About this Recording
8.553051 - BERWALD: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
English 

Franz Berwald (1796 -1868)

Franz Berwald (1796 -1868)

Overture to Estrella de Soria

Symphony No.1 in G minor, Sinfonia serieuse

Symphony No.2 in D major, Sinfonie capricieuse

 

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 Konigsberg, 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 unti11798, 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 unti11828. 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 fran Norska Fjellen (Memories of the Norwegian Mountains), Elfenlek (Elves' Play) and Ein humoristisches Capriccio. He now returned to Stockholm, where he staged a further concert of his music, including parts of his new opera, hoping for similar success.

 

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 serieuse, first performed with indifferent success in Stockholm in 1842 under the direction of his cousin

Johan Fredrik, no better received than the operetta Jag gar 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 Sando 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 interest, in particular by the composition of chamber music, and, in 1855, a Piano Concerto for his pupil Hilda Thegerstrom. 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 opera Estrella de Soria was apparently written in Vienna in 1841, using a German text by Otto Prechtler. Whatever private performances may have been given in Vienna, and Berwald's wife Mathilde records one such performance in the presence of Franz Grillparzer on 11th October 1841, the only public performance of the opera in the life-time of the composer was given in Stockholm in 1862 in a version that was partly revised for the occasion. In a letter to a friend Berwald mentions the fact that Liszt had offered three years before to stage the work in Weimar, but he had preferred to wait for a staging at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. The work was withdrawn after five performances and never became an established part of repertoire. The overture, however, has remained a popular enough element in concert repertoire. Its date of composition is unknown, but it certainly makes use of elements that form part of only the 1862 version of the opera, while in technique and spirit it seems to belong, in general, more naturally to the 1840s. It starts with a dramatic slow introduction, leading to an Allegro assai.

 

The curtain rises on the scene of the encampment of the Castilian army in the half-light. While all sleep, the Moorish prince Muza creeps in, falling to his knees when he sees the sleeping form of Zulma, daughter of a Moorish prince. The overture ends gently, after this Molto andante section, with its opening clarinet solo, and the first act begins when the trumpet sounds reveille, rousing the soldiers and their followers.

 

Berwald's Sinfonie serieuse was written in Vienna in 1842 and first performed at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm in a benefit for the composer on 2nd December 1843. The programme included other orchestral works, the Minnen fran Norska Fjellen, Bayaderenfest, an excerpt from the operetta Modehandlerskan and the operetta Jag gar i kloster. The concert had only one rehearsal and it was suspected that Johan Fredrik Berwald acted out of jealousy in seeing to it that the performance was unprepared and unimpressive. Critics were well aware of the poor quality of the performance in music that seemed at the time difficult and capricious in its originality. The second movement was played at Berwald's funeral on 14th April 1868, but the whole symphony was not heard again in Sweden until 1871. The last movement had, it seems, been redrafted after the first performance and it is the revised movement that survives in a score apparently copied in 1844.

 

The first movement of the symphony opens dramatically enough, the first subject of the opening Allegro con energia based on the descending scale and leading to a lyrical B flat major second subject entrusted to the strings. The exposition is repeated. The central development is marked by passages of thirds in the woodwind, before the storm and drama of the first subject, a re-appearance of the second subject material and a final recapitulation. The F major Adagio maestoso starts with an ascending figure played by violas and bassoons in thirds, and weaves the instrumental groups gently together before a D minor outburst that subsides almost at once, leading to a further burst of sound in F minor, leading to gentle woodwind chords over a running plucked string accompaniment. The Stretto, a scherzo like some Mendelssohnian Walpurgisnacht, has a contrasting A major trio section, with an apparently syncopated melody. The finale follows without a break, starting with an introductory G major Adagio before the busy G minor Allegro molto, the first material introducing a strongly marked march theme, over a trombone running bass followed by a gentler theme in B flat, marked Un poco meno allegro. Excitement increases before a new treatment of the march theme, which later provides quasi-fugal material. Themes re-appear, the gentle yearning of the more lyrical theme and the march with its trombone

accompaniment. When all seems over, there is a sudden hushed tremolando from the strings and a final trombone call, before the last chords in a triumphant G major.

 

The Sinfonie capricieuse has given rise to some controversy. The original score of the symphony was lost but a D major symphony survives in short score, and it is this work that has been identified by some as the Sinfonie capricieuse, using a title that Berwald himself had contemplated and that was mentioned by his wife as early as 1842 as a composition of that year. The short score of the D major Symphony has a boxed-in title Sinfonie capricieuse at the centre of the head of the first page, and a more tentative boxed Sinfonie pathetique to the right. The questions that remain open concern the identification of the surviving symphony in short score with the Sinfonie capricieuse, although there seems no doubt that Berwald did orchestrate a symphony of that name. If the Symphony in D major is the Sinfonie capricieuse, then it would seem he did not follow his usual practice of destroying the sketch in short score once the orchestration was completed. The manuscript bears the date Nykoping 18th June 1842 and the symphony was, therefore, written during the summer months that Berwald spent there with his wife, working at his compositions during the day-time and walking with her in the evenings. The orchestral realisation of the work was undertaken for the Berwald Stiftelsen in 1913 by Ernst Ellberg.

 

The opening Allegro starts with an introductory section before the principal theme is heard and a distinctly capricious secondary theme. The exposition is repeated before the central development is heard and the following recapitulation. The strings start the A major Andante with a long-drawn melody. The second violins introduce a new and strongly marked figure, which is then developed, before the return of the first theme in gentle conclusion. The finale, marked Allegro assai, starts with a triplet figure in the lower strings, answered by the violins. The triplet figuration provides an exciting accompaniment to what follows, before the appearance of contrasting material in a movement rich in varied motivic and melodic interest.

 

 

 


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