The Symphony in A received its first (and presumably complete?) performance together with the Violin Concerto on 3 March 1821. The commentator in the Argus gave a damning account of the concert and chastized Berwald in the strongest terms for his misplaced originality. (In fact Berwald suffered the same fate in the Nya Dagligt Allehanda on 6 December 1843 after the first performance of the Sinfonie sérieuse and there were no further performances of any of his symphonies during his lifetime.) Berwald was clearly incensed by the earlier review, yet he was in no way deterred and wrote a challenging reply. Nevertheless it must have contributed to his growing disenchantment with the conservative Stockholm musical establishment and might explain why he left Sweden for two substantial periods (1828–1842 and 1846–1849), travelling to Berlin as well as Paris and Vienna.
The eleven bars of Adagio introduction to the A major fragment set the harmonic germ of this sonata-form movement—a tritone between A and D sharp, which also initializes the Allegro moderato first theme and becomes a clever enharmonic pivot which we would more closely associate with Wagner. This is put to good effect in the tutti which precedes the closing third idea of the exposition (and consequently again towards the end of Duncan Druce’s completion) and even more surprisingly in three sustained pianissimo woodwind chords near the close of the development section. The introduction of the folk-like (and eminently whistle-able!) third idea is certainly original—clarinet and bassoon in octaves and then with flute entertainingly in canon. It is derived from a repeated Beethovenian dotted motif and reappears just before the recapitulation and in the completion. (Berwald does something rather similar in the first movement of the E flat symphony where a third idea is also introduced at the end of the exposition.) At bar 65 there is a brief passage which one could only describe as strikingly evocative of Mendelssohn were it not the case that the latter was still a child of eleven. Furthermore the real second subject (cellos, bar 93) strongly anticipates the parallel cello second subject from Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony which was written just two years later! Time after time again in Berwald’s music we will encounter these condensed prophecies of things to come.
from notes by Roy Goodman © 1995