Ferdinand Zellbell d.y. (1719−1780)


Ferdinand Zellbell the younger was christened on 3 September 1719 in Stockholm, where he also died on 21 April 1780. Composer, organist, harpsichordist, violinist, conductor and teacher. Co-founder of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and director of its educational institution, and one of the leading music personalities of the Age of Liberty. Son of Ferdinand Zellbell the elder.


Together with Johan Helmich Roman, Per Brant, Hindrich Philip Johnsen and Francesco Antonio Uttini, Ferdinand Zellbell the younger was one of the leading music personalities of the Age of Liberty. His life was shared between his duties as an organist at the Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral), and at the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) as a violinist and later as its chief conductor; in addition he conducted the public concerts know as the kavaljerskonserterna (the cavalier concerts). He served under three kings: Fredrik I, Adolf Fredrik and Gustav III. 

Zellbell was the only professional musician among the founders of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1771, and as the director of its educational institution from 1771 to 1774 he was responsible for training singers and musicians. He made considerable contributions in this field. His most famous student was Olof Åhlström, the composer, pianist, organist and music publisher.

Zellbell was educated by his father, Ferdinand Zellbell the elder (1689−1765), and served as his substitute at the Storkyrkan as an organist before succeeding him in 1753, at first with a shared salary, and from 1765 on full pay. He also studied for Johan Helmich Roman. In 1739−41, in his youth, he studied in Niedersachsen for teachers including Georg Philip Telemann in Hamburg. A second sojourn abroad followed in 1758−59, when his opera Il giudizio d’Aminta was performed in St Petersburg.

The restricted means of the court and the civil service forced postulants to accept additional unpaid duties. Zellbell consequently served as such in 1736−38 and 1742−48. Through his father’s intervention, he served in the Hovkapellet without salary, was given the title hovkapellmästare (chief conductor of Hovkapellet) and concertmaster in 1750, but not until 1758 was he paid for these extraordinary duties, until 1778, when Gustav III transferred him to the pension list.

In addition to his court duties, Zellbell arranged some 60 public concerts in the hall of the Riddarhuset (the House of Nobility), among them the concert to the memory of Johan Helmich Roman on 30 May 1767. From 1769, he led the orchestra formed by Patrick Alströmer for the kavaljerkonserterna. He died childless and impecunious, but left a violin, some keyboard instruments, a collection of scores and an important book collection.


As a composer, Zellbell’s works are linked to the church and the court, but also to such orders as the Freemasons, to which he was elected in 1758, and public concert work. Some of the works he mentions in his autobiography have been lost. His orchestral work is sometimes hard to tell apart from his fathers. The general style of the time has raised other questions of authenticity. Consequently, a flute concerto has been determined as a work of Johan Helmich Roman, and a Symphony in A major as written by Andrea Bernasconi or Giovanni Battista Lampugnani. A violin concerto is of uncertified authenticity.

Opera and other stage music

Zellbell’s greatest success as a composer is his opera Il giudizio d’Aminta, written for the Russian Empress Elisabeth’s birthday on 18 December 1758. Together with Patrick Alströmer − and at his expense − he travelled to St Petersburg to try his luck at the court there, since he felt he was being impeded at the court in Stockholm. The Empress favoured Italian opera. Lodovico Lazzaroni wrote the libretto. The music was written for Giovanni Battista Locatelli’s opera company, which had founded Russia’s first permanent opera ensemble the same year. The part of Aminta was sung by the castrato Signor Massi. The string orchestra was reinforced by wind and kettle-drum, and a strong basso continuo group. The opera is written in a light Italian style, with a symphony introducing each act, accompanying recitatives and da capo arias, with coloraturas in the middle movement. On his return to Stockholm in 1759, Zellbell conducted concert performances at the Riddarhuset for the next three years, and once more in 1766.

Only the overture remains of the opéra-ballet Sveas Högtid eller De fria konsternas vördnadsoffer åt dygerna, with a libretto by G. F. Gyllenborg, first performed at the Riddarhuset on 23 March 1774. It is in D major, with a large ensemble of wind and kettledrum, identical to Symphony no. 5 in the Utile Dulci collection.

As chief conductor of the Hovkapellet and director of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien who could supply with singers and musicians, Zellbell was commissioned by Gustav III to compose an opera with a text adapted by Johan Wellander, but the commission was passed on to Francesco Uttini.


