Carl Schwencke (1797-1870)


The pianist and composer Carl [Karl] Schwencke was born in Hamburg on 7 March 1797 and probably died in Nussdorf on 7 January 1870. He lived in Sweden for several periods from 1816, living extensively in Stockholm, where he also gave piano lessons. In 1833, he was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.


Carl Schwencke was born into a prestigious family of musicians. His father, Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke held a prominent position in the musical circles of Hamburg where, in 1788, he succeeded Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach as the town organist, a post that he held until his death in 1822. Carl Schwencke’s older brother Johann Friedrich also subsequently held a significant position in Hamburg, as organist at St Nicholas Church, and as a teacher and composer.

Carl Schwencke received his musical education from his father, and later gained early recognition as a pianist, but also as a teacher and composer. At the age of 19, he began a career as a travelling musician and it was not until towards the end of his life that he settled somewhere permanently. His concert tours took him throughout Germany, as well as Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia and France, and even as far as Constantinople in 1840. A biography, which was published in an edition of his memoirs, states that he made many of his journeys on foot. He wandered between Hamburg and Paris repeatedly, amongst other places.

Carl Schwencke made several trips to Sweden from 1816. During the 1820s and 30s, he visited more often and also stayed for longer periods in the country. During these visits he devoted himself both to teaching and concert activities in Stockholm, as well as in several provincial towns. At these concerts he often performed his own music.

Carl Schwencke was familiar with many significant contemporary personalities in European musical life. In Paris, where he often spent the winter, he came into contact with Luigi Cherubini who became a close friend. As Director of the Conservatoire in Paris, Cherubini assisted with the promotion of Schwencke’s career, including encouraging performances of his music at public concerts. Cherubini also helped Schwencke to find a publisher who would distribute his works.

In Paris, he also made the acquaintance of Hector Berlioz and Nicolò Paganini. Schwencke’s Benedictus for four voices accompanied by four cellos and wind instruments, was performed at one of the Paris Conservatoire concerts, after which Berlioz wrote an extensive review in the Revue et Gazette musicale on 20 May 1838. Furthermore, Berlioz also reviewed subsequent concerts where Schwencke’s symphony was played in 1843 and 1844.

Cherubini was not the only internationally prominent composer that Schwencke came into contact with. He also had personal contact with Ludwig van Beethoven, a composer whom he held in very high regard. In a letter from around 1821−1822 Schwencke writes to Beethoven about his desire to own anything written in the composer’s hand. As proof of his knowledge of music, Schwencke enclosed one of his own compositions to accompany the letter. In 1824, when Schwencke visited Vienna, he met Beethoven who, in connection with this meeting, composed a canon dedicated to him, based on the pun ‘Schwenke dich ohne Schwanke’. Beethoven later allowed this brief compositional fragment to be published in the journal Cäcilia.

Towards the end of his life, Carl Schwencke settled in Nussdorf, near Vienna. The circumstances of his death are uncertain, and in some sources it is stated that he disappeared in January 1870. It is, however, likely that he died of a stroke on one of his regular walking tours.


Carl Schwencke’s musical output is especially characterised by his piano pieces, with the majority of his work consisting of pieces for solo piano. Among these are several sonatas, however most of the works are freer in character, such as fantasies, variations and dances. Much of the music is typical of the repertoire of concert pianists from this period, and was consistently featured at their concerts. The works are showpieces, designed to showcase the musician’s abilities and largely consist of virtuosic passages. Many of them are based on well-known melodies, often derived from the popular contemporary operatic repertoire.

Another important facet of Schwencke’s production are works for piano with four hands, as well as three variations and six marches for six hands. In addition to piano music, he also composed chamber pieces for violin and piano, flute and piano, and cello and piano. He also wrote a string quartet and a mass, which were both performed at public concerts in Stockholm, with the string quartet unfortunately not being particularly well received. In a review in the journal Heimdall dated 27 December 1828, the quartet is criticised, whilst the reviewer highlights Schwencke as a skilled composer of piano music. In the same review Schwencke’s mass is also mentioned, having been previously performed by the Harmonsika sällskapet (the Harmonic Society).

Anne Reese © 2015
Trans. Robin McGinley


Berlioz: Scenes from the Life and Work, Peter Bloom (ed.), Rochester, NY: Univ. of Rochester Press, 2008.
Drake, Erik: Biografiska anteckningar, Musikaliska akademiens arkiv, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket i Stockholm.
Fétis, Françios-Joseph: Schwencke (Charles), in Biographie universelle Des Musiciens et bibliographie générale de la Musique, vol. 8, Paris, 1844, p. 171.
Höijer, Leonard: Schwenke, Carl, in: Musik-Lexikon, Stockholm, 1864, p. 447.
Letters to Beethoven and other correspondence, vol. 2, 1813−182, Theodore Albrecht (ed.), Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
Lindgren, Adolf: Schwencke, Karl, in: Nordisk familjebok [Uggleupplagan], vol. 24.
Nisser, CarlSvensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830, Stockholm, 1943, pp. 326−340.
Schwencke, Carl: Erinnerungen, H. Benrath (publ.). Hamburg, 1901.
'Schwencke', in: Grove music online, Oxford Music Online.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (transcripts made by Erik Drake)

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (symphony, overture, piano concerto, violin concerto), chamber music (pieces for solo instrument and piano), piano works (two, four and six hands), vocal music (mass, Benedictus).

Collected works

This list of works is based on the compilation of the music by Schwencke in Carl Nisser's Svensk instrumentalkomposition 1770−1830 (Stockholm 1943). Because Schwencke lived longer than this the compilation is not complete, but it does represent the time he was most active in Sweden.

