Composers Datebook®

The singular Mr. Berwald

Franz Berwald (1796 – 1868) — Symphony 3 in C (Singulière) (Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Okko Kamu, cond.) Naxos 8.553052


Composer's Datebook - January 10, 2022

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January 10, 2022

Synopsis

Franz Berwald was a Swede who lived in the early 19th century and who made his living first as an orthopedic surgeon and later as the manager of a sawmill and glass factory. But these days, nobody cares very much about all that. Berwald’s true passion was music, and in addition to operas and concertos, he wrote four symphonies, only one of which was performed during his lifetime, and that to mixed reviews.

Berwald spent some years in Vienna, where a few of his works were performed. After Berwald’s death in 1868, the crusty, conservative Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick appraised him as (quote) "a man stimulating, witty, prone to bizarrerie, [but who] as a composer lacked creative power and fantasy".

Oddly enough, it’s exactly Berwald’s “bizarrerie,” or amusing strangeness, that appealed to later generations – and likewise his creative power and fantasy. For many music lovers today, Berwald ranks as Sweden’s first great Romantic composer and symphonist.

This did not happen overnight, however. Berwald’s Third Symphony, nicknamed “The Singular One,” was written in 1845, but had to wait 37 years after the death of its composer for its first public performance in Stockholm on today’s date in 1905.

Music Played in Today's Program

Franz Berwald (1796 – 1868) — Symphony 3 in C (Singulière) (Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Okko Kamu, cond.) Naxos 8.553052

On This Day

Births

  • 1910 - French composer and conductor Jean Martinon, in Lyons;

  • 1916 - American composer Milton Babbitt, in Philadelphia;

Deaths

  • 1895 - French composer Benjamin Godard, age 45, in Cannes;

  • 1941 - British composer Frank Bridge, age 61, in Eastbourne;

Premieres

  • 1676 - Lully: opera "Atys," in St. Germain;

  • 1713 - Handel: opera "Teseo" at the Queen's Theater in London; On the second night of the performance, the theater manager, a certain Owen Swiney, flees to Italy with the box office receipts (Gregorian date: Jan. 21);

  • 1867 - Verdi: opera "Don Carlos" (2nd Italian-language version in 4 acts), in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala;

  • 1886 - first performance with orchestra of Bruckner: "Te Deum" in Vienna;

  • 1897 - d'Indy "Istar" for orchestra, simultaneously by Willem Mengelberg in Amsterdam and Eugène Ysayë in Brussels;

  • 1928 - Gershwin (and Sigmund Romberg): musical "Rosalie" at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City; This show included the classic Gershwin songs "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "Say So!";

  • 1931 - Ives: “Three Places in New England,” in New York City, by the Chamber Orchestra of Boston, Nicholas Slonimsky conducting;

  • 1934 - Franz Schmidt: Symphony No. 4, by Vienna Symphony, Oswald Kabasta conducting;

  • 1960 - Stravinsky: "Movements," at Town Hall in New York, by pianist Margit Weber during a Stravinsky Festival, with the composer conducting;

  • 1978 - Dutilleux: "Timbres, espaces, mouvement" for orchestra, in Washington, D.C.;

  • 1987 - Joan Tower: "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman" No. 1 (later dedicated to Marin Alsop), by the Houston Symphony, Hans Vonk conducting;

  • 1998 - Kernis: String Quartet No. 2, at Merkin Concert Hall in New York, by the Lark Quartet; This work won that year's Pulitzer Prize for Music;

Others

  • 1710 - Handel's music is performed in London for the first time, when orchestral works from his opera "Rodrigo" are performed as incidental music during a revival performance of Ben Jonson's play "The Alchymist" (Gregorian date: Jan. 21).