Carl Johan Lewerth (1818-1888)


Carl Johan Lewerth was born in Arboga on 13 January 1818 and died in Örebro on 25 May 1888. For several decades he played a pivotal part on Örebro’s music scene, including as organist for St Nicholas’s Church and music teacher at Karolinska secondary school. He composed songs and comedic folk plays in a ‘Nordic’ spirit.

In Örebro

Carl Johan Lewerth was born in Arboga on 13 January 1818. As a young man, he spent some time studying in Stockholm, where he was also employed at the Kungliga Teatern (Royal Opera). In 1841, at the relatively young age of 23, he was made organist at St Nicholas’s Church in Örebro, becoming singing teacher at the city’s Karolinska secondary school the following year. Both these positions were to frame his musical activities until his retirement in the 1880s.

Lewerth’s achievements in Örebro are an interesting example of how individuals and closely knit social networks could be the spiders in the web when new forms of the bourgeois and public music scenes were established in the mid 19th century. Lewerth single-handedly held together the music of the church and the school while composing highly rated music for the new theatre. He was also a co-founder of the Philharmoniska sällskapet (Philharmonic Society) orchestra in 1859 and served as its musical director. His marriage in 1853 to the then 21-year-old Hedvig (Hedda) Norström – according to one source ‘the most gifted female singer Örebro possessed’ – also had profound significance for the city’s cultural life, their home being a hub of music and literature through the salons and parties it regularly accommodated. Their son, Karl Lewerth, inherited his parent’s musicality.  

Church musician

Lewerth was widely acknowledged to be a talented organist and would be called in to inaugurate new instruments. According to early sources, he composed several cantatas for liturgical use, alongside a number of large occasional cantatas for public remembrance ceremonies. As a hymn accompanist he championed a livelier tempo than commonly called for by the prevailing ideal.

The publication of a chorale book earned him considerable public success – it was first printed in 1860 and notched up a further ten reprints until 1913. Untouched by current aspirations towards rhythmic chorales, its melodies were modelled on J.C.F. Hæffner’s normative chorale book from 1820, albeit with some amendments designed to stimulate harmonic variation and expression. His chorale book also has an appendix in which a number of famous ‘hymns’ by the likes of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven were proposed for liturgical use.

Vocal music in a Nordic tone

His achievements in the field of music education were made manifest in an expansive anthology of songs for men’s choir, Gammalt och nytt, primarily intended for the pupils of the secondary school. The foreword shows how Lewerth embodies a good many typical mid-19th century conceptions, including the ideal of creating a new means of musical betterment and of music as a source of recreation. Interestingly, he takes pains to defend the moral content of the selected lyrics while airing his own opinion that possibly morally dubious songs by Bellman could easily have been included – symptomatic, perhaps, of a tension between what one biographer calls ‘a capricious artistic temperament’ and a bourgeoisie moral compass. This said, Lewerth also wrote music for the temperance movement, for instance. The song-book’s primary focus, however, is squarely on the role of music during an epoch characterised by the creation of a national and Nordic musical identity. Melodies from the continent were apparently only to be incorporated insofar as they had ‘been received as an intrinsic part of the Norseman’s song’.

The search for a national folk tone is also explicit in the most popular of Lewerth’s compositions, namely his vocal music. He had hits with his two comedic folk plays Peder Rank och hans fästmö and Vingåkersbruden in the musical entertainment culture of the burgeoning public theatre and explored folk customs and local music traditions. The tunes from these performances were also disseminated in arrangements for middle-class salons, in the case of Vingåkersbruden as a piano suite jointly issued by a Swedish, German and French publisher. Even if his choral pieces, especially, demonstrate musical acumen, these plays and other smaller songs were consistently and entirely melody-driven. The artistic ambitions displayed in his music are generally low, although this is at least partly an expression of aesthetic and national ideals concerning the intrinsic value of simple and artificial Nordic melodics.

Jonas Lundblad © 2016
trans. Neil Betteridge

Publications by the composer

Choralbok för hemmet och skolan, Örebro: Lindh, 1860 (6th edition 1866).


