Printer Friendly

Franz Berwald.

Franz Berwald. Tongem[bar{a}]lde, I. Hrsg. von Lennart Hedwall. (S[bar{a}]mtliche Werke, 8.) (Monumenta musicae svecicae.) Kassel: B[bar{a}]renreiter, 1995. [Editorial note in Ger., Eng., p. vii-viii; pref., p. ix-xviii; facsims., p. xix-xxvi; score, 248 p.; appendix, p. 249-53; crit. commentary in Eng., p. 255-62. Cloth. ISMN M-006-49527-6; BA 4908. DM 245.]

Franz Berwald. Choralbuch (unvollendet): Vorschlag zur Revision von J. C. F. Haeffners Choralbuch. Hrsg. von Folke Bohlin. (S[bar{a}]mtliche Werke, 23.) (Monumenta musicae svecicae.) Kassel: B[bar{a}]renreiter, 1994. [Editorial note in Ger., Eng., p. vi-vii; pref. in Ger., p. viii-xx; Eng. summary, p. xx; hymnal (facsim. reprod.), 128 p.; crit. commentary in Eng., p. 129-32 + Berwalds kommentarer ("F[bar{o}]rklaringar") till korairevisionen in Swed., Ger., 27 p. Cloth (with insert in paper covers). BA 4923. DM 165.]

Franz Berwald (1796-1868) is perhaps one of the most fascinating characters in Sweden's music history. Born into a musical family (his father was a violinist for the royal court orchestra in Stockholm), he was hailed as a performer in his early years, but later blatantly rejected as a composer. Only after his death did Berwald finally receive recognition for his accomplishments in music.

Berwald began his musical career at an early age. He made his debut as a solo violinist at age nine, and at sixteen he was employed alongside his father in the royal court orchestra. His first known compositions date from 1816 and include a theme and variations for violin and orchestra on a melody by Pierre Rode and several string quartets.

Throughout his life, Berwald showed a strong interest in the intellectual side of music, especially music criticism and history. In 1820, he temporarily left the orchestra to establish a new music periodical, the Musikalsk Journal. Berwald wrote many of the articles for this publication and on occasion included some of his own piano compositions. As Eric Frederick Jensen has noted (Walls of Circumstance: Studies in Nineteenth-Century Music [London: Scarecrow Press, 1992], 23), these works, primarily light salon pieces, were designed for a broad market and were variable in quality. But a few of the compositions, most notably the Theme and Variations in G Minor, show a style reminiscent of Robert Schumann s early character pieces.

Unfortunately, the Musikalsk Journal soon ceased publication, and Berwald was forced to return to his orchestra post, a job he reportedly disliked. Over the next ten years, he attempted to establish himself as a composer and took several leaves of absence in order to travel to Finland, Russia, and Norway. Berwald's ultimate goal was to study music in Germany. He tried numerous times to receive a study grant from the state, but was unsuccessful. Additional disappointments came in 1821, when Berwald's Violin Concerto was brutalized by critics, and in 1822, when he was passed over for the position of conductor of the royal orchestra (his cousin, Johann Frederik Berwald, was appointed instead). Throughout the 1820s, Berwald struggled for recognition in Stockholm. Finally, in 1829, he was awarded a modest stipend and left for Berlin.

Little is known about Berwald's years in Germany. His letters show that he appreciated the city's active concert life and made an effort to come in contact with prominent musicians. He became acquainted with the librettist M. C. Saphir and also met Felix Mendelssohn, who described him as arrogant. Despite his efforts, Berwald made little headway in Berlin's music society and eventually sought other means of financial support. In 1835, he founded the Orthopedic Institute in Berlin, a clinic based on Ling's principles and his own progressive ideas. The institute was a great success and flourished for six years.

Despite Berwald's accomplishment in the medical world, he never abandoned his hopes for a career in music. In 1841, he traveled to Vienna and spent a year there, composing extensively. In March 1842, Berwald experienced his first triumph as a composer when a concert of several of his pieces, including the tone poems Elfenspiel and Erinnerung an die norwegischen Alpen, received glowing reviews from Viennese critics. The year 1842 also saw the completion of the Sinfonie s[acute{e}]rieuse in G minor, the Sinfonie capricieuse in D major, and the tone poems Wettlauf and Bayaderen-Fest. Berwald also completed an operetta entitled Jag g[dot{a}]r i Kloster that was premiered in Stockholm shortly after his return in April 1842. Jag g[dot{a}]r i Kloster was poorly received, as was his Modehandlerskan of the following year. From 1846 to 1849, Berwald traveled extensively, staying primarily in Paris and Vienna. He returned to Sweden in 1849 and applied for several music positions, including that of conductor of the court orchestra, but with no success. The Swedish public held little respect for Berwald's music, and his difficult personality earned him few friends. Frustrated, Berwald turned to the world of business again in search of financial stability. In 1850, he was hired as the manager of the Sand[ddot{o}] Glass Works, and by 1853, he was made a partner in the business. Berwald became a wealthy man and an influential figure in Sweden's business community. Yet even with the demands of this new career, Berwald never abandoned music. He continued to compose (mostly chamber works) and spent his Winters in Stockholm, where he taught a small group of students, his most successful being Hilda Thegerstrom. He wrote his only piano concerto for her in 1855 and the Three Pieces for Piano in 1860. In addition, the celebrated soprano, Christine Nilsson, studied violin with Berwald. According to Robert Layton, Berwald's opera Drottningen av Golconda (1846) was written with Nilsson in mind ("Franz Berwald," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [London: Macmillan, 1980], 2:652).

