Arvid Niclas von Höpken (1710−1778)


Arvid Niclas von Höpken, born in Stockholm 7 July 1710, died in Stralsund 28 July 1778. Nobleman and soldier. Senior Commandant of the Stralsund fortress 1777−78. Von Höpken worked as a composer and copyist. He composed Italian opera seria, which is stylistically comparable to coeval operas by important representatives of the genre, such as Johan Adolf Hasse and Carl Heinrich Graun. His setting of Pietro Metastasio’s Il Re Pastore is one of the earliest known settings of the libretto.


Arvid Niclas von Höpken (1710−1778) is an elusive figure in Swedish music history. His work as a composer is found mainly in preserved music composed in accordance with the tastes of the time. His work also consists of copies and corrections of copied coeval music, composed by, for example Carl Heinrich Graun, Benedetto Marcello and Leonardo Leo. The majority of his scores are vocal works, and among these there are two full operas with parts, based on libretti by the foremost librettist of the time, Pietro Metastasio: Il Re Pastore (1752) and Catone in Utica (1753), as well as a comic intermezzo with the title Il Bevitore (1755, librettist unknown).

The existing information about von Höpken in archives in Sweden and Stralsund is, however, incomplete. Because of this it is difficult to create a complete picture of his musical work solely from the biographical source material. Instead, a picture of von Höpken’s life comes from sources that primarily have an indirect connection to him through his brother Anders Johan von Höpken, the kanslipresident (highest political representative of Sweden, a post similar to today’s Prime Minister) of Sweden’s ruling party, the Hats. The brother, on the other hand, is considered one of the greatest cultural personalities of Sweden’s Age of Liberty.

Student years, military path and musical work

The von Höpken brothers received musical training as part of their private tutoring in the home, which was a common educational method among the nobility. They received instruction in theatre and music from the French ballet master, Jean-Baptiste Landé, who was active at the royal court in Stockholm from 1721−27. After completing his home education, Arvid Niclas continued his studies in music during a year at Uppsala University, where he registered at the same time as his brother Anders Johan in 1727. Music was a part of the education that was seen as appropriate for a young nobleman, as was dance, fencing, riding and modern languages. A certain amount of amateur music-making occurred at the university, but it is unclear if von Höpken played an instrument, and if so, which one.

In the years after his studies at Uppsala, von Höpken became a volunteer Life Guard (a military post whose garrison was stationed in Stockholm and associated with the royal court). During his career he was stationed mainly in Hesse-Kassel, but returned regularly to Stockholm for shorter periods.  On 26 September 1741 he became captain of the Karelian Dragoon and participated in the war against Russia. He was injured and captured, and was a prisoner of war until July 1743 at Kexholm in Russian Karelia. On 28 February 1749 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel at the regimental garrison in Stralsund. In connection with the Pomeranian War von Höpken rose in rank, and by the age of 49 he was promoted to colonel at the queen’s Life Guards. Ten years later he was named major general and in 1775 lieutenant general. His last promotion was to senior commandant at Stralsund fortress in 1777.

The music that is in one way or another connected to von Höpken, through handwriting, attributions and references in contemporary sources, shows that he did not just compose his own music, but also that his music was copied by others. There is also evidence of his copyist activities that entailed copying whole works as well as editing and correcting others’ copying. From the output that is dated it is possible to narrow down this part of his musical activity to a limited period (1751−55). During these years he was lieutenant colonel at the regimental garrison in Stralsund. As a high-ranking officer and nobleman he likely had quite a bit of time to spend on composition and copying music. There are however still some blank spaces in what we know of his activities during this period, when he may have made trips during which he made contacts and developed his musical interests. One possible reason for his lack of output as a composer and copyist after 1755 is an increased workload during the Pomeranian War, which could be inferred by his climbing the ladder in rank during these years.

The operas Il Re Pastore and Catone in Utica

Of all the music that has been attributed to von Höpken, the two operas set to Metastasio’s libretti Il Re Pastore (1752) and Catone in Utica (1753) are of particular interest. The operas are composed in accordance with the tastes of the time and are comparable to the coeval operas of the great opera composers Johann Adolf Hasse and Carl Heinrich Graun. Most amateur compositions of the time consisted of chamber music for the composer’s own instrument, that is, music that was later performed in private settings. It is thus unusual that a nobleman would compose two full works in the most prestigious form of the time, opera seria, a type of work that was generally composed to order for a royal court or theatre, and required large instrumental, vocal and stage resources. The choice of genre thus speaks to the fact that the works were meant for a particular purpose, and does not seem to be simple composition exercises. The parts are final versions, which is shown by a consistent hand, a complete score and the fact that they are bound in leather. They look like products for display.

An additional circumstance that makes this opera production unusual is the fact that von Höpken is unusually early in his setting of Metastasio’s libretto Il Re Pastore, which was written for the royal court of Vienna together with the composer Giuseppe Bonno, and published in 1751. Among the next thirty known compositions set to this libretto are operas by Hasse, Gluck, Piccinni, Jommelli and Mozart. Von Höpken’s opera is the fourth known composition set to the libretto, with its composition date of 1752 (aside from Bonno’s, there was also an opera by Giuseppe Sarti and an anonymous opera performed at Teatro del Sole in Venice in 1752).

