance withing parentheses.

Stage music
Incidental ballet music for Act 3 no. 5 in Gustaf Adolf och Ebba Brahe by G.J. Vogler (12/10 1783).
[Overture to the drama Helmfeldt (12/10 1783).]
[Overture to the opera Maskeraden (12/10 1783).]
Overture to Tillfället gör tjuven. Lyrical comedy in two acts (1785).
Slädpartiet. Ballet.
Mölnare Ballet/Pantomime Le meunieres provençeau uti en act af Hr Bournonville (14/3 1785). Version in Copenhagen: Baletten Landsbye Mölleren componeret af Bournonville 1803 Pantomime componerad för herr Marcadet (1790?).
[Ballets from the comedy Natalia Narrischin (Feb. 1790).]
Chaconne dans Amphitryon [= J.M. Kraus Intermèdes no. 23].

Works for orchestra
[Fugue (14/11 1779).]
[Sinfonia (14/11 1779).]
[Sinfonia (9/1 1780) same as above?, cond. Uttini.]
[Sinfonie with clarinets (20/2 1780), cond. Uttini.]
Sinfonia alla posta E-flat major (f. perf. 9/2 1783).
[Large sinfonie by Grenser? (9/12 1792), cond. Zander.]
Sinfonia in D major.
Sinfonia in A major.
Sinfonia in B-flat major.
[Kanonad-Allegro by Grenser [for orchestra?], Åbo 1794.]

Solo concertos
[Concerto for fleut-traver (10/2 1793).]
Concerto in C major for oboe (30/3 1783).
Concerto in B-flat major à Clarinette-Solo (1792 9/12).
[Concerto for bassoon (4/11 1792).]
[Rondeau for oboe and bassoon with orchestra (1796 4/12). Constitutes the last movement of a larger concerto of which the beginning was composed by Du Puy.]
[Double concerto for two bassoons (Jan. 1808).]

Works for voice and orchestra
Ah se t'adoro, for voice (Ernando) and strings.
Med din sång du redan funnit seger i min ömma själ, for voice and orchestra.
[Aria by Grenser? sung by Mrs Olin) (15/1 1797)].
[Aria by Grenser sung by Mrs Augusti (11/4 1779)].

Partitae 6 di Grenser, printed by his friend the double bassist F. Keyper. No. 1 in E-flat major, no. 2 in E-flat major, no. 3 in B-flat major, no. 4 in B-flat major, no. 5 in E-flat major, no. 6 in E-flat major.
Partita in C major.
Partita no. 1 in F major (Gardespartita no. 1), no. 2 in B-flat major (Gardespartita no. 2), no. 3 in E-flat major (Gardespartita no. 3), printed by Åke Edenstrand.
Partier. No. 1 in D major, no. 2 F major, no. 3 F major, no. 4 F major.
[Overture by Grentzer (Norrköping Mar. 1800).]

Harmonimusik, arrangements
Arr. by N.-M. Dalayrac opéra-comique Raoul, sire de Créqui (1789)
Arr. by J.M. Kraus opera Amphitryon, nos 6−16.

Chamber music
Duo F major pour le Clavecin et Violon (arrangé par Lorentz).
Six trios op. 1, quatre à deux flûtes & basse, deux à flûte, violon & basse (1777). No. 1 in C major, no. 2 in G major, no. 3 in D major, no. 4 in A major, no. 5 in C major, no. 6 in B-flat major.
Trietto in G major for flute, violin and clavier.
[Romance and Polonoise for flute, violin, violoncello (Jan. 1810).]
Six duos for 2 clarinets (1797). No. 1 in F major, no. 2 in C major, no. 3 in F major, no. 4 in F major, no. 5 in C major, no. 6 in F major.
[Adagio and rondo for clarinet (1803).]
[Adagio and polonaise for clarinet (Dec. 1805)]
[Romance and Rondo for clarinet (Dec. 1805).]
[Romance and variations for bassoon (May 1806).]
[Variations för bassoon over the old French ballad Ah que dirai-je Mamma (1793 8/12).]
[Rondeau for mandolin (1780 9/1).]
Bond Pålska for zittra from Slädpartiet (3 Dec. 1794).
Ballets for lute from the comedy Natalia Narrischin (febr 1790).

5 marches in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif. A minor 1792:13, C minor 1792:13, E minor 1792:16/17, D minor 1793:20, B minor 1793:20.
Polonoise G major in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif 1798:9/10.
Theme by Åhlström varied by Grenser in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif 1798:9/10.

Works by Johan Fredrik Grenser

There are no works by the composer registered