Forslin, Alfhild: Runeberg i musiken, Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet, 1958.
Johansson, Sven (ed.): Örebro som det var förr, Örebro: Sällskapet Gamla Örebro, 1963.
Karlson, Karl Fredrik
: Blad ur Örebro skolas historia, vol. 4, Örebro, 1899.
Larsson, Karl: En kyrkomusikers 50-årsminne. Organisten Carl Johan Lewerth i Örebro och hans verksamhet, Örebro. Special print from Ner.-Tidn., 120, 1938.
‘Lewerth, Carl Johan’, in: Nordisk familjebok, 2nd. ed., vol. 16. Stockholm: Nordisk familjeboks förlag, 1912.
‘Lewerth, Carl Johan’, in: Norlind, Tobias: Svensk musikhistoria, 2nd. ed., Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1918.
Morin, Gösta: ‘Lewerth, Carl Johan’, in: Svenska män och kvinnor, vol. 4. Stockholm: Bonnier, 1948.
Nodermann, Preben: Studier i svensk hymnologi, diss., Lund: Sydsvenska bok- och musikförlaget, 1911.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Örebro läns museum.

Summary list of works

2 comedic folk plays (Peder Rank och hans fästmö, Vingåkersbruden), piano works (Ett bröllop i Wingåker etc.), songs, vocal music (works for men’s choir, cantatas and 1 chorale book).

Collected works

Incidental music
Peder Rank och hans fästmö, folk play, 1870.
Vingåkersbruden (Ernst Lundquist), comedic folk play, 1878

Marsch utförd vid Engelbrektsstodens aftäckande i Örebro. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht.
Ett bröllop i Wingåker. Svensk suite för fortepiano. Breslau, Stockholm & Paris. 1. Allegro, 2. Andante, 3. Skinkans högtidliga marsch, 4. Recitativo, 5. Tårtans marsch, 6. Höglorfven.

Organ (or other keyboard instrument)
Chorale book for the church, home and school with the Swedish mass, etc. Örebro and Stockholm (multiple editions, first 1860).

Voice and piano
Det är vår!, voice and piano. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1874.
Min första serenad. Ett gymnasistminne, in: Sex visor diktade och sjungna af N. P. Ödman. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist.
Morgonen (J. L. Runeberg), song for a bass voice with piano. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1873.
Nya sånger vid piano. Stockholm: Hirsch. 1. Kom tillbaka!, 2. Kärlekens dialektik, 3. Till den frånvarande, 4. Sången.
Sommarfröjd, song for a bass voice with piano. Stockholm: Abr. Lundquist, 1873.
Songs from Peder Rank och hans fästmö. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1870. 1. Väntan och längtan, 2. Folkvisa, 3. Korpral Modigs sång, 4. Dina blå ögon [for soprano and tenor].
Songs at the piano from Vingåkersbruden. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, 1878. 1. ‘O, kunde jag slita den boja så hård’, 2. ‘Så vänligt lyser solen’, 3. ‘Om i ert bröst ni hjerta äger’ (duet).
Songs at the piano. Stockholm: Abr. Hirsch. 1. Kinnekulle, 2. Älskarens bön, 3. Aspen, 4. Löjtnanten på bal, 5. Stormen, 6. Tårarne på grafven.
Three songs with accompaniment for piano. Stockholm. 1. Den fattiges jul, 2. Visa, 3. Sommarqvällen.
Vid Adolfsberg, romance for one voice with piano. [From Peder Rank och hans fästmö.] Stockholm: Abr Lundquist, 1869.

Seven pieces in: Hoppet, Sångbok för Sveriges nykterhetsvänner. Musik av Jörgen Malling samt ett tillägg med melodier af Direktör C.J. Lewerth. Örebro, 1877.
Engelbrektskantat till minnesfesten i Örebro, 1865.
Gammalt och nytt. Fyrstämmiga sånger för mansröster, samlade och utgifna af C. J. Lewerth. Örebro, 1872.
Han på korset, han allena (J.L. Runeberg).
Kantat till den kungliga silverbröllopsfesten 1882.
Vårsång (‘Ljuflig är den unga vår’).

Works by Carl Johan Lewerth

There are no works by the composer registered