Johan Fredrik Berwald (1787−1861)


Johan Fredrik Berwald was born in Stockholm on 4 December 1787, and died there on 26 August 1861. Violinist, composer, conductor. Cousin of the composer Franz Berwald. Toured with his father Georg Johan Abraham Berwald from 1795, following his father to St Petersburg from 1803 to 1812. Violinist at the Royal Court Orchestra (appointed in 1822, permanent member from 1823 to 1849). Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1818. J.F. Berwald strongly contributed to the emergence of public musical life in Stockholm, mainly through his efforts as a choir and orchestra conductor (both in the Royal Court Orchestra and the Harmonic Society).


Johan Fredrik Berwald belonged to a musical family that originated in Germany but had branched out both to Stockholm and St Petersburg. The Swedish connection was established partly by his uncle, who came to Stockholm in the 1770s, and partly by his father, Georg Johan Abraham, a famous bassoon virtuoso. He was called to Stockholm by the then chief conductor Johann Gottlieb Naumann for the inauguration of the new Royal Opera in 1782. Early on, Johan Fredrik Berwald appeared as a violinist at concerts both in Sweden and abroad, where he went on tour with his father. He was often described as a child prodigy, especially in the German press. During his time in Stockholm, Berwald was taught violin by Edouard Du Puy (a singer and very talented violinist who appeared in Stockholm and Copenhagen from 1793 onwards).

When his father moved to St Petersburg in the early 19th century to work as a musician in the Royal Court Orchestra, Berwald came along. He was taught violin by one of the greatest virtuosos of the time, Pierre Rode. In 1808, Rode left St Petersburg, and Berwald took over his place in the Royal Court Orchestra from 1808 to 1812. Two years later, in 1814, he was offered a place at Hovkapellet (the Swedish Royal Court Orchestra) by Du Puy, who had assumed the role of chief conductor a few years earlier. Berwald moved back to Stockholm and would be employed at the Hovkapellet for the rest of his professional life. In his early years, Berwald was given the opportunity to travel and study with excellent teachers. His contact with Du Puy must have been especially important to him. It was Du Puy who had engaged him as first violinist at the Hovkapellet, where Berwald also became concertmaster from 1816 onwards. When Du Puy died in 1822, Berwald was appointed as chief conductor, to occupy the post permanently the following year. Berwald was granted leave from the post in 1849. Shortly thereafter, he fell ill and lived in reclusion until his death in 1861. 

His post as chief conductor meant that Berwald became an important person in the musical life of Stockholm. The Opera was an important institution. The musicians at the Hovkapellet were also tasked to play in other professional circumstances owing to the lack of professional musicians. Societies such as Harmoniska Sällskapet (the Harmonic Society) and Mazerska kvartettsällskapet (the Mazer Quartet Society) were established in the early 1820s, and Berwald was active as a leader and violinist there.


Instrumental music up to the 1810s

Berwald’s career as a composer started early on. As early as the age of nine, he appeared as a composer at a concert in Stockholm, with his own prize-winning orchestral overture. In 1798, a symphony in E-flat major was published in Berlin. Three movements of the four-movement symphony had been written by Berwald, and the remaining one by Johan Wikmansson. In those three movements, the young Berwald demonstrated sound knowledge of the basic principles of classic Viennese symphony style, though he had understandably not yet developed his own thematic and harmonic style. 

At this time, it was unusual to distinguish between the roles of musician and composer. As a rule, you wrote music for occasions in which you yourself would participate. For the rest of his life, Berwald continued to write music for the different contexts he appeared in. During the 1810s, he composed chamber music works, such as seven string quartets and pieces for violin and piano. The string quartets demonstrate a classic Viennese style, both in the choice of forms such as sonatas and minuets, and in melody, which is largely based on triadic chords. The melody is performed by the first part, accompanied by the three lower parts. One of the quartets, published in 1822, was dedicated to Du Puy. It mainly demonstrates the same style as the others, but there is also a reference to Berwald’s time in Russia through the Russian tunes that form an important feature of the final movement. The string quartets may have been performed at the quartet evenings that Berwald organised from 1816 on.

Occasional pieces from the 1820s to the 1840s

Berwald’s appointment as the chief conductor of Hovkapellet in 1822 meant that he was to compose and arrange music for different occasions in addition to leading the orchestra. The Opera’s strong ties to the court meant that it was often used in connection with royal occasions such as coronations, weddings and funerals. This category includes a coronation cantata for Queen Desideria in 1829 and an 1844 funeral cantata for Carl XIV Johan. Berwald later arranged a funeral march and a solo song from the funeral cantata for voice and piano. The march, in C minor with counterpoint rhythm and strong repeated chord progression throughout, has a three-part form, with a lighter trio between the other two parts. The cavatina is a quiet solo song with long triple time melodic lines.  The lyrics express a wish for peace for the royal tomb and pay tribute to the memory of the deceased. In the notes, Berwald himself indicated that the cavatina should be sung by the greatest of all stars in 1844, Jenny Lind.

