Berwald: Septet/Serenade/Piano Quartet (Arion Wind Quintet/ Joakim Kallhed/ Mikael Bjork/ Schein Quartet/ Thomas Annmo/ Verner Nicolet) (Naxos: 8.553714)
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Franz Berwald (1796-1868)
Septet in B flat major Serenade
Piano Quartet in E flat major
The Swedish composer Franz Berwald wasthe most distinguished of a musical dynasty of German origin. Johann DanielBerwald, who died in 1691, served as a town musician in Neumarkt. His sonJohann Gottfried, born in 1679, was Kunstpfeifer in Konigsberg, and his ownson, the flautist Johann Friedrich Berwaid, after appointments in Copenhagenand Hohenaspe, joined in 1770 the Mecklenburg-Schwerin orchestra in Ludwigslustand fathered a number of musicians among the twenty-five children from his fourmarriages. One of his sons, Johann Gottfried, born in Copenhagen in 1737,studied with Franz Benda and served as a violinist at Ludwigslust before movingto St Petersburg, where he settled until his death in 1814. Another son,Christian Friedrich Georg, born at Hohenaspe in 1740, also studied in Berlinwith Benda and in 1772 settled in Stockholm as a violinist and member of theCourt Orchestra from 1773 to 1806. A third brother Georg Johann Abraham, aviolinist and bassoonist, born in Schleswig in 1758, joined the Swedish CourtOrchestra in 1782 and continued there until 1798, when he left for a concerttour, after which he settled in St Petersburg. His son Johan Fredrik, born inStockholm in 1787, won early distinction as a violinist and as a composer. Heaccompanied his father to Russia and from 1808 to 1812 was soloist, insuccession to Rode, with the Russian imperial orchestra. In 1814 he returned toStockholm to serve in the court orchestra as a violinist and from 1823 to 1849as Kapellmeister.
Franz Berwald was born in 1796 inStockholm, the son of Christian Friedrich Georg. His younger brother ChristianAugust served as a violinist in the court orchestra from 1815 and as its leaderfrom 1834 to 1861. Franz Berwald followed family tradition as a violinist, apupil of his father, and joined the court orchestra in 1812, continuing thereuntil 1828. He also appeared as a soloist and in 1819 toured Finland and Russiawith his brother Christian August. Meanwhile he was winning something of areputation as a composer, in particular with a symphony, now partly lost, and aViolin Concerto in C sharp minor, written in 1819, following his earlierTheme and Variations for violin and orchestra, composed in 1816, and a DoubleViolin Concerto that he had performed with his brother. In 1827 hecompleted his Konsertstycke for bassoon and orchestra and turned hisattention to an opera on the subject of Gustaf Wasa, a work that henever finished, while other attempts at the form from this period were eitherleft incomplete or are now lost.
In 1829 Berwald was at last awarded ascholarship for study abroad and moved to Berlin, where he took lessons incounterpoint, but at the same time developed his interest in medicine. Theearly 1830s found him occupied abortively with operatic composition, but in1835 he opened his own orthopaedic institute, an enterprise that enjoyed somesuccess during the next six years, until he decided in 1841 to sell theinstitute and move to Vienna. There he continued to pursue his medicalinterests, while turning his attention to a new opera, his tenth attempt at theform, Estrella de Soria. In 1842 there was a successful concert of hismusic in Vienna, with new works, Minnen fran Norska Fjellen (Memories ofthe Norwegian Mountains), Elfenlek (Elves' Play) and Einhumoristisches Capriccio. He now returned to Stockholm, where he staged afurther concert of his music, including parts of his new opera, hopingfor similar success.
It was now, in Stockholm in the 1840s,that Berwald turned his attention seriously to building his reputation as acomposer. This was the period of his four surviving symphonies, the first, the Sinfonieserieuse, first performed with indifferent success in Stockholm in 1842under the direction of his cousin Johan Fredrik, no better received than theoperetta Jag gar i kloster (I will enter a convent) or, in the followingyear, the operetta Modehandlerskan (The Modiste). He returned to Viennain 1846 but his three years there led to nothing, although he was appointed anhonorary member of the Salzburg Mozarteum and won some occasional successeswith his compositions.
In Sweden again in 1849 Berwald failed inhis attempt to secure a position as director of music at the University ofUppsala and was equally unsuccessful when he sought to succeed his cousin asconductor 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, aposition offered him by a friend. He later extended his business interests toinclude a sawmill, but was able to spend some of his time in Stockholm, wherehe could continue to pursue his musical interests, in particular by thecomposition of chamber music, and, in 1855, a Piano Concerto for hispupil Hilda Thegerstrom. In 1859 he gave up his work at the glass factory andwas now able to devote more time to music and to varied occasional writing on avariety of subjects. As a composer he turned largely to chamber music. Hisopera Estrella de Soria was in 1862 staged at the Royal Opera, where itwon modest success, and two years later he completed his last opera Drottningenav Golconda (The Queen of Golconda). He died in Stockholm in 1868.
Berwald's position in Sweden as acomposer was never in his life-time secure. He failed to win appointment to thepositions he desired in the musical establishment of his time. His foursurviving symphonies, one of them realised from an existing short score, occupyan 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 achievementis echoed in his later chamber music, notably in the two Piano Quintets ofthe 1850s. His life spanned a period of remarkable change. Born a year beforeSchubert, he died a year before Berlioz, 21 years after the death ofMendelssohn, whom he had met and failed to impress in Berlin in 1830.
Berwald's Septet in B flatmajor, scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and doublebass, was first performed in Stockholm on 10th January 1818, provoking onehostile review. It was repeated on 7th December 1819, after which nothing washeard of the work. A supposedly new Septet was performed on 6th December1828 and this may be presumed to be a revision of the earlier work. Dedicatedto Ernst Leonard Schlegel, this work and the Serenade are mentioned byBerwald in a letter to his sisters in 1829, urging that no composition of hisleft behind in Sweden should be performed, except the Septet and the Serenade.
The composer's approval of his Septet was justified, since it is awork of great charm, clear in its textures and melodically appealing. The firstmovement starts with a slow introduction followed by a classical Allegromolto in which the clarinet has the second subject. The A flat major Pocoadagio continues in the established style, suggesting comparison with Spohror Hummel. Its course is interrupted by a lively Prestissimo scherzo inE flat major, with a fu gal episode by way of contrast. The Adagio returnsand is followed by a final Allegro con spirito, an opera buffa ensemble,with moments of drama that vary the generally ebullient and cheerful mood ofthe movement.
The Serenade in F major, scoredfor tenor with clarinet, horn, viola, cello, double bass a