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 mostdistinguished of a musical dynasty of German origin. Johann Daniel Berwald, whodied 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 flautistJohann Friedrich Berwald, after appointments in Copenhagen and Hohenaspe,joined in 1770 the Mecklenburg-Schwerin orchestra in Ludwigslust and fathered anumber of musicians among the twenty-five children from his four marriages. Oneof his sons, Johann Gottfried, born in Copenhagen in 1737, studied with Franz Bendaand served as a violinist at Ludwigslust before moving to St Petersburg, wherehe settled until his death in 1814. Another son, Christian Friedrich Georg,born at Hohenaspe in 1740, also studied in Berlin with Benda and in 1772settled in Stockholm as a violinist and member of the Court Orchestra from 1773to 1806. A third brother Georg Johann Abraham, a violinist and bassoonist, bornin Schleswig in 1758, joined the Swedish Court Orchestra in 1782 and continuedthere 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 earlydistinction as a violinist and as a composer. He accompanied his father to Russiaand from 1808 to 1812 was soloist, in succession to Rode, with the Russianimperial orchestra. In 1814 he returned to Stockholm to serve in the courtorchestra as a violinist and from 1823 to 1849 as Kapellmeister.
Franz Berwald was born in 1796 in Stockholm, the son ofChristian Friedrich
Georg. His younger brother Christian August served as aviolinist 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 alsoappeared as a soloist and in 1819 toured Finland and Russia with his brotherChristian August. Meanwhile he was winning something of a reputation as acomposer, in particular with a symphony, now partly lost, and a ViolinConcerto in C sharp minor, written in 1819, following his earlier Themeand 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 his attentionto an opera on the subject of Gustaf Vasa, a work that he neverfinished, while other attempts at the form from this period were either leftincomplete or are now lost.
In 1829 Berwald was at last awarded a scholarship forstudy abroad and moved to Berlin, where he took lessons in counterpoint, but atthe same time developed his interest in medicine. The early 1830s found himoccupied abortively with operatic composition, but in 1835 he opened his own orthopaedicinstitute, 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 hecontinued to pursue his medical interests, while turning his attention to a newopera, his tenth attempt at the form, Estrella de Soria. In 1842 therewas a successful concert of his music in Vienna, with new works, Minnen franNorska Fjellen (Memories of the Norwegian Mountains), Elfenlek (Elves'Play) and Ein humoristisches Capriccio. He now returned to Stockholm, wherehe 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 Berwaldturned his attention seriously to building his reputation as a composer. Thiswas 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 the operetta Jaggar i kloster (I will enter a convent) or, in the following year, theoperetta Modehandlerskan (The Modiste). He returned to Vienna in 1846but his three years there led to nothing, although he was appointed an honorarymember of the Salzburg Mozarteum and won some occasional successes with hiscompositions.
In Sweden again in 1849 Berwald failed in his attempt tosecure a position as director of music at the University of Uppsala and wasequally unsuccessful when he sought to succeed his cousin as conductor of thecourt orchestra. 1850 brought a further change of direction, when he becamemanager of a glass factory at Sando in the north of Sweden, a position offeredhim 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 topursue his musical interest, in particular by the composition of chamber music,and, in 1855, a Piano Concerto for his pupil Hilda Thegerstrom. In 1859 hegave up his work at the glass factory and was now able to devote more time tomusic and to varied occasional writing on a variety of subjects. As a composerhe turned largely to chamber music. His opera Estrella de Soria was in1862 staged at the Royal Opera, where it won modest success, and two yearslater he completed his last opera Drottningen av Golconda (TheQueen of Golconda). He died in Stockholm in 1868.
Berwald's position in Sweden as a composer was never inhis life-time secure. He failed to win appointment to the positions he desiredin the musical establishment of his time. His four surviving symphonies, one ofthem realised from an existing short score, occupy an important place in the historyof the symphony in the nineteenth century , works that, while essentially classicalin outlook, nevertheless look forward, through their harmonic originality, to anew world. His symphonic achievement is echoed in his later chamber music,notably in the two Piano Quintets of the 1850s. His life spanned aperiod of remarkable change. Born a year before Schubert, he died a year beforeBerlioz, twenty-one years after the death of Mendelssohn, whom he had met andfailed to impress in Berlin in 1830.
The opera Estrella de Soria was apparently writtenin Vienna in 1841, using a German text by Otto Prechtler. Whatever privateperformances may have been given in Vienna, and Berwald's wife Mathilde recordsone 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 givenin Stockholm in 1862 in a version that was partly revised for the occasion. Ina letter to a friend Berwald mentions the fact that Liszt had offered threeyears before to stage the work in Weimar, but he had preferred to wait for astaging at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. The work was withdrawn after fiveperformances and never became an established part of repertoire. The overture,however, has remained a popular enough element in concert repertoire. Its dateof composition is unknown, but it certainly makes use of elements that formpart of only the 1862 version of the opera, while in technique and spirit itseems to belong, in general, more naturally to t