In his later years, Berwald earned a modicum of recognition in his homeland. In 1859, the young conductor Ludvig Norman praised Berwald in the Tidning f[ddot{o}]r Theater och Musik, and a lengthy review of Berwald's chamber works appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift f[ddot{u}]r Musik. Berwald's last opera, Estrella di Soria, received favorable reviews in 1862, and in 1867, he was appointed professor of composition at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. Unfortunately, Berwald did not live long enough to enjoy this last honor. On 3 April 1868 he died of pneumonia in Stockholm.

Given the date of his birth, one might expect Berwald's music to be strongly rooted in the traditions of the eighteenth century, but it sounds surprisingly modern for his time, and it was no doubt Berwald's experimental approach to harmonic language and orchestration that kept contemporary critics from appreciating his talent, Of his four symphonies, only the first (the S[acute{e}]rieuse) was performed during his lifetime. Similarly, the work best known to audiences today, the Sinfonie Singuli[grave{e}]re, was first published a full forty years after the composer's death.

Berwald's music baffled critics. They found no melodic element in his pieces and consequently often accused the composer of abandoning art for the sake of originality, striving at all costs to create novel effects instead of comprehensible music. After the premiere of his first symphony in 1843, an anonymous critic in Stockholm wrote: this composition is especially pretentious, and its primary characteristic is its incomprehensibility. The most bizarre and unusual chord progressions follow one another in a nonsensical manner ... in this musical hodgepodge" (Franz Berwald: Die Dokumente seines Lebens, ed. Erling Lomn[bar{a}]s, Ingmar Bengtsson, and Nils Gastegren [Kassel: B[ddot{a}]renreiter, 1979], 253; my translation).

To a considerable extent the revival, and in many instances the initial appreciation, of Berwald's compositions in the twentieth century are due to modern taste and national pride. Sweden has done much to champion Berwald's music since World War II, and in 1968, the centennial of his death, an edition of his complete works was begun under the direction of the Royal Academy of Music and issued as part of the series Monumenta musicae svecicae, thus making most of his music readily available for the first time to scholars and performers. Two volumes of Berwald's S[ddot{a}]mtliche Werke have recently appeared, and together they show Berwald's talent both as a composer and a music scholar.

Volume 8 contains the first three of BerWald's six extant symphonic poems: Slaget vid Leipzing (1828), Elfenspiel (1841-42), and Ernste und heitere Grillen (1842). Berwald's other symphonic poems--Erinnerung an die norwegischen Alpen, Bayaderen--Fest, and Wettlauf (all from 1842)--appeared in volume 9 of the complete works in 1970.

In this newer volume, Lennart Hedwall has done an admirable job of presenting Berwald's music to the public. His preface to the volume in German and English presents an engaging narrative that documents the reception history of Berwald's symphonic poems through a series of German and Swedish reviews. After studying these reviews, however, readers will discover that they reveal more about the artistic climate of the two cities than they do about the nature of Berwald's compositions.

Today Berwald's symphonies are considered the most prominent of his orchestral works, and when comparing them to the symphonic poems, I cannot help but wonder if the composer took the genre of the symphony more seriously. His symphonic poems have an expansiveness that appears to be less concerned with structure and more with programmatic effect. This is especially clear in Berwald's choice of instrumentation. Slaget vid Leipzig (The Battle of Leipzig) is noted for its heavy use of brass and percussion instruments (two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, and snare drum). Likewise, the image of elfin spryness is created by the woodwinds (flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons) in Elfenspiel. In the edition of Ernste und heitere Grillen (Serious and Merry Whims), Hedwall presents two readings of the opening twenty measures (the original 1842 version and a later revised version) on facing pages. This arrangement is effective for two reasons: it presents Berwald's revisions in a format more approachable than critical notes, and it makes both versions equally accessible for performance.

Volume 23 of Berwald's complete works presents a facsimile reproduction of the composer's final project, an incomplete revised edition of Johann Christian Friedrich Haeffner's chorale book for the Swedish Lutheran State Church. As Folke Bohlin explains in the preface to this volume, Haeffner's melodies (published in 1820) were routinely criticized for their syllabic text settings and uniform rhythms, but it was not until 1865 that a revision of the chorale book was seriously considered. Crown Prince Oscar (later Oscar II) was greatly interested in hymnody, and he wished to reintroduce rhythmic vitality into the melodies. Consequently, the Royal Academy of Music was asked to prepare a revised edition in 1867, and Berwald, the latest addition to the composition faculty, was given the assignment.

For Berwald, the revision of his nation's chorales was not a task to be taken lightly. In the summer of 1867, he traveled to Germany and conducted archival research in various churches with the intent of tracing the provenance and history of each chorale. His notes for chorales 1-59 are presented in facsimile along with Haeffner's melodies and fifty-one revised melodies by Berwald. Close inspection of Berwald's melodies shows that he paid little attention to Prince Oscar's request for livelier rhythms. Instead, the composer appears to have focused his attentions on validating the historical significance of each chorale and creating four-part settings that adhered to the strictest rules of voice-leading.

Berwald's incomplete revision of Sweden's Lutheran Chorale Book offers little to readers in search of new performance repertory. To scholars, however, the volume presents a detailed image of Berwald the intellectual. Bohlin's preface (in Swedish and German with a brief English summary) and transcription of Berwald's commentary (with German translation) reveals the mind of a detail-oriented composer intent on making his mark in the music of his homeland. When Berwald died in 1868, he was no doubt disappointed by the reception of his music by contemporaries. Little did he know that more than a century after his death, his countrymen would finally praise his unique contributions to composition and commend his commitment to music history.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Music Library Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:biography
Article Type:Bibliography
Geographic Code:4EUSW
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Previous Article:Hector Berlioz.
Next Article:Franz Liszt.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters