Johan Jakob Nagel (1807−1885)


Johan Jakob Nagel was born in Moravia on 18 June 1807 and died in Stockholm on 7 July 1885. He was a composer, violinist and guitarist. In his youth he studied with Niccolò Paganini. During his active years he spread his music via tours that stretched over a great deal of Europe as well as North America, including Cuba. He was a violinist and guitarist in the Royal Court Orchestra beginning in 1830, becoming the concertmaster in 1864. His list of works includes a violin concerto, two ballets, violin pieces, songs and compositions for guitar.

Early life and studies

Violin virtuoso and composer Johan Jakob Nagel spent his youth in several countries, and became a widely travelled man who spoke four languages. He was born in Teltsch (Telč), Moravia (the present-day Czech Republic), on 18 June 1807. An important part of his childhood was spent, however, in Italy, where he was the violin student of Niccolò Paganini for a period – or at least made the older master's acquaintance. After a period as a traveling musician, he was hired as a violinist at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice between the ages of fifteen and twenty (1822−27). His adolescence would also have included studies under the Austrian violinist and composer Josef Mayseder, sometime before late 1829 when Nagel, at age 22, performed in Stockholm.

Time in Sweden from 1829

Once on the Swedish music scene, Nagel soon established himself as a distinguished name and in November 1830 he was hired by the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) as a violinist and guitarist. Like his Italian teacher, he also played the guitar, an instrument that was useful in the opera orchestra in works such as the canzonetta in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which in the 19th century was routinely accompanied by the guitar or violin instead of the mandolin.

Nagel was active in the Hovkapellet for nearly 35 years until his retirement on 1 September 1865. Alongside this permanent job he made frequent solo appearances with his own and others' compositions around Sweden and, until 1843, in extensive tours abroad. He performed in countries including Finland, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Poland, England and Holland. A trip across the Atlantic, with an extended leave of absence from the Hovkapellet, began in the summer of 1841, lasting until the summer of 1843 and was comprised of concerts in the United States, Canada and Cuba.

Contemporary critics expressed unanimous admiration for the sureness and elegance of his playing, especially in flageolet and pizzicato passages. Furthermore Gustav Schilling’s music encyclopaedia from 1842 described Nagel’s performances as ‘expressive and imbued with deep feeling, so that his Adagio playing can be placed alongside that of the foremost violinists’.

In 1835 John Jacob Nagel and Anna Sophia Noël (1812−1863) were married. She was the daughter of a Frenchman who came to Sweden with Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Six years after her death he married the widow Elvira von Konow (1824−1891). Nagel died in Stockholm on 7 July 1885, leaving behind his wife and stepchildren from his second marriage as his closest relatives. He became a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1857.

Nagel as a composer and improviser

Nagel mainly composed music in which the violin has a prominent role. In addition, there are two ballet works, songs and a group of guitar pieces on his list of works.

Several of his violin compositions are closely connected with his own performances as soloist. The variation works and La mancanza delle Corde / Burlesque musicale were heard frequently on tour. During performances of the latter composition, Nagel would successively cut the strings of the violin with a penknife,as the music moved from the four strings of the introduction to the piece’s completion on the lone remaining G-string. Nagel's violin concerto is associated with the great American concert tour in the early 1840s – it is dated ‘New York 1841’ and dedicated to the American people. Later, on 3 March 1844, the concerto was performed in Stockholm at the Riddarhussalen (the great hall of the House of Nobility) under the title Souvenir de l'Amérique.

Nagel's early concerts also included improvisation, as in Uppsala on 28 March 1830 where the program contained: ‘A Theme, chosen on the spot, by anyone among the listeners, varied ex tempore and executed by the undersigned" (Upsala stads och läns tidning 27/3 1830), and in the Riddarhussalen on 22 May where an ‘Improvisation on several Themes from the Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, etc., in the manner of Paganini, extemporised by the undersigned’ (Stockholms Dagligt Allehanda 17/5 1830) was performed.

There were also pieces from the rest of his creative output that were played during the composer's lifetime. The art song ‘Nordmön i söder’, dedicated to Jenny Lind, was very popular for a time, and the ballet Blommorna (or Blomsterfesten) with music by Nagel was presented 35 times in the early 1860s.

His chamber music includes Souvenir de Bolltorp − a duet for violin and cello written by a pair of composers; Nagel wrote the music along with the Hovkapellet’s cellist Gustaf Adolf d’Arien.

