Franz Berwald was born in Stockholm, the son of a German
violinist in the royal orchestra. He was largely self-taught,
although he did study music with his father and composition with
J.13.E. De Puy. He joined the orchestra as a violinist at the age
of 16 and, apart from one brief period, remained there
until 1 828. when he composed a Grand septet for clarinet,
bassoon, horn, and string quartet.
However, the lack of enthusiasm in his home country
highly original style provoked Berwald to leave Sweden to try and make a career abroad. Following a tour of Norway he spent
time studying in Berlin, and then lived for a period in Vienna,
where his opera Estrella di Soria was performed.
He married in Vienna m 1841, and his works were staged to
increasingly supportive audiences. In 1842 he wrote a symphony,
La serieuse — the only one of his symphonies that he saw
performed in his lifetime. On his return to Sweden in that year,
however, his reception was cool, and the Royal Opera's production
of his operetta Modchaudlerskau in 1845 was a failure.
Nonetheless Berwald persevered and produced three more symphonies,
including La capricicuse and La singtilii're. The
latter in particular, which has only three movements instead of
the usual tour, reveals his skill as an orchcstrator, and is
perhaps his finest work.
Berwald spent a further three years travelling in Europe, where
he met with varying degrees of success. In Paris neither the
Conservatoire nor the Opcra-Comique showed interest, but in Vienna
he did see a performance of his opera Ein Landliches
Vcrlobinigsfest in Schwedcti (A Swedish Country Betrothal).
Back in Sweden, however, he was disappointed in his efforts to
become musical director at Uppsala University, and was also denied
the position of court conductor.
Forced by his lack of musical success into a series of jobs to
earn his living, Berwald was manager of a Swedish glass factory in
Angermanland from 1849 to 1859. Despite the demands made on his
time by work, he continued to teach and compose, his output
including piano trios, piano quartets, and symphonic poems. In the
early 1860s he published some of his chamber works to encouraging
reviews, and the Stockholm Royal Opera eventually performed
Estrella di Soria in 1862.
He completed one last opera in
1864, Drottningen av Golconda
(The Queen of Golconda), and was finally accepted as a Fellow
of the Swedish Academy, rising to the post of professor of
composition in 1867. This was the pinnacle of his career - but his
success was shortlived. Within only a year of his appointment
Berwald died of pneumonia.