When it comes to role models, von Höpken may have become familiar with the music of Hasse and Graun during his time at university, when their music was performed by students. It is also likely that he as a nobleman did a Grand Tour, and in this way came into contact with the genre conventions that form the foundation of his music. It is also possible that contact with Fortunato Chelleri, Fredrik I’s hovkapellmästare (chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra) was a source of inspiration during von Höpken’s service in Hesse-Kassel (1730−35).

At the court of Queen Lovisa Ulrika in Stockholm (1751−71) opera seria by such composers as Hasse, Graun and Francesco Antonio Uttini was performed. Even if von Höpken was not himself associated with this court, he had indirect contact with it through his brother, who for a time was part of the court’s musical circle and had personal contact with the queen. Anders Johan von Höpken was even voted into various royal academies. In the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) his role was as a musical critic. In this way it is possible that through him Arvid Niclas von Höpken gained knowledge about the tastes of the time, and perhaps even access to music.

It is likely that von Höpken visited neighbouring cities during his time in Stralsund and took in the rich musical life that characterised not just Rostock, but also Schwerin during the 1750’s. Amateur concerts were often performed in Rostock and the city was visited regularly by theatre and opera troupes, which were drawn to a newly inaugurated theatre and a large, wealthy public. It is possible that von Höpken’s two Metastasian operas were composed to be performed in one of these cities, where there was a great interest in opera, and sufficient stage resources and singers in the form of travelling troupes. Amateur concerts in Rostock are also possible concert locales. At the end of the 1750’s von Höpken’s music was even performed at subscription concerts at the Freemasons’ great hall in Stockholm, together with music by contemporary Italian composers.

Johanna Ethnersson–Pontara © 2014
Trans. Nicole Vickers


De Geer, Louis: Anders Johan von Höpken: Minnesanteckning, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1882.
Ethnersson, Johanna
: Metastasiansk opera i Lovisa Ulrikas Sverige: En studie av fyra drammi per musica av Arvid Niclas von Höpken och Franesco Antonio Uttini, diss., Stockholms universitet, 2003 (including list of works).
Helenius, Eva
: 'von Höpken, Arvid Niclas', in: Erik Grill (ed.), Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon, vol. 19, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1971.
Höpken, Anders Johan von
: Skrifter: Minnes-anteckningar, tal, bref, ed. Carl Silferstolpe, vol. 1, Stockholm: 1890.
Nordin, Jonas
: 'Anders Johan von Höpken Sveriges Tacitus', in: Sten Åke Nilsson (ed.), Drottning Lovisa Ulrika och Vitterhetsakademien, Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akadademi, 2003, pp. 63−89.
Sartori, Claudio
: I libretti italiani a stampa dalle origini al 1800; Catalogo analitico con 16 indici, Cuneo: Bertola & Locatelli, 1991.
Sundström, Einar
: 'Arvid Niclas von Höpken och hans komiska opera Il Bevitore', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 18, 1936, pp. 24−42.
−−−: 'F. A. Uttini och Adolf Fredriks italienska operatrupp', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 13, 1931, pp. 5−44.
Vretblad, Patrik
: Konsertlivet i Stockholm under 1700-talet, Stockholm, 1918.


Krigsarkivet, Kungliga biblioteket, Riddarhusets arkiv, Riksarkivet, Musik- och Teaterbiblioteket, Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Göteborgs universitetsbibliotek, Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Landsarkivet i Lund, Der Oberbürgermeister Stadtarchiv in Stralsund.

Summary list of works

2 operas (Il Re Pastore and Cantone in Utica), 1 comic intermezzo (Il Bevitore), 2 symphonies, vocal music (O! Rene Guds Lamb, Försök af en Pastoral på War Herres ock Frälsares Jesu Christi Nådericka Födelse).

Collected works

Works where von Höpken is clearly specified as the composer on the title leaf in his own handwriting. Thw works have the same handwriting in both text and score:

Försök af en Pastoral på Wår Herres ock Frälsares Jesu Christi Nådericka Födelse. Poesien af Fru Baronessan Helena Hummerhielm (1751). Christmas cantata for soli, choir and orchestra
Il re pastore, opera seria (libretto: Pietro Metastasio), 1752.
Catone in Utica, opera seria (libretto: Pietro Metastasio), 1753.
Il bevitore, intermezzo (librettist unknown), 1755.
Sinfonia del’Opera Catone, sinfonia in D major to von Höpken's Catone in Utica.

Assumed autographs. Works in manuscripts which have von Höpken's handwriting in text and score, but are attributed as his with another handwriting:

Sinfonia in Ess. Per la Chiesa a 6 voci, before 1750.
O! Rene Guds Lamb, passion music for two solo parts and orchestra.

For a complete list of von Höpken's compositions and copy activities, see: Ethnersson, Johanna, Metastasiansk opera i Lovisa Ulrikas Sverige: En studie av fyra drammi per musica av Arvid Niclas von Höpken och Franesco Antonio Uttini, diss. Stockholms universitet, 2003.

Works by Arvid Niclas von Höpken

There are no works by the composer registered