It was also common practice to commemorate a royal wedding or other occasion with a special opera production in addition to newly-written pieces. In order to establish a connection with the actual event, it was the duty of the Opera heads to write a prologue to be performed before the actual production. The court would be celebrated through the lyrics and striking music, such as in the prologue to Spontini’s opera The Vestal Virgin, which was performed for the wedding between Prince Oscar and Josephina in June 1823. The newly-written prologue consists of a recitative and an aria. The recitative describes the present union and makes connections with Nordic mythology. The following aria celebrates the couple and states that their future sons will carry the royal heritage on to the unborn generations. The lyrics are performed to a quiet tune with a regular rhythm, in which the singer is given the opportunity to shine with running scales in quick note values at the end of the stanzas.

Royal occasions were also conferred with smaller types of performances. A few of these with music by Berwald remain: a recitative and aria with lyrics celebrating Gustav III’s sister Albertina, performed in January 1824. The aria has the nature of a ditty, with clear periodic structure and a harmony built on tonic and dominant. It has five stanzas, alternatingly performed by soloist and choir. Similar tunes appear in the epilogue to Födelsedagen (The Birthday), which was performed in connection with the birth of Prince Carl in 1826. The lyrics express joy at the birth of the new prince and stress his relationship to earlier Swedish dynasties.

Two 1843 works, performed for the celebration of Carl XIV Johan’s 25th jubilee, demonstrate the contemporary interest in what was thought of as folk music. Ett National-Divertissement and En majdag i Värend are based on a selection of folk tunes. The latter contains seventeen short, stanzaic musical pieces in which peasant girls and boys, a handyman and a gentleman farmer appear to celebrate their king. Here too, it was Berwald’s duty to arrange the tunes for orchestra. The songs were also published in print with piano accompaniment, for the enjoyment of the growing group − mostly young women − who played in their salons at home.

Stage music

Many spoken dramas containing several musical features, as was the practice at the time, were also performed at the opera. It was the chief conductor’s duty to provide them with music; Berwald’s music for some 25 plays remains. A few works from the 1840s are noteworthy as typical examples of the contemporary interest in depicting bourgeois life onstage and to embody the Swedish nation using folk music from different parts of the country.

August Blanche’s 1845 play Läkaren (The Doctor) depicts realistic, contemporary events. The play features several familiar tunes with new lyrics, such as student choirs, folk tunes and tunes from current French comic opera. Only a few of these contain newly-written tunes by Berwald, whose task was mainly restricted to arranging the tunes for orchestra.

Works for music societies

Berwald was also an important figure in several of the music societies of Stockholm. He mainly acted as a leader in this context, but also wrote music especially for this purpose.

Harmoniska Sällskapet was formed in 1820 and consisted of some 120 amateurs who sang in the choir, and professional musicians, many of them employed at Hovkapellet. Berwald wrote a number of smaller choir pieces for the society. Since the early 19th century, the Stockholm Freemason lodge had been giving a Good Friday concert, often in collaboration with the Harmoniska Sällskapet. The proceeds went to the orphanage run by the Freemasons. The programme often included oratorios such as Joseph Haydn’s Creation. Berwald wrote Sex stycken gamla Frimurarsånger, two march-like songs and a solemn march for the Masons.


Berwald’s music was mainly written for special occasions. It was not always a matter of distinguishing between his own composition or an arrangement of an existing tune, as long as the music worked in a given situation. In this respect, Berwald was an important early 19th century composer, both for those who experienced the music on these occasions and for the institutions and societies that played such a great part in the emergence of public musical life.

