About this Recording
8.553714 - BERWALD: Septet / Serenade / Piano Quartet
English 

Franz Berwald (1796-1868)
Septet in B flat major Serenade
Piano Quartet in E flat major

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 Berwaid, 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 Wasa, 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 interests, 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, 21 years after the death of Mendelssohn, whom he had met and failed to impress in Berlin in 1830.

Berwald's Septet in B flat major, scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass, was first performed in Stockholm on 10th January 1818, provoking one hostile review. It was repeated on 7th December 1819, after which nothing was heard of the work. A supposedly new Septet was performed on 6th December 1828 and this may be presumed to be a revision of the earlier work. Dedicated to Ernst Leonard Schlegel, this work and the Serenade are mentioned by Berwald in a letter to his sisters in 1829, urging that no composition of his left behind in Sweden should be performed, except the Septet and the Serenade. The composer's approval of his Septet was justified, since it is a work of great charm, clear in its textures and melodically appealing. The first movement starts with a slow introduction followed by a classical Allegro molto in which the clarinet has the second subject. The A flat major Poco adagio continues in the established style, suggesting comparison with Spohr or Hummel. Its course is interrupted by a lively Prestissimo scherzo in E flat major, with a fu gal episode by way of contrast. The Adagio returns and is followed by a final Allegro con spirito, an opera buffa ensemble, with moments of drama that vary the generally ebullient and cheerful mood of the movement.

The Serenade in F major, scored for tenor with clarinet, horn, viola, cello, double bass and piano, has been compared to a miniature opera buffa scene. It was written in 1825. A plucked string accompaniment is heard with a horn solo, after which the clarinet leads forward into a passage of dramatic accompanied recitative, mounting in excitement. The singer embarks on his serenade, the first verse of which is followed by an instrumental interlude, in which the clarinet has some prominence, echoing the contemporary idiom of Spohr. The second verse is followed by a postlude and a viola passage, the counterpart of the earlier clarinet interlude, before the piano, in writing of some brilliance, together with the other instruments, provides a prelude to the last verse, in which prominence is given to the final declaration of the victory of love.

Berwald's Piano Quartet in E flat major, scored for piano, clarinet, horn and bassoon, was written in 1819 and first performed at a concert on 3rd March 1821, together with the Symphony in A major and Violin Concerto. As with his contemporary Spohr, there is an operatic element in what contemporary critics saw as an untutored search for originality. There is a first movement that moves into a histrionic central passage, before a measure of cheerful serenity is restored. The slow movement is introduced by the piano, soon joined by the wind instruments in a sustained cantabile that has suggestions of Beethoven, a composer whose earlier works, at least, had a perceptible influence on Berwald's writing. There is a lively and colourful final Allegro in broadly classical style.

Arion Wind Quintet and Schein String Quartet
The Arion Wind Quintet and the Schein String Quartet are two of the permanent chamber music ensembles of Musik i vast, the state-funded music organization of Western Sweden, with Boras and Skövde respectively as their home towns. The two ensembles often perform together under the name of the Musik i vasts Kammarensemble, of which the double-bass player Mikael Bjork is also a member. They perform in concert-halls, schools, day nurseries, offices and factories, wherever there is a forum for live music. The members of the two ensembles on the present recording are.

Members of the Arion Wind Quintet:
Lars Hjelm, Clarinet; Philip Foster, Horn; Rolf Hallstrom, Bassoon.

Members of the Schein Quartet:
Staffan Schein, Violin; Joel Sundin, Viola; Anders Modigh, Cello.

Joakim Kallhed, Piano
The pianist Joakim Kallhed studied at the Music College in Göteborg and has also studied abroad under Royal Music Academy sponsorship. His career involves appearances as a soloist, chamber musician and accompanist and he has made extensive concert-tours of Europe, as well as the Americas. In addition to a number of recordings, he is a frequent guest on television, at one time as a partner to Victor Borge.

Thomas Annmo, Tenor
Thomas Annmo was trained as a teacher of singing, cello and choral conducting at the Music Colleges of Göteborg and Stockholm. For some ten years he was a member of the Swedish Radio Chorus under Eric Ericsson, but gradually established himself in the opera-house, appearing at the Drottningholm Court Theatre and the Royal Swedish Opera and subsequently at the Malmo Music Theatre. He has appeared as a concert soloist both at home and abroad, notably as the Evangelist in the Bach Passions and in works such as the Verdi Requiem.


Close the window