Only one month after the Sinfonie singulière
Berwald completed his Fourth Symphony (originally titled Sinfonie naïve
) in E flat. A call to attention from trumpets and horns introduces a magical phrase of rising thirds in cellos that gently descends chromatically—any hint of ‘Eroica’ being transformed into Symphonie fantastique
! This movement has great propulsion (perhaps helped by the lack of exposition repeat and strongly hemiolic second-subject group) but most unusually closes with quiet reminiscences of a lyrical dotted melody, which also reappeared above a twenty-four-bar A flat pedal in an astonishing harmonic transformation just before the recapitulation. After each movement of his symphonies Berwald wrote an approximate timing in the score. Initially this would appear helpful when deciding upon a suitable tempo (for example, the common time Allegro movements should generally be taken alla breve) but since they do not represent an accurate timing of an actual performance they should not be taken too literally. The Adagio of this symphony is a particularly unreliable example—a proposed nine-and-a-half minutes would produce an unbearably slow tempo. The choice of D major for this movement makes a wonderful contrast and not surprisingly the theme (based on an unpublished tone poem, A Rustic Wedding
for organ) has taken on the status of a national song. The Scherzo is Haydnesque and the Finale too is full of humour and the ending unexpected, bringing to a close a work which finally earned the composer real critical acclaim at its first performance (albeit ten years after his death).
from notes by Roy Goodman ę 1995