BERWALD: Complete Duos (Bengt-Ake Lundin/ David Bergstrom/ Mats Rondin/ Tobias Ringborg) (Naxos: 8.554286)
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Almost everybody would agree that Franz Berwald was the musical world'sleading light in nineteenth-century Sweden. Many regard him as Sweden'sforemost composer ever. But during his lifetime few of his countrymen appreciatedhis art.
This was partly because symphonies, the genre at which he excelled, werelittle appreciated. Besides operas and Singspiele, more intimate formsof music practised in the home with friends were preferred, such as pianopieces, chamber music, works for male choir and solo songs. Most of what waswritten was unpretentious in the salon music vein.
Orchestral concerts were given sporadically by the Hovkopellet, theorchestra of the Royal Opera, but the few symphonies that were presented in theseconcerts were foreign and usually quite old. For decades in Sweden no newsymphonies appeared; Adolf Lindblad's Symphony No. 1 being the onlyexample. Its first performance in 1832 is significant from a musical historicalpoint of view, but it hardly made an impact. Around ten years later the LeipzigGewandhaus-orchester played it, but in Sweden Lindblad remained knownexclusively for his songs and chamber music.
It is therefore easy to understand why Berwald the sophisticate foundthe antiquated Swedish music scene suffocating. In 1829, at the age ofthirty-three, he left Sweden and moved to Berlin, where he remained for twelveyears, working not as a musician but in one of the other professions he wasobliged to practise during his lifetime in order to support himself. As askilled orthopedic surgeon he managed to make a successful living, from 1835running his own orthopedic institute. In his free time he wrote a notinsubstantial amount of music, first and foremost operatic fragments, althoughnothing complete has emerged from this time. One can wonder why, when he hadnow found a more inspiring milieu.
In the spring of 1841 he closed the institute and moved to Vienna, itseems to continue his work in the orthopedic field. He discovered, however, thatthe Viennese showed an interest in his music, which seems to have cleared hiswriters' block. Although he only remained in Vienna for a year he managed towrite several works, including two symphonies, four orchestral fantasies andthe opera Estrella de Soria. Some of the works were played immediately,including most of the opera. He himself conducted three of the shorter pieces.
The reception he received in this cosmopolitan city was more positive than anyhe had experienced before. One can understand why he might feel that the worldwas ready for his music, even Sweden. After thirteen years abroad he decided toreturn home. In April 1842 he arrived in Stockholm with his bags full of newmusic.
His hopes had been in vain however. The Swedish music scene had notchanged noticeably at all. Stockholm, was, apart from the Opera, as provincialas it had always been, at least it seemed that way to Berwald who was now usedto the rich concert life on the continent. The few compositions he did manageto have performed met with little success. Some works were deemed to beuninteresting, others the work of an eccentric outsider. Yet he did have somenew ideas - from a Swedish perspective. Inspiration came from innovators suchas Beethoven and Cherubini and, to a certain extent, Weber. When it came toinventiveness, sudden leaps and unexpected key changes he often went furtherthan they did. The musical development of a piece by Berwald was far lesspredictable than most of the music that was known in Sweden at the time, andfor us it is precisely the unexpected which makes it so exciting.
During his years abroad Berwald must have heard the music of Europe'strue innovators; Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner, however their influence isnoticeably absent from his music. He continued to draw inspiration from theclassicists and early romantics, Gluck and Mozart being among those he admired.
What was foreign to Swedish audiences of the day was his pronounced personalstyle, rather than anything truly revolutionary.
Of Berwald's four symphonies, only the Sinfonie serieuse (Naxos8.553051) was played during his lifetime; once, badly rehearsed and with agreatly reduced orchestra. The performance took place at the Royal Opera Housein Stockholm in 1843 under the direction of a conductor who, it seems, showedno great interest in the work. This was Berwald's cousin Johan Fredrik Berwald,renowned as an imaginative director of music, but not on very good terms withcousin Franz, ten years his junior.
Whether through personal animosity, a lack of understanding of the musicor quite simply insufficient rehearsal time, Swedish audiences' onlyopportunity to hear the symphonic genius of Berwald was thus lost. The work wasnot performed again until 1876, eight years after Berwald's death. Several ofthe other symphonies had to wait until the beginning of the twentieth centuryfor first performances.
In 1846 Berwald departed once more for foreign shores, stopping inParis, Vienna, Salzburg and southern Germany. In Vienna he was once again warmlyreceived, on one occasion in a performance with Jenny Lind. In Salzburg hebecame one of the few Swedes to have the rare honour of being elected anhonorary member of the Mozarteum. He was also accorded warm receptionselsewhere.
Economic difficulties forced Berwald to return to Sweden for good in1849 and for seven years he managed a glassworks in ?àngermanland in NorthernSweden. He was still able to spend his winters in Stockholm where, amongstother things, he was able to take part in performances of chamber music in thehomes of various musically-minded families. His failure to gain an audience forhis larger works caused him now to concentrate almost completely on chambermusic. In the ten years after his return to Sweden he completed two piano quintets,two string quartets, three piano trios as well as duos for violin and piano andcello and piano. Six of these works he had published by the Hamburg publishinghouse Schuberth.
It is to this period that four of the works on the present recording belong.
The remaining piece appears to have been written in 1816 or 1817 by atwenty-year old Berwald who had already been employed by the Hovkapellet forfour years. His younger brother August was also employed there and from time totime the two violinists gave concerts in Stockholm and elsewhere. The DuoConcertant for two violins may have been composed for just such anoccasion. That the piece survives at all today is pure chance; in 1931 a man bythe name of Martin Andreason was walking past a demolition site when he noticeda few sheets of manuscript sticking out of an abandoned suitcase amongst therubble. Fortunately the man was not just anyone, but one of the repetiteurs atthe Royal Opera in Stockholm. When he opened the case he discovered a bundle ofold manuscripts including the Duo Concertant. A further coincidence wasthat Andreason's wife was the violinist Lottie Andreason, who for many yearshad been a member of the Berwald Trio together with the composer'sgrand-daughter, the pianist Astrid Berwald. It was natural that Lottietherefore be entrusted with the manuscripts. It transpired that they had beengiven to Henrik Hastesko, a violin pupil of Berwald's cousin Johan FredrikBerwald, and that they had remained in the Hastesko family until they werediscovered in the abandoned suitcase.
The Duo for cello (or violin) and piano seems to have beenwritten in the early autumn of 1857, when Berwald had just returned