Franz Berwald....Wow!

Started by wolverine, May 10, 2007, 06:42:46 AM

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I was fortunate to put on my classical radio station to hear symphony #4 by Franz Berwald. Wow! The melodies are great and it is really unlike anything that I've heard before. It probably comes closest to Mendelssohn but still it has a unique of those symphonies that grabs you from start to finish.

Now I'm intrigued to explore his works futher....Anyone else find his music to be captivating? If so, any specific recordings that you'd recommend?


Lol. Berwald is not THAT good, he is okay as a symphonist; you might want to check out his third symphony "singuliere"

you might find more charm in Bizet's 2 symphonies (if you haven't heard of them already).



Don't let anyone sap your enthusiasm! You have your own ears. And I have mine, and I do think his symphonies are pretty fantastic, especially the beginnings of some of the outer movements. My favourite piece by him, though, is maybe his Piano Concerto.

There's this terrific recording from Hyperion of his complete symphonies and a couple of overtures; not only great performances, but at nice price, with the bonus that it includes a surviving movement from a lost symphony of his. The orchestra is the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Roy Goodman.

My recommendations then are, in this order:

1. Complete Symphonies on Hyperion
2. String Quartets on Bis  (complete). High price is the drawback.
3. Piano Concerto (w Syms 3+4) from Naxos. Symphonies overlap drawback.

I don't much care for the performance of the symphonies on Naxos, at least, not compared to the Hyperion box. And I have a hard time recommending for the Piano Concerto, since my favourite version of the 1st movement is on the Naxos CD, but my favourite third movement is on another label! I can't remember which, but I don't own it; I heard it on the radio once.

Here you can hear brief 1 minute samples of the 3 movements of his Piano Concerto:

Gurn Blanston

Completely agree with Josh's comments and recs. The Hyperion/Goodman set is very fine, and it could be had for a song at BRO, at least recently.

Another thing to look into is his chamber music. I have held off from the SQ's for exactly the reason Josh mentioned, they really are quite high. But there are also a couple of piano trios that are very nice, and a piano quartet too. And a Septet for Winds and Strings that I have by the Nash Ensemble, nice piece, nice recording. All 'round, a composer worth your time to explore. He was one of a kind. :)

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Haydn: that genius of vulgar music who induces an inordinate thirst for beer - Mily Balakirev (1860)


Quite agree - Berwald's chamber music is incredible stuff, very much ahead of its time in many ways, and full of the most imaginative moments. Naxos have what seem to be very good recordings of much of this music.

Oh, and ignore Mahler Titan! ;) He's obviously a little obsessed with symphonies ;D ;), but as is the case with many of the best composers, the finest of Berwald is to be found elsewhere.



Wolverine - completely agree w/ the other comments - you might want to check out this thread from the old forum on Berwald; shown below are the current CDs that I own of this composer's music - there is 'overlap' of the chamber works, but the Hyperion Dyad w/ the Gaudier Ensemble is a nice introduction to his chamber music - the 2-CD set, plus the Symphonies on Hyperion would be a nice start!  I don't have the Piano Concerto, at least yet, but certainly would like to explore more of his music!  :D




Thank you all! I will check out your suggestions....It's interesting how as you dive into classical, you find some great gems among composers who don't get a lot of mention!

Giving props to MahlerTitan, I too lean heavily towards symphonies. Still, I would like to check out his other works after diving into his symphonies.

Once again, thank you!

Mark G. Simon

My favorite movements of the symphonies are the first movement of the 2nd and the 2nd movement of the 3rd. These sound particularly scandinavian because they contain moments which remind me of Nielsen and Sibelius. The opening movement of the 3rd is distinctive too; the way the opening measures unfold scalewise in both directions from tonic to dominant sounds like the sun rising (or some such thing).

The last movement of the 3rd is something of a letdown. He has a striking 2nd theme which goes 1--- 3--4 5--- 2--3 1 (the numbers are scale degrees, the dashes indicate relative length), and slips down a half step with every repetition. He tries to make a grand ending with this theme, but it doesn't work because he has to keep it in C major, and it turns out the entire interest of that theme is its modulating nature.

