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8.225105 - LINDBLAD: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
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Adolf Fredrik Lindblad (1801–1878): Symphonies

 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was little to boast about in Swedish music life. Even in the capital Stockholm it was of a very provincial character. This was in great contrast to the rich flowering of the arts a few decades earlier, during the reign of Gustavus III. His son Gustavus IV Adolphus was not interested in art or music. He even had the Opera closed, and had he not been deposed in 1809, the Opera House itself might have been razed to the ground, but the musicians in the Kungliga Hovkapellet, the opera house orchestra, were retained during this period and as such constituted the only professional orchestra in the land, giving concerts of orchestral and chamber music.

A few currents from continental Europe to the south did however reach Stockholm. In the early 1780s Haydn’s symphonies were beginning to be introduced there and towards the end of the decade a symphony by Mozart was performed. One of Beethoven’s first two symphonies was performed in Stockholm for the first time in 1805, although the Eroica had to wait until 1816. There was hardly an indigenous symphonic tradition to speak of in Sweden. A few rather modest works bearing the title sinfonia had been composed during the eighteenth century by Roman and Agrell, and several more by immigrant musicians, above all from Germany. The foremost classical symphonist in Sweden at the time is hardly known even to musicologists; Joachim Nikolas Eggert. His four symphonies have such qualities that they deserve to be in the repertory, even internationally.

At that time symphonies were not something that interested Swedish audiences, unless they were by foreign composers. Ambitious Swedish composers admitted, with the exception of Franz Berwald, that they could not establish themselves as symphonists, a view borne out by actions of audiences and critics. They tended to compose on a smaller scale, above all undemanding songs and piano music. Such intimate music belonged in the homes of the middle class, rather than on the concert platform. Symphonic repertory was heard in such an environment, but not in orchestral form, rather as arrangements for piano duo or duet.

Especially renowned was the circle of the cultural elite that regularly used to gather at the Uppsala home of Malla Silfverstolpe, a colonel’s widow. The most senior of this group was professor of history Erik Gustaf Geijer the elder, the first in a line of poet-musicians to write both text and music to their songs. The romantic poet Atterbom was a regular visitor, and in April 1823 Adolf Fredrik Lindblad was welcomed to Malla’s literary-musical salon for the first time.

Lindblad was from the Swedish province of Östergötland. He learned to play the piano and flute, and at the age of fifteen had a flute concerto of his performed in Norrköping. Shortly after this, however, his well-intentioned foster-father sent him to learn a trade in Hamburg. On his return he divided his time between office work and piano lessons, but when he moved to Uppsala in spring 1823 he had decided to devote himself entirely to music. He received lessons in harmony for a year or so from one of Uppsala University’s director musices, J.C.F. Haeffner, but with Malla Silverstolpe’s help he was able to spend a year in Berlin, where he studied composition with Zelter and struck up a warm friendship with Zelter’s star pupil, the seventeen-year-old Felix Mendelssohn.

Back in Sweden in 1827, Lindblad started a piano school in Stockholm, which he headed until 1861. For many years he was the favoured music-teacher to the Crown Prince, the future Oscar I, and later to the King’s musical children Prince Gustavus and Princess Eugenie, both of whom also composed.

After only a year at Uppsala Lindblad had his first works published. The first was a collection os songs by him and his older friend Geijer. By the end of the 1820s he was composing the songs, romanser, Lieder or simple folk-songs that made him hugely popular during his life, and for which he is especially remembered today. He wrote over 200 such songs, supplying his own texts to more than a third of them, mostly strophic and idyllic in character. Without drawing directly on folk-music they seem genuinely ‘Swedish’.

