Svendsen, Johan Severin



Talented Swedish composer; born at Christiania. His first composition, written for violin, appeared when he was only eleven. His father was a military bandmaster, and he entered the army at fifteen, playing clarinet and flute, and finally becoming bandmaster. He left the army in 1861, and after playing in the orchestra at Christiania wandered through Sweden and North Germany. Charles XV. gave him a pension to enable him to study violin, but soon after he began studying his hand became paralyzed and he turned his attention to composition. He went to Leipsic in 1863 and entered the Conservatory, where he studied elementary theory under the instruction of David, Richter, Reinecke and Hauptmann. On being  graduated from the Conservatory he was given the great honorarv medal of the Academy. He gave concerts in Denmark, England, Norway and Scotland; then went to Paris, where for two years he was a member of Musard's Orchestra at the Odeon. He returned to Leipsic to conduct the Euterpe concerts in 1870, but, owing to the war, the concerts had to be given up. During the musical festival at Weimar he met Liszt and Tausig, and there his octet was played. In the autumn of 1871 he came to New York to marry an American woman he had met in Paris, and the same year returned to Leipsic to conduct the Euterpe concerts. In 1871 he met Wagner, with whom he became intimate and whose compositions and dramas he studied diligently. It was through this master that he became well acquainted with the Countess Nesselrode, who greatly aided him. In 1872 he returned to Christiania, where for the next five years he conducted the Music Association, receiving an annuity from the Storthing in 1874 and being honored by several decorations from the King, In 1877 he returned again to Leipsic, where he conducted a new composition at a Gewandhaus concert; then went to Munich, and finally to Rome, where he spent the winter. In 1878 he visited London and met Sarasate, who aided him in giving his quartet, quintet, and octet. He went to Paris, remaining until 1880, when he returned to his old conductor's desk at Christiania. In 1883 he was called to Copenhagen as Court conductor, and in 1896 he was made conductor at the Royal Theatre there.


Svendsen is a composer of excellent music of the conservative and classic style. His work is characterized by crispness and refinement and the care with which it is finished, as well as by a remarkable absence of national characteristics. The influence of Beethoven is strongly in evidence in his compositions. These consist of a quartet in A minor, a quintet in C, and an octet in A minor, for strings; a symphony in D; overture to Bjornson f s drama, Sigurd Slembe; concerto for violoncello in D; Carnaval a Paris; Funeral March for Charles XV.; Coronation March for Oscar II.; Zorahayde; Polonaise in E for coronation of Oscar II.; Four Norwegian Rhapsodies; orchestral arrangements for Norwegian, Swedish, and Icelandic ballads; overture to Romeo and Juliet; symphony in B flat; Carnaval des artistes Norwegians; Scandinavian airs for string quartet; romance in G for violin and orchestra; concerto for violoncello and orchestra in D minor; Marriage Cantata for chorus and orchestra.