Wettlauf, Tone poem for grand orchestra
Berwald, Franz Adolf
Franz Adolf Berwald
(b. Stockholm, 23 July 1796 – d. Stockholm, 3 April 1868)
Franz Adolph Berwald was born in July 1796 in Stockholm into a musical family. Christian Berwald, his father, was a violinist in the Royal Chapel Orchestra and began teaching his son violin at the age of five. Young Franz was naturally gifted and soon was giving concerts as a prodigy. By the age of 16 he joined his father in the Royal Chapel Orchestra.
Although never receiving formal lessons, he also began composing during those early years. After being rejected a number of times in his quest for funds to study abroad, his dream was finally realized in 1829 when he received a small scholarship, supplemented with funds he himself raised. He traveled to Berlin both to further his studies and hopefully secure performances of some of his compositions. Unfortunately, he failed in his efforts to secure performances and once his funds ran out he had to look elsewhere to make enough money to survive.
In 1835 he embarked on a completely different and more lucrative career as an orthopedist. He founded and equipped a clinic with the latest mechanical devices, many of his own design. The clinic became very successful, relieving him of all financial worries, but leaving him no time to compose. He quit his orthopedic practice in Berlin in 1841, and moved to Vienna, hoping to find a balance between composition and orthopedics. He gave up the latter, and having time to compose, wrote three orchestral works that were performed in 1842 (Elfenspiel, Humoristisches Capriccio and Erinnerung an die norwegischen Alpen). The concert that followed was both a critical and popular success. Shortly after this triumph, he decided to return to Stockholm, where for the better part of ten years he devoted most of his time to composition. Much of his music that is still in the repertoire today was written during those years. He also traveled widely promoting his music, including visits to Gothenburg, Paris, Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, Graz and Nürnberg. Returning to Stockholm, still without a musical position, he again had to look elsewhere to earn a living. In 1850, he became general manager of a glassworks company and later a partner and stakeholder in a sawmill. Both were financial successes but again limited his compositional activities. In 1864, Berwald was voted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and in 1867, when a new chair in composition was established at the academy’s conservatory, he was named a professor. He was not destined for a long tenure as he died of pneumonia in April 1868.
Berwald’s orchestral works, which include seven tone poems and four symphonies, have garnered the most international attention. The symphonies have enjoyed repeated recordings and have been championed by a number of leading conductors including Sixten Ehrling, Igor Markevitch, Okko Kamu, Roy Goodman, Neeme Jarvi and Herbert Blomstedt. The tone poems, although containing music that is equally enjoyable and well crafted, have yet to garner the same attention. Wettlauf was composed in the summer of 1842, a particularly productive time, which also included the writing of his tone poem Bajaderenfest, and the Sinfonie capricieuse. Wettlauf (Foot Race) (c. 8 minutes in length) is a symphonic scherzo, perfectly portraying (if that is possible in music) the excitement and relentless, non-stop action of a race. All accomplished with a romantic sensibility, deft orchestration and perfect formal unity.
Two commentaries of his music have struck a chord with this author – wholly agreeing with their assessment of Berwald’s music:
Karl Hinterbichler, University of New Mexico, 2015
Aufführungsmaterial ist von Hansen, Kopenhagen, zu beziehen.