Karin Hallgren © 2014
Trans. Martin Thomson


Brandel, Åke: Släkten Berwald. Några anteckningar, Stockholm: Konsertföreningen, 1960.
Brown, A. Peter: The symphonic repertoire, vol. 3, part A, The European symphony from ca. 1800 to ca. 1930: Germany and the Nordic countries, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
Crusenstolpe, Magnus Jacob: 'Johan Fredrik Berwald', Svea folkkalender, 1862, pp. 173−175
Dahlgren, F.A.: Anteckningar om Stockholms theatrar, Stockholm, 1866.
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik, Uppsala: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, 2008, pp. 297−298.
Hallgren, Karin: 'Opera’s Role in Royal Image Making: Repertoire and Performances 1810−1826', in: Mikael Alm and Britt-Inger Johansson (eds), Scripts of Kingship: Essays on Bernadotte and Dynastic Formation in an Age of Revolution, Uppsala: Opuscula Historica Upsaliensia, 2008, pp. 97−118.
Karle, GunhildKungl. hovkapellet i Stockholm och dess musiker 1818−61: med utblickar, Uppsala: [self-published], 2005.
Kronlund, Dag: 'Musiken låten ljuda, mina vänner!': musiken i talpjäserna på Kungliga teatern vid 1800-talets mitt, diss., Stockholms universitet, 1989.
Lindgren, Adolf: Svenska hofkapellmästare, Stockholm: Central-tryckeriet, 1882.
Morales, Olallo: 'Franz Berwald. Förfäderna. Ur en outgiven Berwaldbiografi', Svensk Tidskrift för Musikforskning, vol. 3, 1921, pp. 52−62.
Rabe, Julius: J Fredrik Berwald, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 4, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1924.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (Simphonie périodique, Ouverture périodique), solo concerts (including violin concerto no. 3), chamber music (11 string quartets, violin sonatas, etc.), songs with piano, music for some 25 plays (including a prologue to The Vestal Virgin, Felsheims hussar, National-Divertissement, En majdag i Wärend and Läkaren).

Collected works

After list of works by Åke Brandel (in Åke Brandel's archive, F 1:1, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket) and J F Berwald's own listing (in copy in Åke Brandel's archive, F2:1), incidental music after Dahlgren 1866.

Stage music 
L'Héroine de l'amour filial, operetta in 3 acts, composed in 1811, performed at Eremitage-Theatern for the Imperial Court in St Petersburg (instrumentation unknown, only the overture is extant).
Prologue to the opera 'Vestalen' on account of the engagement of the Crown Prince, composed in 1822, Kungl. Teatern 3 January 1823.
Frejas högtid, prologue in 1 Act, words by P A Granberg, 'performed at K. Theatern before the Opera Titus', at the wedding of H. R. H. the Crown Prince, composed in 1823, Kungl. Teatern 1823.
Falkland eller Samvetet, drama in 5 acts by J L Laya, Arsenalsteatern 1823−25, Kungl. Teatern 1825−42.
Preciosa, romantic drama in 4 acts with choirs and dance by P A Wolf, 'several numbers, consisting of March, Choirs and Fanfare', Kung. Teatern 1824−62.
Valdemar, tradegy in verse by G F Åkerhielm, Kungl. Teatern 1824.
Ballet Music to the 'Opera the Turk in Italy', composed in 1825.
Födelsedagen, epilogue with song in 1 act on account of the birth of Prince Carl Ludvig Eugéne, text by B von Beskow, music arranged by J F Berwald, Kungl. Teatern 1826.
Oden i Svithiod, tradegy in verse by G A Barkel, 'Solo song, Choirs, March, etc.', composed in 1826. Piano reduction printed. Kungl. Teatern 1826−30.
Sulioterna eller Sulis öfvergång, historical drama in 3 acts by P A Wallmark, Kungl. Teatern 1829.
Prologue to Hemfelt at the opening ceremony of Kungl. Theatern 24 August 1831, text by B von Beskow.
Varulfven, vaudeville in 1 act by Scribe and Mazère, 'music by several composers, chosen by B von Beskow and arranged by J F Berwald', Kungl. Teatern 1831.
Prologue to Cora and Alonzo on account of the 50 year anniversary of Kungl. Theatern, text by H A Lindgren, Kungl. Teatern 1832.
Birger Jarl eller Stockholms grundläggning, 'Overture, Choirs, Romance, Marches, Melodramas and Ballets by J F Berwald', composed in 1835, Kungl. Teatern 1835.
Den gamle fältherren, vaudeville in 1 act by von Holtei, 'music by a German composer, with additions by J F Berwald', Kungl. Teatern 1835.
Den venetianske bravo'n, drama in 4 acts and 8 tableaus by A Bourgeois, Kungl. Teatern 1836.
Lägret för Montauban, vaudeville in 1 act by Varin, et al, music arranged by J F Berwald 'with use of contributions donated by the Crown Prince (Oscar)', Kungl. Teatern 1836−41.
Nya garnisonen eller Karnevalsskämtet, vaudeville in 1 act by Théulon and Dartois, music chosen by von Beskow and arranged by J F Berwald, Kungl. Teatern 1836−61.
Gustaf Adolf i München eller Grafbruden, historical drama in verse in 5 acts, with prologue by Bahrdt, remaining music by E W Djurström, arranged by J F Berwald, Kungl. Teatern 1837.
Victorine, drama in 3 acts, divided in 5 tableaus, by Dumersan, et al, melo dramas by Crown Prince Oscar, instrumentation by J F Berwald, Kungl. Teatern 1837.
En majdag i Värend, text by C W Böttiger. Kungl. Teatern 1843−44. Piano reduction printed.
National Divertissement on account of the 25 year long government of King Charles XIV John, text by C W Böttiger, composed in 1843. Kungl. Teatern 1843, 1846, 1850. Piano reduction printed.
Frithiof, gifvet såsom minnesfest öfver Tegnér [Frithiof, given as memorial ceremony for Tegnér], the music (partly arranged), composed in 1845.
Erik den fjortonde, text by J Börjesson, (Melodramas, Romance, Choirs, Marches, etc.), composed in 1837, Mindre teatern 1846−59.
Den okände beskyddaren, comedy in 1 acts by Schribe, Kungl. Teatern 1847.
Läkaren, drama with song by August Blanche, music composed and arranged by J F Berwald, Kungl. Teatern 1854−61.
Felsheims hussar, comedy vaudeville in 3 acts, music arranged by J F Berwald, Ladugårdslandsteatern 1858.