But then Strauss has the same problem in Tod und Verklärung. That transfiguration theme is so much nobler when it's modulating all over the place than at the end where it has to stay in C major. Perhaps Strauss is saying Heaven is really a pretty dull place once you get there.


Quote from: wolverine on May 11, 2007, 04:48:34 AM
Thank you all! I will check out your suggestions....It's interesting how as you dive into classical, you find some great gems among composers who don't get a lot of mention!

Well, check out this thread on Classic-Early Romantic Composers; also, Harry's thread on Scandinavian & Finnish Composers should be of interest -  :D


Can anyone comment on Berwald's two Piano Quintets (c, A)?


Quote from: snyprrr on September 02, 2010, 10:41:00 PM
Can anyone comment on Berwald's two Piano Quintets (c, A)?

Yes - I like them very much!  Has a Schubert sort of feel in a way.

(Bruckner's) is the career of a poor village boy ... The one and only really surprising thing about him was that after completing his career as an organist he suddenly began to compose music with a range of vision which in such a man would appear quite incongruous.


from the Classical Archives:

Like his contemporary Berlioz, Berwald was a visionary. He preferred to use established forms to contain a unique mode of thought. His four symphonies (1842-1845) are especially significant as they are precursors of Sibelius and Nielsen in their streamlined contours and unexpected harmonic and melodic devices. As such, he was one of the most important of the early Romantics.

from the New Grove 2010:

  Posthumous reputation, works.
After Berwald's death, Ludvig Norman continued to be the most active promoter of his music: a performance of the Sinfonie sérieuse on 18 November 1871 led to further performances in Stockholm and Helsinki in 1876, as well as the première of the E symphony in 1878. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, however, that Berwald's music emerged as an important point of reference for a younger generation of Swedish composers including Wilhelm Stenhammar and Hugo Alfvén. After Tor Aulin's performance of the Sinfonie singulière in 1905, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger hailed Berwald in Dagens nyheter (11 January) as 'our most original and modern composer'. Despite the revival of Estrella de Soria in Stockholm for the 150th celebrations of his birth in 1946, Berwald's music has yet to occupy a secure place in the repertory, and since Hillman's pioneering biography (1920), only two full-length biographical studies of the composer have been published (Layton, 1956, and Andersson, 1970–71). Similarly, the music has yet to receive systematic analytical attention, although the completion of the critical edition, and several recordings of the symphonies, points towards a more positive reception of Berwald's work in the future.
In a motto dated 17 August 1838 Berwald declared: 'Art may be coupled only with a cheerful frame of mind. The weak-willed should have nothing to do with it. Even if interesting for a moment, in the end every sighing artist will bore listeners to death. Therefore: liveliness and energy – feeling and reason' (DSL, 186). Berwald himself seems to have been uninterested in forging a Swedish national identity in his music but this does not necessarily mean that his music is not 'national'. His works could also be heard in a broader Scandinavian context: his music reflects formal and expressive preoccupations similar to those found in the works of other Northern composers.
The most 'Northern' characteristics of Berwald's work are an obsessive concern with large-scale structure and a heightened sensitivity to the timbral characteristics of the sound object so that the music is often conceived in terms of specific sonorities rather than more dynamic process-orientated forms. A prominent feature of Berwald's music is the use of extended pedal points to create moments of virtual harmonic inaction. In the A major Trio of the Sinfonie sérieuse (1842), for instance, the transparent scoring for strings and woodwind anticipates the C major interlude in the first movement of Nielsen's Fourth Symphony (1914–16) (ex.1). Similarly, at the close of the development of the first movement of the Symphony in E (bars 224–44) the second theme is slowly dissolved over a subdominant pedal to prepare for the abrupt reprise of the opening (ex.2).

