STM-Online vol. 4 (2001)
Avishai Kallai

Joachim Eggert: Authenticating the Premiere Performance of his E-Flat Symphony

Avishai Kallai

[1] Introduction

On ”Toccata,”, the interesting web site that focuses on Nordic music and performers, an article by P. G. Bergfors describes Swedish musical life at the turn of the nineteenth century: ”There was hardly an indigenous symphonic tradition to speak of in Sweden. A few rather modest works bearing the title ‘sinfonia’ had been composed during the eighteenth century. The foremost classical symphonist in Sweden at that time is hardly known even to musicologists: Joachim Nikolas Eggert.”

This little-known Swedish composer and conductor apparently scored a coup-albeit unwittingly-by composing and performing a concert symphony with a trombone section 18 months before Beethoven Fifth Symphony, which is widely recognized as the first symphonic usage of the trombone.

[2] Eggert’s Symphonies

Eggert was an important composer of orchestral and chamber music. Stylistically, his compositions follow Viennese classical tradition, but in terms of form, melody, and harmony they show the marked influence of early German romanticism. They reveal Eggert’s avid interest in experimentation with polyphony, structure, expression, and instrumental sonority, and display his dynamic and innovative musical imagination (Dale and Helmer, 1980).

Eggert’s four completed symphonies are grandiose, well-written works that attracted attention during his lifetime, but were soon forgotten after his untimely death (Hedwall, 1996, 61-63). His symphonic style was brazen and unique, with striking orchestrations, often using massive percussion and brass forces, considerable dynamic shadings, and an advanced harmonic language.

[3] Eggert’s E-flat Symphony

The E-flat Symphony, Eggert’s Third, was composed in April 1807 (van Boer, 2000), and dedicated to the Royal Academy of Music on 4 May 1807 (Holm, 2000). The score calls for the following instrumentation:

2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones (alto, tenor, and bass), timpani, and a full string section (van Boer, 1983).

Of the four completed symphonies, only the third has three movements, requires trombones, and lacks the large percussion section of the others (Guion, 1988:275). The tempi of the movements are as follows:

Adagio maestoso-Allegro spiritoso (E-flat 4/4 sonata form). Marche: Grave (E-flat 4/4). Fugue: Adagio maestoso-Allegro (E-flat 4/4).

The second movement, a ”Trauermarsch,” and the third movement, a ”Double Fugue,” are taken from Eggert’s Funeral Cantata for Duke Fredrik Adolf (Hedwall, 1996:61-63).

In French music at that time, a single trombone often doubled a bass line, totally denuded of any rhythmic or melodic significance, and only during loud tutti passages. If the bass line displayed any thematic importance or technical difficulties, the trombone doubled another simpler line. In contemporary Austrian music, on the other hand, three trombones frequently doubled the strings or the woodwinds, in unison or an octave below, often playing intricate rhythms and ornate passages (Guion, 1988:271-83).

Eggert’s grasp of trombone writing was most extraordinary. He shunned the French and the Austrian trombone practices. Unlike French composers, Eggert wrote rhythmic and articulate trombone parts, and he took advantage of the instrument’s wide dynamic span, from ppp to ff. Unlike Austrian composers, he abstained from continuous doubling and florid writing. This E-flat Symphony was avant-garde. Many of its tonalities and symphonic effects came to be commonplace by the end of the nineteenth century. Eggert’s orchestration was as masterful and imaginative as Beethoven’s (Guion, 1988:277)).

[4] The Swedish Royal Court Orchestra

Except in Austria and southern Germany (Raum, 1992a:95), competent trombonists were rare commodities in continental Europe and England during the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth century (Guion, 1988:282). By 1685, the trombone virtually disappeared in England and France. In London of 1738, Georg Frederic Handel scored three trombones in two oratorios, Saul and Israel in Egypt, knowing that visiting German trombonists were available. Shortly afterward, Handel discarded a ”Dead March” from yet another oratorio when he learned that the Germans were no longer on hand. Even as late as 1784, organizers of the Handel Commemorations were faced with a trombonic dilemma: no instruments and no instrumentalists (Raum, 1992a:92-94). Eventually, they did find six German musicians in the king’s military band who could play tenor, bass, and contrabass trombones. In 1774, it was Christoph Willibald Gluck, in Parisian productions of his operas Iphigenia in Aulis and Orpheus and Eurydice, who reintroduced trombones to France, utilizing German trombonists who were living and working in Paris (Weiner, 1993:288-308).

