August Lagergren (1848−1908)


Sven August Lagergren, born 2 June 1848 in Gärdserum and died 11 June 1908 in Stockholm, was a teacher of harmony at the Royal Conservatory of Music 1874−81 (permanently employed from 1878) and organ from 1881 (professor in 1904). Organist at the Royal Court Parish in the Royal Chapel from 1881. His output as a composer is sparse and includes organ preludes, choral music and cantatas. He also published an organ tutorial. Member of the Royal Academy of Music from 1882.


August Lagergren was born in Åsebo, Gärdserum’s parish in northern Småland, where his father was rusthållare, a farm owner who supplied soldiers, horses and equipment to the military. His first studies in music were under the tutelage of the cathedral organist Johan Fredrik Törnwall in Linköping. In 1869, he graduated as an elementary school teacher and the following year he became lead teacher at Motala apprenticeship school. Alongside working as a teacher, he enrolled at the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) where he studied organ with Gustaf Mankell. He graduated as an organist in 1873 and the following year he was employed as assistant harmony teacher at the conservatory.

After a brief period as a counterpoint teacher in 1880, Lagergren taught organ performance at the Musikkonservatoriet from 1881, a position he was given despite competition from other better-known applicants, including Elfrida Andrée, Wilhelm Heintze and Emil Sjögren, and which he held until his death. In the summer of 1881, before taking up his new post, he pursued further studies, at his own expense, through private organ tuition with professor Carl August Haupt at Königliches Institut für Kirchenmusik in Berlin, and with organist Eduard Rodhe. Lagergren was regarded as one of the country’s foremost organists and was often engaged as an expert in organ building. However, it appears he was not involved in particularly extensive concert activities.

During his first decade as an organ teacher at the conservatory, Lagergren authored a number of publications related to his activities, including an organ tutorial, the first and most comprehensive of its kind to appear in Swedish. The organ tutorial involves the technical principles of playing, with the achievement of ‘absolute legato’ as the main aim: a technique established by the Belgian organist Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens’ influential organ tutorial from 1862, and introduced to Sweden through Lagergren’s teacher and predecessor at Musikkonservatoriet, Gustaf Mankell. Lagergren also published a collection of preludes in two volumes, with both of these publications subsequently becoming compulsory study materials for students at the conservatory. He also edited, in collaboration with the hovkapellmästare (chief conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra) Conrad Nordqvist, a chorale book, the model for which was the celebrated example by Johann Christian Friedrich Hæffner.


Lagergren was highly esteemed and appreciated as an organ teacher, but was also controversial, especially towards the end of his tenure. In the autumn of 1907 a number of former pupils at the conservatory submitted a joint letter to Ecklesiastikdepartementet (the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs), where they criticised his teaching and examinations in a number of subjects. His ‘special’ methods of teaching were denounced which, amongst other things, resulted in lessons that were often felt to be too short (according to a statement, lessons were usually around 35 minutes). One of the signatories, David Åhlén, states − without mentioning the letter or the points of criticism − that each lesson followed the same structure: first a pedal exercise (from the organ tutorial), then a chorale with a (non chorale-based) prelude, a modulation followed by the same chorale being transposed, then sections of the church service and finally the performance of an organ piece.

His teaching also included visits to morning service in the Slottskapellet (the Royal Chapel), with subsequent discussion of liturgical organ playing. Indeed, his teaching seems to have had liturgical organ playing as a primary focus and, judging by Åhlén’s description, his approach was systematical with an undeniably high level of ambition. Lagergren also received and corrected students’ written preludes, which was criticised by Aaron Bergenson, the teacher of harmony, who felt this was an infringement of his remit. However, the most serious criticism which the alumni directed against Lagergren was his dubious habit of, during harmony examinations, going into the test area, observing students’ work and pointing out inaccuracies. Simultaneously, however, others described his teaching as both meticulous and highly informative, with his continuous research and self-education being highlighted as exemplary.