The works provided with an opus number are written first within the specific categories, the remaining
works are indicated in alphabetical order. 

Orchestral works
Ouverture á grande Orchestre [C major].
Symphony in D major.

Solo concertos
Concerto pour le Pianoforte avec ackompagnement de 2 flutes, 2 Hautbois, 2 Clarinettes, 2 Cors, 2 Trompettes, Timbales, 2 Fagots, 2 Violons, Alte, Violoncelle et Basse [G major].
Violin concerto.

Works for piano with another solo instrument
Pianoforte and flute op. 2.
Sonata [for violin and piano] op. 7.
Grand duo Concertant pour Piano et Violon Dedié à Monsieur Habeneck par Ch. Schwencke [B-flat major] op 17.
Grande Sonate Concertante pour Piano et Violonvelle ou Violon Dédiée à Monsieur Pixis par Ch. Schwencke [B minor] op 18.
Sonate pour le Piano et Violon, Dédié à son ami Charles Dahl, par Ch. Schwencek [A major] op 20.
Andante mit variationen für die Floete mit Begleitung des Forte-Piano von Carl Schwencke [G major].
Sonate pour le Pianoforté et Violon dediée à Mr G. A. Loenbom [A minor].

Other chamber music
Rondeau brilliant pour le Piano Forte avec Ackompagnement de quatuor ad libitum op 16. Dedié à Madame la Baronne Martine de Schwerin par Charles Schwencke.
Quatuor C. Schwencke Stockholm Sept. 1828 [quartet in G minor].

Works for solo piano
Sonatine pour le Piano-Forte composée par C. Schwencke [G major] op. 4.
Variations pour le Piano-Forte sur l'air 'Marlborough sa va't en guèrre' composée et dediées à Madame la Conseilliere de Justice Lehmann [G major] op. 6.
5 Pièces pour pianoforte op. 12.
Sonatine [pianoforte, G major] op. 13.
Trois Pièces pour le Piano-Forte [no. 1 in E-flat major, no. 2 in A-flat major, no. 3 in C minor] op. 15.
Amusement pour le Piano Dédié à M:lle Martine Lamberg par Charles Schwencke [G major] op. 19.
Deux amusements pour le Piano [A minor] op. 21.
Amusement sur le motifs de trois theme connus pour le Piano Forte Conposé par Charles Schwencke [A major].
Deux Fantaises pour le Piano Forté [no. 1 in C minor, no. 2 in C major].
Deux sonates pour Le Pianoforté dediées à Madame Jeanette de Carlisen née Wiedemann. 1. Sonata no. 1 in C major, 2. Sonata no. 2 in G minor.
Fantasie pour le Pianoforte sur les motifs de trois themes connus composée par Carl Schwencek [C major].
Impromptu oder Variationen auf das allgemein gesungen-, gestrichen-, und gepfiffenen Thema des muntern Componisten Rossini 'Di tante palpiti' mit einer bedenklichen Einleitung Fräulein Elise Mörner hochahtungsvoll gewidmet von Carl Schwencke [F major].
Impromptu over Variationen über ein bekanntes Thema aus der Oper: Die Müllerin von Paisiello von Carl Schwencke [G major].
Musicalischer Scherz in Gestalt einer Sonate für Fortepiano [C major, 1818].
Quadrilles, Valses et Ecossaises pour le Pianoforté.
Petites pieces pour le piano-forte.
Sex skotska danser för Pianoforte.
Sex Valses et sex ecossaises.
Sonatine pour le Piano-Forté [C major].
Stor Vals för pianoforte af C- Schwencke.
Trois Sonates pour Le Pianoforté dediées à Mr C.F.G Schwencke Directeur de Musique à Hambourg [no. 1 in A minor, no. 2 in G major, no. 3 in C minor].
Walzer, Eccossaises, Contrataenze.
Variations pour le Piano Forte sur l'air: 'Gestern Abend war Vetter Mickel da...' [C major].
Variations Pour le Piano Forte sur l'air Suédois Gubben Noach par Charles Schwencke [C major].

Works for piano four hands
Rondeau brilliant à quatre mains [F major] op. 1.
Grande Sonate pour Le Piano Forte à 4 mains [E-flat major] op 5.
Sonate Pour le Piano-Forte à quatre mains composée et dédiée à Mr le Noble Erik de Drake par son Ami Charles Schwencke [C minor] op. 10.
Sonatine à quatre mains [F major] op. 11.
6 divertissements à quatre mains [E minor, G minor, A-flat major, G major, C minor and A minor] op. 12.
Trois amusements pour le pianoforte à quatre mains op. 14.
Deux Themes avec variations pour le Pianoforté à 4 mains [no. 1 in C major, no. 2 in F major].
Divertissement pour le Pianoforté à 4 mains dedié aux Mesdemoiselles Henriette et Emilie Peters [Andante con amore in A major].
Ouverture aus dem singspiel Die Fischerinn von Goethe für das Pianoforte à 4 mains [G major].
Six marches à quatre mains.
Trois petites Pièces à quatre mains.
Variationen auf ein Schwedisches Volkslied für Harmonie componiert und arrangiert für Fortepiano zu 4 Händen von Carl Schwencke. Hälsingborg Im Nov. 1815 [E-flat major].

Works for piano six hands
Six marches pour le Piano Forte à six mains dediées aux Mesdemoiselles Ebba et Martine et Le baron Jules de Schwerin [1. F major, 2. D major, 3. B-flat major, 4. G major, 5. A major, 6. C minor].
Variations sur Trois Thèmes connus pour le Pianoforte à 6 mains [C major].

Vocal works
Benedictus for four voices.

Works by Carl Schwencke

There are no works by the composer registered