August Berwald was born 24 August 1798 in Stockholm and died 13 November 1869 in the same city. His brother was the composer Franz Berwald and his cousin was the conductor Johan Fredrik Berwald. A skilled violinist employed by the Royal Court Orchestra between 1815−6 and as concertmaster starting in 1832. He later worked as a concert organiser in Stockholm while also employed as head of the educational institution of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music 1864−66.
August Berwald’s father and uncle came to Stockholm from Germany during the reign of King Gustav III to play in Kungliga Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra). August received an early education in music from his father along with his brother Franz, who was two years older. Whereas Franz had begun composing at a young age, August concentrated mainly on playing the violin. Already as a 17-year-old he was employed as violinist in the orchestra and remained there throughout his career until 1860. In 1832 he was appointed to the position of associate concertmaster and in 1838 to principal concertmaster. He traveled abroad on three occasions, including in 1853 when he visited Paris and was awarded a gold medal by the Empress Eugénie for a composition he had dedicated to her.
In the 1810s, Franz Berwald and his cousin Johan Fredrik Berwald were also employed as violinists in the Hovkapellet. But it was Franz and August who performed a great deal of music together until the end of the 1820s, when Franz left Sweden for studies abroad. In 1819 the two brothers traveled to Finland and gave concerts in Turku, Helsinki and Vyborg. During the 1820s, they organised around a dozen concerts in Stockholm, often assisted by the Hovkapellet. At these concerts, works by Franz were performed with August as violin soloist, in addition to violin concertos by Louis Spohr and Giovanni Battista Viotti. A double concerto by Franz was performed several times and at another concert, the brothers’ sister Carolina participated as one of the two violin soloists. At a concert in 1828 August’s Theme with variations and Rondoletto was performed with himself as soloist. In coeval reviews, August’s violin playing was well received.
The role of concertmaster in the Hovkapellet was an important duty. Concertmasters were among the best-paid musicians in the orchestra, but were also those with the most duties. The principal concertmaster would conduct the orchestra if the chief conductor was absent and, if necessary, play the solo parts. The assistant concertmaster would lead the orchestra and play the solo parts if both the conductor and the principal concertmaster were prevented from doing so. In his role as concertmaster August Berwald also gave regular concerts. Throughout the 1830s and 40s he organised numerous concerts, often with works by his brother Franz on the programme. For instance, during the 1842−43 season a concert series included a performance of Franz’ septet, which received a positive reception in the press.
In the 1840s it was also common for the Hovkapellet to give annual concerts to benefit its own pension fund. It was typical of the times for professional musicians to resolve the pension issue in this manner. Some individual musicians held additional concerts for their own personal benefit. Concertmasters belonged to this group of musicians and thus on several occasions August Berwald was able to arrange concerts through which he could receive some of the profits.
During the 1850s, the quality and availability of higher music education in the country became an important issue. The educational institution of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) developed into a more established organisation during this time. More teachers became involved with the music conservatory and teaching became more comprehensive. In 1864 August Berwald was appointed the conservatory’s director (called ‘inspector’ by his contemporaries) and he held this position until 1866, when he no longer wished to be a candidate for re-election. He was succeeded by Oscar Byström, who won the election over his two fellow contenders, Franz Berwald and Isidor Dannström.
The relationship to Franz and his music appears to have been significant for August Berwald throughout his entire life. When the brothers were both in Sweden, they gave joint concerts; when Franz was abroad, August often performed his brother’s music. In 1862 August nominated his brother to the post of composition teacher at the conservatory, but without success. Both brothers, however, were elected to the conservatory’s teaching staff in 1867, which meant, among other benefits, inclusion in a committee to develop a new school of violin performance.
August Berwald was elected to the Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien in 1841. He became a Knight of the Vasa Order in 1861.