August Lagergren’s musical taste was consanervative, and his repertoire as an organist and teacher was limited to the baroque and traditionally-oriented romanticism. The anthology which constitutes the second part of his organ tutorial includes, in addition to Johann Sebastian Bach and Dieterich Buxtehude, representatives of the French symphonic school, such as Charles-Marie Widor and Alexandre Guilmant. On the other hand, works by César Franck, as well as by composers of the New German school, are lacking.

The controversies surrounding his teaching did not hinder August Lagergren from receiving several official awards: Litteris et Artibus (a royal medal awarded for outstanding service to the arts) in 1894, Vasaorden (the Royal Order of Vasa) in 1901, and being named professor in 1904. In his later years Lagergren’s health began to fail, and he was planning to resign from his post when he died, a few weeks after his 60th birthday.


August Lagergren was not a prolific composer, and his compositional activities are a direct development of his activities as an organ teacher, church organist and choirmaster. His only published works appear to be the above-mentioned prelude collection, whose two volumes contain around 60 short preludes for church services, both free and chorale-based; it was not considered necessary, at this time, for a prelude to contain motivic material derived from the subsequent chorale. Preludes were characterised by homophony and traditional harmonic structures. Some of the chorale-based pieces include inspiration from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, and the occasional preludes display elements of imitation. Lagergren also composed sacred choral music and cantatas.

Sverker Jullander © 2015
Trans. Robin McGinley

Publications by the composer

Orgel-Skola: Med hänsyn till gällande fordringar i organistexamen, 2 vol., Stockholm: Abr. Hirsch, n.d. [1894?].
Svensk Koralbok (efter Hæffner) i fören. med sv. Psalmboken: Koralerna under medverkan af Conrad Nordquist. Revid. af Aug. Lagergren, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1887, 2nd ed. 1893, 3rd ed. 1903.
Svensk Koralbok (efter Hæffner) för kyrkan, skolan och hemmet / Under medverkan af Conrad Nordquist. Revid. af Aug. Lagergren, Jämte bihang uppt. utdrag ur musiken till svenska mässan, ombesörjt af Gustaf Hägg, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1903, 2nd ed. 1905.


Edholm, Dag: S:ta Cecilias tjänare − om kyrkomusikens utövare i Stockholm under fem århundraden, Stockholm: Edvard Vincents orgelstiftelse, 2002.
H[olmberg], O[lof]: ‘Prof. Aug. Lagergren †’, Kyrkomusik och skolsång, vol. 2, no. 24, 1908.
‘Lagergren, släkter’, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 22, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1977−79.
Percy, Gösta: ‘Lagergren, August’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1951 [also in. rev. and extended ed. 2, vol. 4].
Rydén, Jesper: ‘Lagergrens orgelskola: en överblick’, Orgelforum, no. 1 2004, pp. 5−9.
Waldenby, Michael
: Människor, myter och musik: Senromantikens inflytande på kyrkomusikens utveckling i Stockholm under 1900-talet, Stockholm: Verbum, 2002.
Åhlén, David: ‘En kyrkomusikers minnen’, stenciled script, [1969].


Musikmuseet Stockholm, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket

Summary list of works

Organ music (preludes), choral music, cantatas.

Collected works

Incomplete list of wors

Organ music
Preludier, såväl till angifna choraler i Hæffners Choralbok, som i alla deruti förekommande dur- och molltonarter, 2 vol., Stockholm: Huss & Beer, 1885. [Prelude no. 3 and 25 in vol. 2 also in Vox in periferia. Tio små solitära orgelstycken, red. Claes Holmgren, Slite: Wessmans, 2007.]

Choral music
Helige Ande, glädjenes Ande, Stockholm: Svenska kyrkans diakonistyrelses bokförlag, n.d.
Väl år och dagar svinna [hymn around 1900] (Oscar II).
Cantatas [further information missing].

Works by August Lagergren

There are no works by the composer registered