Franz Berwald

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Franz Berwald (b. Jul. 23, 1796, Stockholm, Sweden, d. Apr. 3, 1868, Stockholm, Sweden) was one of the seminal composers of the first half of the nineteenth century, a precursor of the Scandinavian symphonic school which would come to fruition a half century later. Yet as a musician in his native Sweden he laboured in obscurity and was forced to make a living in such non-musical fields as glass blowing, lumbering, orthopedics, and physical therapy.

Born to a German orchestral violinist father, Franz joined the Royal Opera Orchestra and began to compose at the age of 16 with a combination of training and self-teaching. His Grand Septet for Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and String Quartet, premiered in 1828, was met with indifference from Swedish audiences. Berwald spent tie in Norway, and later Berlin to study music further. From there we went to Vienna where he eventually found an audience for his works. There his opera Estrella di Soria was performed to acclaim. Later in life Berwald was accepted in the Swedish Academy as a professor of composition in 1867, sadly succumbing to pneumonia the following year.

Like his contemporary Berlioz, Berwald was a visionary. He preferred to use established forms to contain a unique mode of thought. His four symphonies (1842-1945) are especially significant as they are precursors of Sibelius and Nielsen in their streamlined contours and unexpected harmonic and melodic devices. As such, he was one of the most important of the early Romantics.