Martin Edin © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Publications by the composer

Carulli, Ferdinand: Guitarr-Skola [...] åttonde förbättrade upplagan, genomsedd och tillökad med ett Bihang af Jean Nagel, Stockholm: Lundquist.


Bauck, Wilhelm: ‘Hr Nagels konsert’, Ny tidning för musik, vol. 4, no. 14, 29 March 1856, pp. 107–108.
Brandel, Åke: ‘Nagel, Johan Jakob’, in:  Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1951, p. 1150.
Brandel, Åke/rev: ‘Nagel, Johan (Jean) Jacob’, in:  Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 4, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1977, p. 684.
‘Dödsfall’, Dagens Nyheter, 8 July 1885, p. 2.
‘Dödsfall’, Svenska Dagbladet, 8 July 1885, p. 2.
‘Efter längre tids sjuklighet’, Svensk musiktidning, vol. 5, no. 13, 1 Sept. 1885, p. 102.
E. K.: ‘Historische Uebersicht der sämtlichen Musikaufführungen in Breslau für den Winter 1839-1840 (Oktober bis ende April)’, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, vol. 42, no. 22, 27 May 1840, pp. 469−470.
Engländer, Richard: ‘Nagel, Johan Jakob’, in:  Svenska män och kvinnor, vol. 5, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1949, p. 398.
‘F. d. konsertmästaren Johan Nagel’, Dagens Nyheter, 4 May 1869, p. 1.
‘Feuilleton’, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, vol. 42, no. 2, 27 Jan. 1840, p. 33.
‘Hwad nytt från Stockholm? (Bref till tidningen ‘Kalmar’.) En förstummad violin’, Kalmar, 11 July 1885.
Jason: ‘Herr J. Nagels konsert söndagen den 3 March’, Stockholms musiktidning vol. 2, no. 10, 8 March 1844, pp. 3−4.
Jonsson, Leif: Offentlig musik i Uppsala 1747-1854: från representativ till borgerlig konsert, Stockholm: Statens musikbibliotek, 1998, pp. 210−211, 217, 228, 394.
Karle, Gunhild: Kungl. hovkapellet i Stockholm och dess musiker 1818-61: med utblickar, Uppsala: Karle, 2005, pp. 231−241 et passim.
‘Kraków’, Gazeta Krakowska, 27 March 1840, pp. 1−2.
Kungliga musikaliska akademien: Matrikel 1771−1995
, compiled by Pia Nyström & Anne-Marie Elmquist, Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1996, p. 76.
Lindgren, Adolf.: ‘Nagel, Johan Jakob’, in:  Nordisk familjebok, new revised and richly  ill. ed., vol. 19, Stockholm: Nordisk familjeboks förlag, 1913, p. 383.
‘Med högwederbörligt tillstånd’, Stockholms Dagligt Allehanda, 17 May 1830.
‘Nagel’, in:  Gustav Schilling (ed.), Encyclopädie der gesammten musikalischen Wissenschaften, oder Universal-Lexicon der Tonkunst, suppl. vol., Stuttgart: Köhler, 1842, p. 320.
‘Nagel, Jakob Johan (Jacopo Giovanni)’, in:  Arvid Ahnfelt (ed.): Europas konstnärer: Alfabetiskt ordnade biografier öfver vårt århundrades förnämsta artister, Stockholm: Lamm, 1887, pp. 385−388.
Nagel, Johan: ‘Recensioner öfver mina concerter gifna uti olika länder både uti den gamla och nya werlden’, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket A 82 [collection of clippings].
Nisser, Carl: Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830: Nominalkatalog, Stockholm: Gothia, 1943, p. 287.
Norlind, Tobias: ‘Nagel, Johan Jakob’, in:  Allmänt musiklexikon, 2nd revised ed., vol. 2, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1928, pp. 197−198.
Palm, Josef: ‘Nagel Johan Jakob’, in:  ‘Svenskt musik-lexicon’, manuscript at the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
‘Underrättelser från in- och utlandet’, Ny tidning för musik, vol. 1, no. 21, 3 Dec. 1853, p. 7.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stockholm.

Summary list of works

2 ballets (Vårblommorna, Blommorna or Blomsterfesten), works for soloist and orchestra (violin concerto, 4 variation works for violin and orchestra), chamber music (ca 10 pieces for violin and piano, duet for violin and cello, 1 piece for solo violin, ca 10 guitar pieces), 4 songs.