Zellbell’s cantatas and arias for voice and ensemble/orchestra were usually composed for special occasions: the ‘operetta’ Där mildhet spiran för, with text by H.C. Nordenflycht and a final chorus, was written for Fredrik I’s birthday on April 17 1750. That year also saw Psalm 37: Befalla Herranom tin väg, a duet for two violins and basso continuo. The cantata Auf, Zion, auf, in church style for bass and a large orchestra was written for the consecration of the Protestant Anna Church in St Petersburg on 8 November 1758; the aria with orchestra Wår Kung, wår Bror wår Far, with lyrics by J. Fant, was written for the obsequies given for Adolf Fredrik at the Freemasons’ Lodge on 11 September 1771. Another cantata, whose lyricist is unknown, is Att wara fri för fel for two traverse flutes and basso continuo, written in 1763. For a 1764 performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Zellbell arranged two chorals for choir and strings (colla parte).

Other cantatas indicated by Zellbell in his autobiography have been lost: a cantata as an homage to his father (1741), the 1743 anniversary music for Jacobs Kyrka (St James’s Church) called Andakts upmuntran, ‘ceremonial music’ for Timmermansorden (The Worshipful Company of Carpenters), and three operettes written for the arrival of Crown Prince Adolf Fredrik to Sweden in 1743, Prince Gustav’s birthday in 1747 and Prince Karl’s saint’s day in 1749, respectively.

Orchestral music

Lennart Hedwall calls the violoncello concerto in D major, composed in Hannover in 1741, ‘a remarkable masterpiece’ marked with musicianship. The autograph of an undated bassoon concerto in A minor contains its first virtuoso movement. It was clearly meant to comprise the usual three movements. An overture in D major for the string orchestra instrumentation of the period with basso continuo was copied in 1742 by a member of the Hovkapellet, J.D. Gudenschwager. Five three-movement sinfonias for the same ensemble in Neapolitan style in D major, C major, D minor, D minor and D major can be found in the Utile Dulci collection, and were probably used in its concert activities (from 1766 on).

A Lamento in C minor for oboe, obbligato bassoon and string orchestra was performed for the obsequies of Adolf Fredrik at Riddarhuset (the House of Nobility) on 3 May 1771. A solemn Introduzzione in G minor was written for a similar instrumentation. The lost Musica marina al turchese eller Turkisk WattnMusique, dating from 1762, contained both Eastern and other instruments, with music related to the chinoiseries of the time.

Organ and keyboard music

It was already at the age of 11 or so that Zellbell began filling in as an organist for his father at Storkyrkan. Some preludes, mainly intonations to chorales, are still extant. Some small keyboard pieces from his mature period are preserved in some of the music books of the time, including an Allegro in G major and polonaises and other dance music.

Convivial songs

Zellbell’s contribution for voice and harpsichord in the appendix to Erik Skjöldebrand’s 1768 Gustaviade consists of ‘Hon på en blomsterbädd wid Grottans dörr sig sänkte’ and ‘En blomsterbrudsäng nu Naturen huldt beredde’. These are the only works of Zellbell’s to be printed. Other gallant accompaniment music with parodic lyrics are ‘Ach tysta enslighet hos dig är liuft att blifwa’, ‘Alla Lamben för mig dödde och min trogna hund förswan’, and ‘Snälla tid du bortrymmer’.

Zellbell’s style

The music is marked by the transition from baroque to gallant style, with baroque features in the church music, in pompous introductory movements to cantatas and fugue parts in the symphonies. Lennart Hedwall has noted the union between suite and sonata in the symphonies. Zellbell was especially interested in differentiated terraced dynamics. His contemporaries found his music erudite, but perfunctory. Posterity has noted a certain angularity in musical structure and clumsiness in implementing ideas.

Jan Olof Rudén © 2013
Trans. Martin Thomson

Publications by the composer

‘Lefvernes beskrifning och meritlista’, dated Stockholm 17 October 1764 on his investment at the Timmermansorden (The Worshipful Company of Carpenters).


