BERWALD: Piano Quintets (Bengt-Ake Lundin/ Uppsala Chamber Soloists) (Naxos: 8.553970)
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Complete Works forPiano Quintet
Almost everybody would agree that Franz Berwald was the music world'sleading light in nineteenth-century Sweden. Many regard him as Sweden'sforemost composer, but during his lifetime few of his countrymen appreciatedhis art. This was partly because symphonies, the genre at which he excelled,were little appreciated. Besides operas and Singspiele, more intimateforms of 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 Hovkapellet, theorchestra of the Royal Opera, but the few symphonies that were presented inthese concerts were foreign and usually quite old. For decades in Sweden no newsymphonies appeared, Adolf Lindblad's Symphony No. 1 being theonly example. Its first performance in 1832 is significant from a musicalhistorical point of view, but it hardly made an impact. Around ten years laterthe Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra played it, but in Sweden Lindblad remainedknown exclusively 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 orthopaedic surgeon he managed to make a successful living, from 1835running his own orthopaedic 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, since he adfound a more inspiring milieu.
In the spring of 1841 he closed the institute and moved to Vienna, byall accounts to continue his work in the orthopaedic field. He discovered,however, that the Viennese showed an interest in his music, which seems to havecleared his writers' block. Although he only remained in Vienna for a year hemanaged to write several works, including two symphonies, four orchestralfantasies and the opera Estrella de Soria. Some of the works were playedimmediately, including most of the opera. He himself conducted three of theshorter pieces. The reception he was given in this cosmopolitan city was morepositive than any he had experienced before. One can understand why he mighthave felt that the world was ready for his music, even Sweden. After thirteenyears abroad he decided to return home. In April 1842 he arrived in Stockholmwith his bags full of new music.
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 managed tohave performed met with little success. Some works were deemed uninteresting,others the work of an eccentric outsider. Yet he did have some new ideas - ?¡froma Swedish perspective. Inspiration came from innovators such as Beethoven andCherubini and, to a certain extent, Weber. When it came to inventiveness,sudden leaps and unexpected key changes, he often went further than they did.
The musical development of apiece by Berwald was far less predictable than mostof the music that was known in Sweden at the time, and for us it is preciselythe unexpected which makes it so exciting.
During his years abroad Berwald must have heard the music of Europe'strue innovators; Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner, although their influence isnoticeably absent from his music. He continued to draw inspiration from theclassicists and early romantics, Gluck and Mozart being among those he admiredWhat 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 Sinfonieserieuse was not performed again until 1876, eight years after Berwald'sdeath. Several of his other symphonies had to wait until the beginning of thetwentieth century for first performances.
In 1846 Berwald departed once more for foreign shores, stopping inParis, Vienna, Salzburg and southern Germany. In Vienna he was once againwarmly received, on one occasion in a performance with Jenny Lind. In Vienna hebecame one of the few Swedes accorded the honour of being elected an honorarymember of the Mozarteum. He also received warm receptions elsewhere.
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-inclined families. His failure to gain an audiencefor his larger works caused him now to concentrate almost completely on chambermusic. In the ten years after his return to Sweden he completed two pianoquintets, two string quartets, three piano trios as well as duos for violin andpiano and cello and piano. Six of these works he had published by the Hamburgpublishing house Schuberth.
As a young man Berwald had spent several years as a violinist in theOpera House Hovkapellet, but he had far less practical experience withthe piano, and does not seem to have been especially familiar with the ways inwhich Schumann, Mendelssohn and other contemporaries used the instrument. Hispiano parts are therefore not especially pianistic, which was noted by criticsat the time. That he continued to write for the instrument was probably due tothe fact that most private ensembles had access to a piano.
Berwald's interest in chamber music was further encouraged by anunusually gifted pupil of his, Hilda Thegerstrobm. On the recommendation ofBerwald she went on to study in Paris with Antoine Marmontel, who taught Bizet,Debussy and other great musicians, as well as with Franz Liszt in Weimar. It wasin Weimar that she made a successful debut when she was barely twenty and shesoon came to be regarded as Sweden's foremost pianist.
It was for Hilda Thegerstrom that Berwald composed his Piano Quintet inC minor, as well as his Piano Concerto (Naxos 8.553052). From thebeginning Berwald referred to the C minor Quintet as Quintet No.
2, from which one can deduce that the Piano Quintet in A major, completedin 1857, was conceived before its sister work, probably around 1850. Presumablyit then also included the two movements Larghetto and Scherzo, whichhave survived separately, as these are preceded in the original manuscript byt