Orchestral music
Overture in C major, composed in 1797, published in Berlin and Amsterdam in 1800. To Kongl. Svenska Musicaliska Academien.
Symphony in E-flat major, composed in 1798 or 1799, published in Berlin and Amsterdam 1799. Composée & Deciée a sa Majesté le Roi de Suede.

Solo instrument and orchestra
Violin conserto in D minor, composed in 1804 (work lost).
Violin concerto in B-flat major, composed in 1805 (work lost).
Violin concert in E minor, dedicated to Alexander I, composed in 1811.
Swedish songs for violin with orchestra.
Bassoon concerto, composed in 1815, written for Franz Preumayr.
Rondo for bassoon and orchestra, composed in 1812 (instrumentation unknown, work lost).
Variations for violin on a Norwegian melody, composed in 1806 (instrumentation unknown, work lost).
Variations for violin on a Russian theme, composed in 1808 (instrumentation unknown, work lost).

Voices(s) and orchestra
Cantata to a Russian text for solo, choir and orchestra, composed in 1807 (instrumentation unknown, work lost).
Victory song over the battle of Leipzig, for tenor and orchestra ('sung by Karsten, at a concert given by me at Riddarhuset').
Cantata on Swedish words with soprano solo, choir and orchestra.
Cantata for 3 solo voices, choir and orchestra, to a feast given by Stockholm's Citizenry for the Royal House and Stora Börssalen.
A spiritual song with text in Latin for solo alto voice and choir an orchestra, 'for the present Catholic church'.
Music to the funeral of HRH Princess Sophia Albertina, words by Pontin, composed in 1829 (instrumentation unknown).
Music to the coronation of HM Queen Desideria, words by Beskow.
Prologue at the 50 year anniversary of K. Theatern, composed in 1832.
Melodramas, choir and solo song, to the declamation 'Year 1834' by Pontin, composed in 1834.
Music to the funeral of HM King Charles XIV John, words by Böttiger, composed in 1844.

Piano music
Andante in G minor, composed in 1794 (work lost).
Two French romances at the piano, printed.
Rondo for piano in E-flat major, 'to my wife', printed.

Voice and piano
Den heliga Cecilia. Vid tableau vivant sjungen af JENNY LIND.
Dödsoffer åt Bröderna Ramsay, for song and piano, texts by Afzelius, printed.
Klagan på stranden, song at the piano, printed.
Six French romances, 'to the former R. H. the Crown Prince', printed.

Choral music
Choir to the tradegy Waldermar of Åkerhjelm.

Violin and piano
Three polonaises op. 1, composed in 1796, pubslihed in Berlin 1798. To Madame la Grande Duchesse Elisabeth Alexiewna, no. 1 in C-dur for violin and piano, no. 2 in C major for piano, no. 3 in C major for violin and piano.
Danse Suédoise variée pour le Piano Forte & Violon obligé in G minor. To the former Crown Princess Josephine, printed.
Grande Sonate Pour le Piano-Forte avec Violon obligé op. 6 in E-flat major. Dediée à Madame d'Afzelius, née Baronne de Ramsay.
Large sonata for piano and violin in C minor, composed in 1816.

Two violins
Concertant Violin Duet (A major), to my students, the demioselles A. and L Bergman.

String quartets
Three string quartets op. 2, composed in 1798−99, published in Berlin and Amsterdam 1800, no. 1 in F major, no. 2 in G minor, no. 3 in D major.
String quartet in C major, composed in 1801.
String quartet in G major, composed in 1802.
Two violin quartets, composed in 1803, no. 1 in F-sharp minor, no. 2 in E-flat major.
Violin quartet, composed in 1809, F minor.
Violin quartet in D major, composed in 1813.
Violin quartet in A minor, composed in 1814.
Violin quartet in G minor, composed in 1819, to E. Du Puy.
Rondo for oboe with quartet, composed in 1812 (work lost).

String quintet
String quintet in C major, composed in 1807 (work lost).

Works by Johan Fredrik Berwald

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 17