Bengtsson, Britta: 1751 års män. Anteckningar om amatörer och hovkapellister vid 'Kongl. Begrafnings och Kongl. Krönings Musiquerne år 1751'. Stockholm: Statens musikbibliotek, 2001, pp. 120−121.
Bengtsson, Ingmar: 'Zellbell', in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 14, Kassel, Bärenreiter, p. 968.
'Zellbell', in Sohlmans musiklexikon, 2. ed., vol. 5, 1979, pp. 872−873.
Fagius, Hans
: Preface to the edition Ferdinand Zellbell d.y.: Preludier. Stockholm: Verbum musik, 1986.
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik, Uppsala: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, 2006, pp. 284−285.
Haeger, Ellika
: 'Anteckningar om Ferdinand Zellbell d.y. och hans vokalmusik', in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 34, 1952, pp. 60−83.
Hedwall, Lennart
: 'Hovmusik och konsert', in Musiken i Sverige, vol. 2, Stockholm 1993, pp. 61−88, especially pp. 77−78.
: 'Den yngre Zellbell', in Den svenska symfonin. Stockholm (1983) pp. 48−50.
Karle, Gunhild
: 'Kapellmästaren och organisten Ferdinand Zellbell d.y.', in Kungl. Hovmusiken i Stockholm och dess utövare 1697−1771, Uppsala, 2002, pp. 277−294.
Malmros, Bertil
: Preface to the edition Il giudizio d'Aminta: dramma per musica in due parte: St. Petersburg 1758, Älgarås: Gran Tonante, 2009.
Nisser, Carl
: Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830: Nominalkatalog, Stockholm, 1943.
Sundström, Einar
: 'Ferdinand Zellbell d.y. och hans opera Il Giudizio d'Aminta', in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 1, 1919, pp. 58−69.
Boer j.r., Bertil H. van (eds)
: The symphony in Sweden, vol. 2, New York: Garland, 1983.
Tegen, Martin
: 'Fem solokonserter från den svenska rokokon', liner notes to Solo Concertos, Musica Sveciae MSCD 411, Stockholm, 1994.
Åberg, Bertil: '
En självbiografi av Ferdinand Zellbell den yngre', Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, 1980:2, pp. 51−55.
Walin, Stig:
Beiträge zur Geschichte der schwedischen Sinfonik: Studien aus dem Musikleben des 18. und des beginnenden 19. Jahrhunderts, diss., Uppsala universitet, 1941.
: Kungl. Svenska musikaliska akademien: förhistoria, första stadgar och instiftande: en studie i det musikaliska bildningsväsendets historia i Sverige, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet1945.


Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Musikmuseet Stockholm, Kungliga Biblioteket Stockholm, Skara stifts- och landsbibliotek, Strängnäs stifts- och landsbibliotek, Kalmar läns museum, Lunds universitetsbibliotek

Summary list of works

1 opera (Il giudizio d’Aminta), orchestral works (5 symphonies, overtures, etc.), 2 solo concertos (1 violin concerto, 1 bassoon concerto), 4 cantatas/arias (Där mildhet spiran för, Auf, Zion auf, Att wara fri för fel, Wår Kung, wår Bror, wår Far), organ music, keyboard music, convivial songs. In addition, a number of lost works.

Collected works

Il giudizio d’Aminta (L. Lazzaroni). First performed 18 December 1768 in St Petersburg.


Ouvertyr in D major for string orchestra, 21 April 1742.
Sinfonia in D major for string orchestra.
Sinfonia in C major for string orchestra.
Sinfonia in D minor for string orchestra.
Sinfonia in D minor for string orchestra.
Sinfonia in D for string orchestra.
Lamento in C minor for oboe, bassoon, muted string orchestra, first performed 3 May 1771.
Ouvertyr in D major (= Sinfonia no. 5) for orchestra to the opera-ballet Sveas Högtid eller de fria konsternas vördnadsoffer åt dygderna. First performed 23 March 1774.
Introduzzione in G minor for 2 oboes, bassoon, string orchestra, transcript 1781.

Solo instrument and orchestra
Concerto in D major for violoncello, tr. Hannover 1741.
Concerto in A minor for bassoon, 1 movement.

Solo, choir and orchestra

Där mildhet spiran för (H. C. Nordenflycht) in G major for soprano and string orchestra, first performed 17 April 1750.
Duetto Befalla Herranom tin wäg (Ps. 37,5), cantata in D major for 2 sopranos, 2 violins, basso continuo, 1750.
Auf, Zion, auf!, cantata in D major for bass and large orchestra, cantata First performed 8 November 1758 in St Petersburg.
Att wara fri för fel, cantata in D major for soprano, 2 flutes, violoncello and basso continuo, 1763.
Wår kung. wår bror, wår far (J. Fant), aria for alto, 2 flutes, string orchestra, first performed 11 September 1771.

Choir and orchestra

2 chorales in Pergolesis Stabat mater with string orchestra, 1764.


Air in C major.
Aria in C minor.
Aria with four variations in E minor.
Minuet in F major.
Murky in G minor.
Murky in C minor, 1773.
Polonaise in C major.
Allegro in G major.
Prelude: Poco allegro in D minor.
Sonata in G major in one movement.


Prelude in A major.
Prelude in F major.
Prelude in D minor.
Prelude in B-flat major.
Prelude in G minor.
Prelude in E minor.
Prelude in D major.


Hon på en blomsterbädd wid Grottans dörr sig sänkte, En blomsterbrudsäng nu Naturen huldt beredde, (both with lyricist unknown) publ. 1768 in the insert to Gustaviade by Erik Skjöldebrand.
Aria Snälla tid du bortrymmer (lyricist unknown).
Ach tysta enslighet hos dig är liuft att blifwa (lyricist unknown).
Alla Lamben för mig dödde och min trogna hund förswan (lyricist unknown).
Såta wän har döden brutit (lyricist unknown).

Works by Ferdinand Zellbell d.y.

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 9