ClassicsOnline Home » BERWALD: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 / Piano Concerto
Franz Berwald (1796 - 1868)
Symphony No.3 in C major (Sinfonie singulière)
Piano Concerto in D major
Symphony No.4 in E flat major (Sinfonie naïve)
The Swedish composer Franz Berwald was the most distinguished of a musical dynasty of German origin. Johann Daniel Berwald, who died in 1691, served as a town musician in Neumarkt. His son Johann Gottfried, born in 1679, was Kunstpfeifer in Königsberg, and his own son, the flautist Johann Friedrich Berwald, after appointments in Copenhagen and Hohenaspe, joined in 1770 the Mecklenburg-Schwerin orchestra in Ludwigslust and fathered a number of musicians among the twenty-five children from his four marriages. One of his sons, Johann Gottfried, born in Copenhagen in 1737, studied with Franz Benda and served as a violinist at Ludwigslust before moving to St Petersburg, where he settled until his death in 1814. Another son, Christian Friedrich Georg, born at Hohenaspe in 1740, also studied in Berlin with Benda and in 1772 settled in Stockholm as a violinist and member of the Court Orchestra from 1773 to 1806. A third brother Georg Johann Abraham, a violinist and bassoonist, born in Schleswig in 1758, joined the Swedish Court Orchestra in 1782 and continued there until 1798, when he left for a concert tour, after which he settled in St Petersburg. His son Johan Fredrik, born in Stockholm in 1787, won early distinction as a violinist and as a composer. He accompanied his father to Russia and from 1808 to 1812 was soloist, in succession to Rode, with the Russian imperial orchestra. In 1814 he returned to Stockholm to serve in the court orchestra as a violinist and from 1823 to 1849 as Kapellmeister.
Franz Berwald was born in 1796 in Stockholm, the son of Christian Friedrich Georg. His younger brother Christian August served as a violinist in the court orchestra from 1815 and as its leader from 1834 to 1861. Franz Berwald followed family tradition as a violinist, a pupil of his father, and joined the court orchestra in 1812, continuing there until 1828. He also appeared as a soloist and in 1819 toured Finland and Russia with his brother Christian August. Meanwhile he was winning something of a reputation as a composer, in particular with a symphony, now partly lost, and a Violin Concerto in C sharp minor, written in 1819, following his earlier Theme and Variations for violin and orchestra, composed in 1816, and a Double Violin Concerto that he had performed with his brother. In 1827 he completed his Konsertstycke for bassoon and orchestra and turned his attention to an opera on the subject of Gustaf Vasa, a work that he never finished, while other attempts at the form from this period were either left incomplete or are now lost.
In 1829 Berwald was at last awarded a scholarship for study abroad and moved to Berlin, where he took lessons in counterpoint, but at the same time developed his interest in medicine. The early 1830s found him occupied abortively with operatic composition, but in 1835 he opened his own orthopaedic institute, an enterprise that enjoyed some success during the next six years, until he decided in 1841 to sell the institute and move to Vienna. There he continued to pursue his medical interests, while turning his attention to a new opera, his tenth attempt at the form, Estrella de soria. In 1842 there was a successful concert of his music in Vienna, with new works, Minnen från Norska Fjellen (Memories of the Norwegian Mountains), Elfenlek (Elves' Play) and Ein humoristisches Capriccio. In hope of similar success, he returned in the same year to Stockholm, where he staged a further concert of his music, including parts of his new opera.
It was now, in Stockholm in the 1840s, that Berwald turned his attention seriously to building his reputation as a composer. This was the period of his four surviving symphonies, the first, the Sinfonie sérieuse, first performed with indifferent success in Stockholm in 1842 under the direction of his cousin Johan Fredrik, no better received than the operetta Jag går i kloster (I will enter a convent) or, in the following year, the operetta Modehandlerskan (The Modiste). He returned to Vienna in 1846 but his three years there led to nothing, although he was appointed an honorary member of the Salzburg Mozarteum and won some occasional successes with his compositions.
In Sweden again in 1849 Berwald failed in his attempt to secure a position as director of music at the University of Uppsala and was equally unsuccessful when he sought to succeed his cousin as conductor of the court orchestra. 1850 brought a further change of direction, when he became manager of a glass factory at Sandö in the north of Sweden, a position offered him by a friend. He later extended his business interests to include a sawmill, but was able to spend some of his time in Stockholm, where he could continue to pursue his musical interests, in particular by the composition of chamber music, and, in 1855, a Piano Concerto for his pupil Hilda Thegerström. In 1859 he gave up his work at the glass factory and was now able to devote more time to music and to varied occasional writing on a variety of subjects. As a composer he turned largely to chamber music. His opera Estrella de Soria was in 1862 staged at the Royal Opera, where it won modest success, and two years later he completed his last opera Drottningen av Golconda (The Queen of Golconda). He died in Stockholm in 1868.
Berwald's position in Sweden as a composer was never in his life-time secure. He failed to win appointment to the positions he desired in the musical establishment of his time. His four surviving symphonies, one of them realised from an existing short score, occupy an important place in the history of the symphony in the nineteenth century, works that, while essentially classical in outlook, nevertheless look forward, through their harmonic originality, to a new world. His symphonic achievement is echoed in his later chamber music, notably in the two Piano Quintets of the 1850s. His life spanned a period of remarkable change. Born a year before Schubert, he died a year before Berlioz, twenty-one years after the death of Mendelssohn, whom he had met and failed to impress in Berlin in 1830.