The formalist aspect of Berwald's music is more apparent in his use of palindromic multi-movement designs. The symmetrical arch-like tonal scheme of the early Septet (?1828) is prefigured by the circle of 5ths motion of the main theme of its opening Allegro molto. In the Sinfonie sérieuse a fragment of the slow movement Adagio maestoso returns after the scherzo as both a reprise and a slow introduction to the finale. Berwald's use of symmetry reaches its most obsessive in the String Quartet in E of 1849, in which the scherzo Allegro assai is enclosed within the slow movement Adagio quasi andante which is in turn enclosed by a reprise of the first movement Allegro di molto.
The Sinfonie singulière (1845) is characteristic in many ways of Berwald's works. The scherzo is embedded within the slow movement, and the sense of formal circularity this creates is emphasized by the coda of the finale, which explicitly recalls the 1–5 oscillations with which the symphony opens. The first movement begins with a rising sequence opening harmonically from I to V7, a gradual 'in-filling' of the cello's initial 1–5 motion (ex.3). Berwald plays with the structural and rhetorical status of this opening, the insistence on 1–5 suggesting a cadential function which is fulfilled only by the reappearance of the passage at the close of the first movement. The repercussions of the unfolded V7 that is suddenly left unresolved at rehearsal figure 1 resonate throughout the movement. Disruption becomes one of the 'structural topics' of the symphony as a whole, in spite of the apparently seamless continuity of the opening bars. The central musical argument of the work is therefore predicated not so much on tonal opposition or thematic development, as on the juxtaposition of different types of musical discourse: static against linear harmonic motion, predominantly melodic against predominantly harmonic progression, tutti against solo or duet instrumental textures. The opening of the second movement consists of a chain of first inversion chords that suggests an introduction to a conventionally harmonized lyric melody which never actually arrives. The interjection of the Scherzo in place of a more emotionally involved development completes the denial of Romantic pathos that characterized the opening of the slow movement. The formal design of the movement, and consequently of the symphony as a whole, signifies the renunciation of a certain type of sentimental discourse particularly associated with such German Romantic symphonists as Mendelssohn and Schumann, in favour of a more abstract, formalist aesthetic. It is this isolationist attitude which is Berwald's most thoroughly Northern characteristic, and which led Carl Nielsen to write admiringly to Stenhammar: 'neither the media, money nor power can damage or benefit good Art. It will always find some simple, decent artists who forge ahead and produce and stand up for their works. In Sweden you have the finest example of this: Berwald' (letter dated 27 January 1911, quoted in Carl Nielsens breve, ed. I.E. Møller and T. Meyer, Copenhagen, 1954, p.112).

(Bruckner's) is the career of a poor village boy ... The one and only really surprising thing about him was that after completing his career as an organist he suddenly began to compose music with a range of vision which in such a man would appear quite incongruous.



I know that this is a bit of a meaningless concept but the 'Singuliere' is decades ahead of its time - a great work. The old Decca version is my favourite.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).


The ending of the 1st Symphony is incredible, unlike anything of its time.


Inspired by this thread, I'm currently listening to the Sifonie singulière. And my eardrums nearly got blown out by that timpani thwack in the slow-movement-cum-scherzo!  :laugh:


Quote from: SurprisedByBeauty on November 09, 2016, 07:46:56 AM
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#4 Berwald/du Puy:


I've been getting to re-know the symphonies courtesy of the excellent Ehrling cycle on BIS: 

His symphonies have actually fared pretty well on disc, less so his other music. His concertos and chamber music have had a few recordings, but there are operas and symphonic poems which haven't been recorded at all, it seems.
So much great music, so little time...


Quote from: classicalgeek on December 08, 2021, 10:29:01 AM
I've been getting to re-know the symphonies courtesy of the excellent Ehrling cycle on BIS: 

there are operas... which haven't been recorded at all, it seems.

The overture to Drottningen av Golconda is so good that I would love to hear the whole opera, but as you say, no way of doing so.  (Of course, the rest of it could be not so good - there's usually some valid reason why a composer's operas don't gain a place in the repertoire.)
"All the world is birthday cake" - George Harrison