Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand (1757−1834)


Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand was born in Algiers on 14 July 1757 and died in Stockholm on 23 August 1834. He was an army officer (general in 1820) and a member of parliament, cabinet minister, and the governor of Stockholm 1810–12. In 1788 he became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, where he was president 1799–1800, 1811–13 and 1815–34. He was also a member of several other royal academies, including the Swedish Academy. Skjöldebrand was knighted in 1814. Versatile and talented, Skjöldebrand was a composer, writer and visual artist. He wrote mainly operettas – several to his own librettos – and incidental music.


Early life and education

Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand was born on 14 July 1757 in Algiers, where his father was the Swedish consul. It was only after returning to Sweden for the knighting of his father, that the family name was changed to Skjöldebrand. Skjöldebrand’s mother was Scottish, but she was born in Italy and raised in England. She taught him Italian, English and French, and he spoke Latin and some Swedish with his father. His childhood impressions and experiences furthered his development and all-round talent. Already as a five year old, he learned to play the violin and piano. A literary education and ‘knightly virtues’ such as riding and fencing were part of his upbringing. In 1765, when Anders Fredrik was eight years old, the family left Algiers and returned to Sweden via Italy, where he was taught music by the composer and violinist Pietro Nardini, and learned to read Latin classics. Inspired by the stormy weather on the journey across the Mediterranean, he began painting watercolours. He would eventually learn to draw and make engravings.

After eight years of schooling in Stockholm, Skjöldebrand moved to Uppsala in 1773, where he studied Latin and accompanied professor Carl Linnaeus on his botanical walks. The following year, Skjöldebrand left Uppsala to pursue a military career, joining the Östgöta kavelleriregimente (the Östgöta cavalry regiment).

Military and political career

Skjöldebrand was on active military duty until 1815, with the exception of a longer leave from 1797−1808. He also had a political career, both as a member of parliament and in other capacities. After Sweden’s loss of Finland to Russia in 1809, several soldiers and politicians – including Skjöldebrand – became discontented with King Gustav IV Adolf. This resulted in the King being deposed in a coup on 13 March 1809, with Skjöldebrand then being given the delicate task of deporting the King and his family from Sweden. Skjöldebrand represented Sweden at the peace negotiations with Russia in 1809 and signed the Convention of Moss, the ceasefire agreement with Norway in 1814. In 1815 he was appointed minister.

1810–12 Skjöldebrand was the governor of Stockholm. During this period he was also the director of Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera). Skjöldebrand thus influenced the decision to play Mozart's music for the first time on a Swedish stage: The Magic Flute was performed for the first time at the Royal Opera on 30 May 1812.

The Fine Arts

Skjöldebrand had both literary and artistic ambitions. After the death of his first wife in 1780, he worked through his grief by writing poems. His authorship came to include historical narratives, plays, librettos and travel books. Skjöldebrand wrote a diary during the naval battle of Öland in 1789, Marsch och segling, which he illustrated with watercolours. During the 1820’s, he wrote his memoirs. His best known literary work, which included several of his own engravings, is Voyage pittoresque au Cap du Nord (1801–02).

Skjöldebrand was also musically gifted. He composed, played the violin in the music societies Utile Dulci and the Harmoniska sällskapet, and played the piano and sang at bourgeois salon concerts. He was also a member of the Nytta och Nöje Society. This society had its premises at the Kirsteinska Huset, where several of Skjöldebrand’s theatrical works were also performed. He was chairman of the Society 1802–05.

In 1788 Skjöldebrand was elected as a member to the Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music). He served as the academy’s president three times: 1799−1800, 1811−1813 and 1815−1834. He made his greatest contribution to the Academy in 1830. King Charles XIV John namely had plans to found a new conservatory of music, incorporating the Academy, thus resulting in its loss of independence. Through skilful argumentation, Skjöldebrand was able to prevent the proposal, which he felt was unnecessary and expensive.

Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand died of cholera on 23 August 1834.


When the German composer Georg Joseph Vogler visited Stockholm in 1786, Skjöldebrand became one of his composition and music theory students. It is said that they spent time together daily and according to his own statements, Skjöldebrand revised Vogler’s music theory book, Inledning till harmoniens kännedom. The play Herman von Unna was also a collaboration between the two: Skjöldebrand wrote the libretto based on a German novel, and Vogler composed the music.

Skjöldebrand almost exclusively composed works for the stage. He probably also wrote several minor compositions for specific occasions – such as repertoire for bourgeois salons – that have not survived to the present day. However, several piano arrangements of songs from his stage works were printed in the music magazine Musikaliskt tidsfördriv. He also wrote a cantata, Kantat vid prinsen av Vasas födelse, for orchestra, soloists and choir. It is a solemn work, with a simple, yet effective orchestration.

His theatrical works include operas, operettas, incidental music, and a melodrama. According to Barbara Jacob, many of his works are in the older style of the First Viennese School, with figures ‘articulated as in a Mozart symphony.’ The accompaniment often supports the text, drums and trumpets add a military atmosphere, the choruses and even the arias are reminiscent of folk tunes. In the operetta Det kantiska giftermålet there is an aria in a balladic da capo form which is directly inspired by Mozart. There are also examples of a compositional style consisting of layers upon layers, similar to that of Gluck, and his overture to the operetta Rudolf is remarkably similar to a Haydn symphony.

For his last opera, the tragedy Hjalmar, Skjöldebrand composed not only the music, but also wrote the libretto and designed the sets. According to Skjöldebrand’s contemporary Pehr Frigel, the music ‘flows comfortably’, and the opera itself is both ‘deeply moving’ and ‘orchestrated successfully’. The music to Skjöldebrand’s play Carl XII:s död was his last musical work. It consists of a ‘heavy and stately’ overture, a chorus, and interlude music. Again, as for his opera Hjalmar, Skjöldebrand designed the sets for this tragedy in five acts.

Veslemøy Heintz © 2016
Trans. Thalia Thunander


Beskow, Bernhard von, Åminnelsetal öfver framlidne en af rikets herrar, generalen, statsrådet ...  A F Skjöldebrand, hållet vid presidii nedläggande uti Kongl Vitterhets- Historie- och Antiquitetsakademien den 12 januari 1836, Stockholm, 1836.
Burius, Anders, ‘Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 32, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 2003−06, p. 447.
Carlsson, Sten, ‘Skjöldebrand, Anders Fredrik’, in: Svenska män och kvinnor: biografisk uppslagsbok, vol. 7, Sibylla–Tjällgren, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1954.
Jacob, Barbara: ‘Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand: hans liv och gärning med särskild hänsyn till hans musik’, bachelor thesis in musicology, Stockholm University, 1973.
Ling, Per Henrik, ‘Inträdestal hållet i Svenska akademien [över A.F. Skjöldebrand]’, in: Svenska akademiens handlingar ifrån år 1796, D. 16, Stockholm, 1836.
Morales, Olallo & Tobias Norlind, Kungl. Musikaliska akademien 1771−1921: minnesskrift, Stockholm: Lagerström, 1921.


Uppsala University Library , Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Nordiska museet Stockholm, Riksarkivet Stockholm - the Swedish National Archives, Kalmar City Library ( Stifts- och läroverksbiblioteket departments).

Summary list of works

2 operas (Warbeck, Hjalmar), three operettas (Rudolf, Det kantiska giftermålet, Siri), incidental music (Riddarekorset [lost], Tancredo och Clorinda, Carl den XIIs död), Cantata (Kantat vid prinsens af Wasa födelse), a song, a chorale [lost], three marches for wind ensemble, piano arrangements of pieces from his incidental works.

Collected works

Warbeck, tragedy.
Hjalmar,  tragedy.

Det kantiska giftermålet.

Incidental music
Riddareordet [lost].
Tancredo och Clorinda, melodrama.
Carl XII:s död, tragedy.

Works for soloist, choir and orchestra
Cantata for the birth of the Prince af Wasa.

Works for winds
Three marches.

Overture, March and Andante from Warbeck.
Andantino from Rudolf.
Entreakt [violin and piano], music for act III, scene 3, Marche till templet, Marche Ouverture [4 h] from Hjalmar.

Aria, ‘Mitt mod, min fordna eld försvinner...’.
Aria, ‘Olyckliga maka’ from Warbeck.
Aria, ‘I som beslutadt att följa min fana’ from Warbeck.