Collected works

The year given is the year of composition, except where information about the performance is given, which in this case is the first known performance of the piece.

Vårblommorna, 1859 (or 1858).
Blommorna eller Blomsterfesten, 1861.

Orchestral works
(for violin and orchestra)
La mancanza delle corde, violin with orchestra [likely the same work as ‘Burlesque musicale, musikaliskt skämt, kalladt: Brist på strängar (imitation af la mancanza delle Corde, af Boucher) bestående i Introduction och thema på fyra, Variation på tre, Polacca på två och Adagio på G-strängen’ (instrumentation unclear); alternative title: ‘Charlataneri eller musikaliskt skämt, parodi på Boucher’, performed 1839; the work may also be identical to ‘Introduction och Wariationer på ett Thema af Polledro med Dubbel-Flageolett och Pizzicato, a la Paganini’, performed 1830.]
Introduction and variations on Madame Catalani’s favorite theme (nel cor piú non mi sento) with flageolet and pizzicato à la Paganini, performed 1839.
Grand concert A major, violin with orchestra, New York 1841 [movement 2 and 3 also in a version for violin and piano under the title Adagio religioso et Rondo gioccoso scherzando].
Fantasie öfver themata ur operan L’elisir d’amour [Donizetti], violin with orchestra.
Elegie, violin with orchestra [also in a version for violin and piano, see below op. 2 no. 2],  1851.
Introduktion och variationer à la Paganini på en favoritmelodi ur Anna Bolena, performed 1856.

Vocal works
La castilliana, bolero for soprano [instrumentation unclear], performed 1852.

Voice and piano
Nordmön i söder (C. W. Böttiger), art song, dedicated to Jenny Lind [also as ‘Die Nordbraut im Süden (Nachtigall schweigt), Romanze’, advertised in Germany in March 1840].
Romanza (‘Une vive et pure tendresse’) G major.
Serenade with accompaniment of piano or guitar (‘När från altanen’) A-flat major.

Voice and guitar
Nordmön i söder (Böttiger), art song.
Serenade with accompaniment of piano or guitar (‘När från altanen’) A-flat major.

Arrangements for voice and guitar
Auber, Daniel-François-Esprit: Nine songs from the opera Hin ondes andel […] set to an easy guitar accompaniment by J. Nagel.
Donizetti, Gaetano: Twelve selected songs from the opera Lucie eller Bruden från Lammermoor set to an easy guitar accompaniment by J. Nagel.

Violin and piano
Adagio religioso et Rondo gioccoso scherzando, 1842 [also in a version for violin and orchestra as movements 2 and 3 in ‘Grand concert’].
3 Salon-Stücke op. 2, advertised in October 1863. 1. Romance, Die Ahnung der Liebe, 2. Elegie, Canto lamentoso [also in a version for violin and orchestra, see above], 3. L’espérance, Lied ohne Worte.
Le charme de l’enfance, introduction et romance pour le violon, composé et dedié à dem. Juliette Délapierre, performed 1863.
La capricciosa, scherzo, advertised July 1870.
Grandes variations à la Paganini, A major, violin and piano [may possible be identical to the work Nisser calls Introduction och variationer med dubbel-flageolett och pizzicato, à la Paganini].
Six petites sonates pour le violon à l’usage des commencants.
Sonatina scherzosa, Allegro di capriccio C major.

Solo violin
En dröm om Neckens preludier, 1882.

Works for violin
with unclear instrumentation in the accompaniment
Adagio on the G-string, performed 1829.
Fantasi över åtskilliga ryska nationalvisor, utförd å G-strängen, performed 23/3 1834.

Duets for violin and cello
Souvenir de Bolltorp, Morceau concertant pour violon et violoncelle, composed by Nagel and Gustaf Adolf d’Arien.

Cecilia, collection of simple pieces for one and two guitars. 1. Duettino A major, two guitars, 2. Duettino D major, two guitars, 3. Fandango, Tempo di polacca, 4. Cantabile, Andante, in stile di preludio, 5. Canon, two guitars, 6. Dystra känslor, Andante con dolore, 7. Wals, 8. La melancolie.
Potpourri för 2ne guitarrer öfver åtskilliga favoritthema ur nyare operor.

Works by Johan Jakob Nagel

There are no works by the composer registered