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Symphony No 1 in G minor 'Sinfonie sérieuse'

'Berwald: Symphonies & Overtures' (CDD22043)
Berwald: Symphonies & Overtures
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Movement 1: Allegro con energia
Track 2 on CDD22043 CD2 [10'12] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 2: Adagio maestoso
Track 3 on CDD22043 CD2 [7'07] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 3: Stretto
Track 4 on CDD22043 CD2 [5'27] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 4: Finale: Adagio – Allegro molto
Track 5 on CDD22043 CD2 [7'43] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)

Symphony No 1 in G minor 'Sinfonie sérieuse'
In March 1842 Berwald returned with his wife to his native Stockholm and on 2 December 1843 his cousin Johan Frederik conducted a benefit concert for the composer at the Royal Opera which included the premiere of his Sinfonie sérieuse. This highly original work, which he now called his First Symphony, is bursting with fresh and innovative ideas. Although the autograph score is headed ‘Vienna 1842’, tests have shown that these words were added later, and the discrepancies with a manuscript second horn part indicate that the last movement was later revised and that this fair score was actually made after the first performance. Having finally enjoyed a more favourable press in Vienna (for his tone poems, and especially Elfenspiel) and having been made an honorary member of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Berwald probably hoped that the new work would be well received in his home city. Sadly the performance was badly prepared and it received the most appalling notices. With hindsight we can see why, since in many ways Berwald was ahead of his time. His public would have been more at home with the Mannheim School rather than this ‘old musician-of-the-future’ (as an astonished Hans von Bülow described him). Berwald was after all a fine craftsman—he wrote an interesting textbook on composition—and was not primarily concerned with being popular. In reality he had many gifts outside music, as is evident by the lasting success of his orthopaedic techniques, and from his versatility as manager in the 1850s of a sawmill and glass works in northern Sweden, in addition to his being an active pamphleteer on social issues.

All of the significant characteristics of Berwald’s style can be found in the Sinfonie sérieuse. The opening two-note figure (which he uses often) is unexpected and Berwald capitalizes on this Haydnesque shock at the reprise and the start of the recapitulation. This two-note motif reappears in the Adagio and in the Finale, but there are other thematic links throughout the work. All four movements begin with a scalic theme which rises to the sixth note and then generally falls away, encouraging diminished harmonies and sinister overtones. Berwald tends to make excessive use of sequential repetition: we find short melodic motifs and rhythmic patterns from which an entire movement is developed. In contrast we find occasional melodies with a timeless sweep—like the second subject group in this first movement (as also in the ‘Golconda’ overture) clearly conceived directly in orchestral sound. The dangers of repetitive squareness are sometimes evident (noticeably in the Sinfonie capricieuse and Sinfonie singulière Finale) but generally relieved by frequent use of three-bar phrases, syncopation in all manner of contexts, a developed chromaticism and unusual harmonic juxtaposition. The orchestration is innovative (especially the use of the brass and timpani) extending to melodic and even solo use of the trombones. There are numerous fleeting allusions to the sound-world of other composers: the surprise and daring of C P E Bach and Haydn, the ‘hammer’ motifs of Beethoven, a tremendous tension and irregularity which we associate with Berlioz, an Adagio with a hint of Bruckner, a classic Mendelssohnian scherzo and a Finale (introduced by material from the slow movement) with episodic touches of Brahms, Dvorák and Tchaikovsky!

from notes by Roy Goodman © 1995

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDD22043 disc 2 track 3
Movement 2: Adagio maestoso
Recording date
19 October 1995
Recording venue
Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden
Recording producer
Oliver Rivers & Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner & Ian Cederholm
Hyperion usage
  1. Berwald: Symphonies & Overtures (CDA67081/2)
    Disc 2 Track 3
    Release date: March 1996
    Deletion date: May 2004
    2CDs Superseded by CDD22043
  2. Berwald: Symphonies & Overtures (CDD22043)
    Disc 2 Track 3
    Release date: May 2004
    2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
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