Of course Berwald’s best and most characteristic music comes from the 1840s, immediately after his marriage and the successes he enjoyed in Vienna, but two early works stand out for their originality. First, the String Quartet in G minor of 1818 with its inventive resource and modulatory audacities, and then the Grand Septet in B flat (1828). In the early years of the nineteenth century, Beethoven’s Septet was often played in Stockholm—and pretty well everywhere else for that matter. Like Hummel and Kreutzer, Berwald chose the same combination—clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double-bass—for his first essay in this form, written in 1817. No autograph of the 1817 Septet survives and the work we know comes from 1828. At the time Berwald spoke of it as a new work but it would seem more likely to be a re-working of the earlier piece. Sten Broman believed the two were different pieces but since, in a letter from Berlin to his sisters in 1831 discussing his early works, Berwald refers to the Septet, I incline to the view that it was a revision. Whether or not this is the case, the Septet is among his most delightful pieces. Formally it is innovative and anticipates the Sinfonie singulière
(1845), enfolding the scherzo into the slow movement so that the middle movement functions both as a slow movement and as a scherzo. This has relatively few precedents, though Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach adopted the practice in his C minor Klavier Concerto, Wq43 No 4. Later on in his String Quartet in E flat of 1849, Berwald takes this a stage further by putting the slow movement, complete with its scherzo enclosed, inside the main body of the first movement so that the whole piece is like a Chinese box. In its musical language we are in the tradition of Spohr and Kreutzer: inventive, urbane and attractive. In the finale there are occasional touches that even foreshadow the highly individual fingerprints of the Berwald of the 1840s.
from notes by Robert Layton © 1997