Home » Uncategorized » Johan Svendsen and his Romance in GM for Violin and Orchestra

Johan Svendsen and his Romance in GM for Violin and Orchestra

     Johan Severin Svendsen (September 30, 1840–June 14, 1911) was a Norwegian composer, conductor and violinist who was born in Christiania (now Oslo), Norway.  His father was a music teacher and Svendsen learned both the violin and clarinet from him. By the time he finished school, he was working as an orchestral musician, and occasionally made short concert tours as a violinist. In Lübeck, on one of his tours, he came to the attention of a wealthy merchant who made it possible for him to study from 1863-67 at the Leipzig Conservatory. He began his studies with Ferdinand David, but problems with his hand forced him to switch to composition, which he studied with Carl Reinecke. He completed his studies in Leipzig in 1867, receiving first prize in composition. At one time he was an intimate friend of the German composer Richard Wagner.

    Svendsen’s first published work, the String Quartet in A minor, Op. 1, achieved great popular success. He quickly followed with the String Octet, Op. 3 and String Quintet, Op. 5, both of which added to his early fame. All of Svendsen’s chamber music was written while he was at the Leipzig Conservatory.  Gradually his attention turned to conducting. After spending time in Paris (1868–70) and Leipzig (1870–72), he returned to Christiania. In the summer of 1871, he went to New York City to marry Sarah (Sally, later changed to Bergljot) Levett Schmidt, whom he had met in Paris. He was conductor of the Musical Society Concerts in Christiania (1872–77), then spent three years in Germany, Italy, England and France. He returned to teach and conduct in Kristiania (1880–1883). In 1883, he was appointed principal conductor of the Royal Theater Orchestra in Copenhagen, where he lived until his death.

     In 1884, Svendsen and his wife separated, and she moved to Paris. Their relationship had been chaotic for several years.  Following a divorce from Sarah he married Juliette Haase in 1901 with whom he had three children.   In contrast to his more famous contemporary and close friend, Edvard Grieg, Svendsen was famous for his skill of orchestration rather than that of harmonic value. While Grieg composed mostly for small instrumentation, Svendsen composed primarily for orchestras and large ensembles. His most famous work is his Romance for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 26 (1881). He was very popular in Denmark and Norway during his lifetime, both as a composer and a conductor, winning many national awards and honors. However this popularity did not translate into acceptance into the international repertory of classical music. He died in Copenhagen, aged 70.

     Svendsen’s output includes two symphonies, a violin concerto, a cello concerto, the Romance for violin, four Norwegian Rhapsodies, and various shorter works for orchestra; the early string quartet, octet, and quintet, along with other chamber music; a number of songs and vocal pieces; a cantata; a ballet; and about fifty other minor works not included in his numbered catalog.   Some sketches, most likely for a Symphony No. 3, were found by conductor Bjarte Engeset in 2007, orchestrated by Bjørn Morten Christophersen, and premiered by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra with Engeset in 2011.

     The only piece by Svendsen in my collection is:

                Romance in GM for Violin and Orchestra, op. 26.


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