Movement 1: Allegro con energia
Movement 2: Adagio maestoso
Movement 3: Stretto
Movement 4: Finale: Adagio – Allegro molto
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