Early on, however, Lindblad the composer aspired to music that would place much greater demand on him and those who would perform it and on the audiences that would hear it. In 1831 he completed a Symphony in C major. The first movement was performed the same year at the Riddarhuset in Stockholm, but the first complete performance of the symphony took place in the same location on 25 March 1832. The Symphony is an impressive début, of imposing proportions, so that with all repeats observed it takes around 40 minutes to perform. It is clear that Lindblad was inspired by models from the Viennese school of Classicism. One recognises the Mozart of Mozart’s lasts symphonies, on occasions in almost literally borrowed motifs and phrases. Here and there one is reminded of Haydn and more often of the early symphonies of Beethoven. The movements are well-crafted in form and thematic material. Lindblad realised that the kind of pretty melody he so naturally fashioned for his songs would not be especially suitable for symphonic development, even in the slow third movement, and that a different kind of thematic material was called for, Lindblad’s excellent orchestrations surprise, for as far as is known he never had any formal training in writing for an orchestra.

Lindblad’s Symphony No. 1 was very coolly received in Stockholm. There was no market for symphonies during the first decades of the nineteenth century. Franz Berwald, who was five years older than Lindblad, had already discovered this. His Symphony in A major was given a single performance in 1821 and received scathing criticism. He was later to meet even more stubborn resistance to his music.

Berwald lived in Berlin during the 1830s, where he was a failure as a composer of opera but made a successful living as an orthopaedic surgeon. Of the four magnificent symphonies he composed in the 1840s only one was performed during his lifetime. This illustrates the lack of faith in the abilities of Swedish composers to write symphonies, as well as the wide-spread prejudice and lack of interest from audiences and critics. However Berwald’s harsh treatment at home can partly be explained by his own personality and arrogant behaviour. Although they both lived in Stockholm at the same time for many years, Berwald and Lindblad seldom had much to do with each other. In contrast to Berwald, Lindblad was an extremely charming and enthusiastic man, attracting the attention of many ladies in his circle. The much older Malla Silverstolpe fell deeply in love with him, and an affair with his pupil, the young Jenny Lind, looked almost certain to destroy Lindblad’s marriage at one stage.

The reception given to Lindblad’s Symphony in C major in Stockholm caused his friend Erik Gustaf Geijer to mount a sharp attack on Swedish musical tastes and the ignorant pack of critics. Lindblad later obtained some redness when the Symphony was played at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under Mendelssohn and later received a very positive review from Robert Schumann in the leading German music journal. This resulted in the publication of the Symphony by the distinguished publishers Breitkopf & Härtel.

Following the meagre success of his opera Frondörerna (The Rebels) at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Lindblad’s desire to compose on a grand scale waned. He was content to be celebrated by the great Swedish public as ‘the father of Swedish song’ or (less appropriately) ‘a Swedish Schubert’, that is for the popularity of his songs. For his own enjoyment, however, and for those in private circles in the capital who cultivated chamber music on a high amateur level, he composed several works; between seven and ten string quartets, three violin sonatas, a couple of string quintets, a piano trio and some small pieces for piano. Very little of this instrumental music is known, much less available in print, but those who have come across it have found it well-crafted and pleasing.

It took many years and much effort on the part of Foroni, director of the Hovkapellet, to persuade Lindblad to write another symphony. Symphony No. 2 in D major was first performed on 6 May 1855 during a very long concert which also included, amongst other items, Beethoven’s Ninth. It is perhaps not surprising that in such a context Lindblad’ Second seemed somewhat pale and insignificant to the audience and that no publisher deemed it fit for publication. Artistically, however, Lindblad’s Symphony No. 2 is in no way inferior to his First Symphony. It is very well constructed. The instrumentation is just as elegant, his mastery of form greater and the counterpoint more striking. The thematic material is carefully chosen. The musical language does not have a specifically nationalist colour, still basing itself on Mozart and Beethoven, but romantic influences now come more clearly to the fore; traces of Mendelssohn and Schumann can be heard. In the Scherzo there are elements which remind one of Berwald; quite by chance, for when would Lindblad have had the opportunity to hear Berwald’s orchestral music, or even to study a score? Perhaps the symphony’s closing moments sound familiar? Of course, it is Mozart. Cherubinio’s aria from Act I of Le nozze di Figaro.


English Version: Andrew Smith


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