The works by August Berwald known today are in large part pieces for violin and orchestra, and all are preserved in manuscript form. We know that August Berwald made a sizeable donation to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien’s library at the end of his life. It is possible that the donation also included some of his own works. The surviving works have opus numbers, but the list is incomplete. For example, there is no information concerning the work dedicated to the Empress of France. Aside from the aforementioned concert in which a work by August Berwald was performed, there are no known performances of his compositions during his own lifetime. One must still surmise that the works were featured at the many concerts that Berwald arranged during his tenure as concertmaster and concert organiser.
Berwald’s works are written in the classical style with traditional orchestral movements in which the strings form the main body and the wind parts play mostly supporting roles. All of these works consist of a soloist violin part, accompanied by orchestra. Most of the pieces have only two movements. The character of the music is that of easy accessibility for the listener, but including a solo part that requires a skilled violinist. One can say that it is fine salon music, with the intention of providing enjoyment for the moment rather than to build up a long-lasting repertoire.
Examples of these types of works are his Andante et Rondo Brillante op. 9, and Concertino op. 15 in two movements, Allegro − Rondo brillante, played attacca. The latter provides great opportunities for the soloist to exhibit his or her entire register, not least in the second movement’s final cadenza, which is played without orchestral accompaniment and includes lavishly running scales in the high register of the violin.
Similarly, both opus 17, Introduction et Concert Allegro and opus 18, Introduction et Rondo Giocoso are in two movements, where a slow introduction in the first movement is contrasted against a rapid second movement. A solo cadenza is the musical highpoint of each of these pieces.
Opus 16, Concert militaire pour le Violon, is a comprehensive work for symphony orchestra in four movements (Allegro Maestoso, Andante pastorale, Andante sostenuto, Rondo) written in the traditional Viennese classical style. Even this piece consists mainly of a soloistic violin part accompanied by orchestra, except at the solo cadenza in the final rondo.
Berwald also composed incidental music, such as to the romantic play Raphael Sanzio, which was performed at Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera) in the autumn of 1850. It was usually the conductor’s duty to write the music for music dramas, but it is also possible that concertmasters were sometimes assigned the task.
August Berwald can be viewed primarily as a musician, but he also composed valuable pieces for his own instrument and for the orchestra in which he was a member. In an obituary at Berwald’s death, the Musikaliska akademien’s secretary J.P. Cronhamn emphasised his importance as a skilled orchestral musician. August’s capacity to conduct the orchestra was also underlined, as well as the important position he held with the Hovkapellet for almost fifty years. His deep roots in the Stockholm music scene was also shown when the music conservatory students performed at his funeral.
Karin Hallgren © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander
Andersson, Ingvar: Franz Berwald, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1970.
Hedwall, Lennart: Oscar Byström. Ett svenskt musikeröde från 1800-talet, Hedemora: Gidlunds förlag, 2003.
Lomnäs, Erling (ed.): Franz Berwald. Die Dokumente seines Lebens, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1979.
Rabe, Julius: 'C August Berwald', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 4, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1924.
Reese Willén, Anne: I huvudstaden, musiklivets härd: Den strukturella omvandlingen av Stockholms offentliga konstmusikliv ca 1840-1890, diss., Uppsala universitet, 2014.
Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.
Summary list of works
Incidental music (Rafael Sanzio), orchestral works (1 overture and 9 pieces for violin and symphony orchestra).
Music to Rafael Sanzio, romantic play in verse in 5 acts with melodrammi, by A. E. Wollheim da Fonseca, trans. by F. A. Dahlgren, 1850.
Works for violin and symphony orchestra
Rondo pour deux violons, alto et violocello, op. 1.
Rondo capriccio pour deux violons, alto et violoncello, op. 2.
Fantasie pour deux violons, viola et violoncello, op. 3.
Andante et Rondo Brillante pour violon, E major, op. 9, 1834.
Introduction, théme et variations, op. 13, 1839.
Ouverture, op. 14.
Concertino pour le violon, A major, op. 15, 1848.
Concert Militaire pour le violon, G major, op. 16, 1832.
Introduction et Concert Allegro pour le Violon et Grand Orchestre, op. 17, 1849.
Introduction et Rondo Giocoso, op. 18, 1849.
Cadenza to Beethoven's violin concerto, for solo violin, 2 horns and strings.