The Sinfonie singulière, in C major, was written in 1845 and given its first public performance on 10th January 1905 under the Swedish conductor, violinist and composer Tor Aulin, who also saw to the work's later publication. The symphony, regarded by many as the best of the four, has an effective first movement, by turns lyrical and dramatic. Its second movement, an Adagio, encloses a Scherzo. The opening has a finely drawn melody, entrusted largely to the violins, before the burden is passed to the woodwind. A startling drum-beat intrudes, to usher in the lively Scherzo, marked Allegro assai. The return of the Adagio occurs, as in the earlier transition, with a brief string linking passage, but all too soon the movement comes to an end, to give way to the stormy opening of the final Presto, through which the sun soon shines, to lead eventually to final triumph.
Berwald's Piano Concerto in D major was completed, it seems, in November 1855 for the composer's piano pupil Hilda Aurora Thegerström, later a pupil of Marmontel and Liszt. The work was apparently not played until 1904, when Berwald's grand-daughter Astrid performed it at a Stockholm student concert. It was, however, entered anonymously and posthumously, in 1872, into a competition held by the Stockholm Musikaliska konstföreningen, presumably by Berwald's son Hjalmar. Following the rules of the competition, in which success would have led to publication, the concerto was given a title, Animus et mens. Comments by the judges, Julius Rietz, Niels W. Gade and Albert Rubenson, were generally favourable, although the first found an excess of passage-work in the outer movements. When the name of the composer was revealed, however, any question of publication came to an end. The association was bound to consider only the work of living Swedish or Norwegian composers.
The first movement shows the assurance and maturity that the Musikaliska konstföreningen committee had recognised. The solo entry, after an eight-bar introduction, establishes the dominance of the instrument, which soon leads to a quieter lyrical theme. Busy passage-work is followed eventually by the romantic second subject. The central development leads to the return of the first opening material and the subsequent scampering passage-work that leads finally to the G minor Andantino, where the piano remains dominant, ushering in a G major central section, opening with plucked string accompaniment, but returning before long to the key and thematic material of the first section of the movement. The soloist bursts into energetic activity in the last movement, which introduces whimsical contrasting material, moving forward to a brilliant conclusion in a display of bravura that should have made this among the most popular of romantic piano concertos, on a par with the concertos of Schumann or of Grieg.
Berwald's Symphony in E flat major was completed in Stockholm in April 1845 but had its first performance in Stockholm only in 1878 under Ludwig Norman, a champion of Berwald's music. The original title of the work, Sinfonie naïve, was dropped by the composer, presumably to avoid misunderstanding when he tried unsuccessfully to interest François Auber, director of the Paris Conservatoire, in a performance of the work in Paris, although Auber had been compelled to decline an earlier application. It seems, however, that he had promised a performance of the symphony at the Conservatoire but that this was prevented by the disturbances of 1848 in Paris. Berwald's intended title for the work, Sinfonie naïve, had, of course, no pejorative implication, but suggested to him a work that was simple and natural; he had himself used the same word of Mozart.
The first movement follows the traditional tripartite pattern, with contrasting thematic material, a central development and a return to the opening theme, with its ascending cello figure, in recapitulation, followed by the syncopation of the secondary theme. The movement ends with a brief postlude for the strings alone. For the Adagio there is a shift of key to D major. The same initial thematic material exists in an arrangement for organ duet from the tone-poem A Rustic Wedding, written in 1844. The opening theme of the first violin is taken up by flute and clarinet, answered again by Grieg-like harmonies in the strings. The principal theme is based on a descending figure that is closely related to the ascending cello figure of the first movement, which had there undergone a similar inversion. The key changes to B flat major for the lightly scored Scherzo, its initial material based on a descending scale and contrasting with a short Trio in E flat, which it frames. The final Allegro vivace introduces strong dynamic contrasts. It is not long before the first violins introduce a graceful theme, taken up by flute and oboe. The material is developed and returns in recapitulation, after which the first violins lead the way to a final Più mosso, bringing the symphony to a brilliant and triumphant conclusion.
Niklas Sivelöv was born in Skellefteå in Sweden in 1968 and started his career as an organist, winning awards and prizes throughout Sweden. At the age of fourteen he turned his attention to the piano and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockhom, making his début in Stockholm in 1991, when he was the soloist with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the Second Piano Concerto of Bartók. He continued his studies in Helsinki, Bucharest and London, while winning prizes in international competitions in Geneva and Cincinnati and in 1994 the Swedish Golden Apple Award. Niklas Sivelöv was in 1995 Artist in Residence with Swedish Radio Stockholm and has won a gradual reputation also as a composer. He has a wide concert repertoire, with concertos ranging from those of Rachmaninov to Lutoslawski and Ligeti. The composers Einar Englund and Anders Eliasson had dedicated piano concertos to him.
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is one of the oldest orchestras in Sweden, founded in 1912. It was originally of the size of a chamber orchestra but today numbers some 51 musicians, giving some sixty concerts a year, in Helsingborg and the southern areas of Sweden. In 1988 the orchestra undertook its first foreign tour with a visit to Berlin, followed by tours to Poland and the then Czechoslovakia and subsequently to the United States of America and to Spain. The German conductor Hans-Peter Frank directed the orchestra throughout the 1980s and in 1991 Okko Kamu was appointed chief conductor.
Okko Kamu first came to attention as a conductor when he won, at the age of 22, the Herbert von Karajan conducting competition This triumph was followed by engagements with the most famous orchestras in the major musical capitals of the world. Okko Kamu has held the position of chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Orchestra, the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and was recently appointed chief conductor of the Finnish National Opera House in Helsinki, a position to be assumed in 1996. He is a member of the Royal Swedish Music Academy and has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, RCA, Ondine, Caprice and BIS, in addition to his work for Naxos.