Ironically, as late as 1803, the Vienna Royal Court Orchestra did not have a trombonist on its roster (Schreiber, 1938:100-117), despite the overabundant supply of very talented trombonists in the Vienna environs (Raum, 1992b:94). Around 1810, a handful of European orchestras started to hire trombonists. The Royal Orchestra of Berlin, the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra, and the Grand Opera of Paris listed three trombonists each at that time. Other orchestras slowly followed suit, but most could not rely on trombones being present on any regular basis until 1840 (Schreiber, 1938:100-117).

There was one amazing exception: The Swedish Royal Court Orchestra [Kungliga Hovkapellet]. As early as 1790, this outlying orchestra had three trombonists on its payroll. In essence, Hovkapellet anteceded all of the late Classical and early Romantic orchestras of Europe in having a full-balanced wind and brass section (Schreiber, 1938:100-117). The full 1790 personnel roster was as follows:

20 violins, 6 violas, 8 violoncello, 4 contrabasses, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, and 1 timpani.

[5] The Nordic Musicologists’ Discussion Forum

Did the first presentation of Eggert’s E-flat Major Symphony predate the premiere on 22 December 1808 of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? The matter was debated on the Nordic Musicologists’ Discussion Forum in June 2000. Unfortunately, the discussion was far too brief and inconclusive. Two views emerged:

1. The premiere performance of the E-flat Symphony can not be established due to the absence of precise documentation (programs, letters, or reviews) (Holm, 2000).

2. The premiere performance of the E-flat Symphony took place during the course of 1807, perhaps as early as May 1807, together with that of Eggert’s C-Minor Symphony (van Boer, 2000).

[6] The Norlind-Broman article

In their 1925 STM article (Nordling and Broman, 1925:50-51), Tobias Norlind and Sten Broman actually did provide evidence of the first performances of the four completed symphonies. The premiere of the C-Major Symphony took place on 29 April 1805 at a reception for the King and Queen of Sweden in the State Hall. The performance was repeated for the public on 14 May 1805, this being the first time a composition by Eggert appeared on a concert program in Stockholm. The G-Minor Symphony, entitled ”Skjöldebrand,” was scheduled for a concert program on 10 December 1806, but Eggert withdrew it because the necessary trumpets were not available. On 20 February 1807, ”Skjöldebrand” was finally performed to great acclaim (Nordling and Broman, 1925:50).

A concert on 14 May 1807 marked Eggert’s debut as a conductor, and he used this occasion to introduce several of his own compositions. The program included:

[Part 1]

1. A symphony by Eggert, including an Adagio with four obbligato French horns, originally from the Funeral Cantata for Duke Fredrik Adolf.

2. An aria by Joseph Martin Kraus, sung by Mrs. Waesselius.

3. A string quartet by Eggert, performed by Messrs. Westerdahl, Chiewitz, Reddewigh, and Megelin.

[Part 2]

4. A symphony by Eggert, dedicated to the Royal Academy of Music, including the March and the Double Fugue from the previously mentioned Funeral Cantata.

5. ”God save the King” with variations for three bassoons, performed by Messrs. Preumayr.

6. A sextet by Eggert for violin, clarinet, French horn, viola, cello, and bass, performed by Messrs. Mueller, Crusell, Hirschfeld, Askergren, Salge, and Wirthe.

7. A symphony finale by Eggert with a Fantasy on a Swedish folksong.

It was an ambitious program, but at that time concerts were usually comprised of many heavy compositions. The English folksong, ”God Save the King,” and the Sextet were not performed due to the illness of some of the musicians (Nordling and Broman, 1925:51).

Which symphonies did Eggert conduct that evening? Clearly, two different symphonies were performed, and both of them used material from the 1804 Funeral Cantata. The C-Minor Symphony could be one of the two symphonies that Eggert presented (Hedwall, 1983). The other symphony was dedicated to the Royal Academy of Music and contained a March and Fugue. Only the E-flat Symphony fits this description (van Boer, 2000). The concert concluded with the finale of yet another orchestral work, that of Eggert’s C-Major Symphony. Its finale-fantasy utilized a Swedish folk tune by Carl Bellman, ”Gustafs skål!” (”Gustaf’s Toast”), as one of its themes (Hedwall, 1996:61-63).

[7] The Verification

Did the premiere of Eggert’s E-flat Symphony take place on 14 May 1807, as asserted by Norlind and Broman in their STM article? The main problem with their dating of the performance has been the lack of corroborating evidence.

Here we receive help from the Dagligt Allehanda (Daily Potpourri), the first Swedish daily newspaper, which appeared in Stockholm from 1769 until 1944 (Rehm, 2000). At the time of the concert in question, it was an established gazette of 40 years.

On 11 May 1807, the Dagligt Allehanda announced that the most honored Royal Court Orchestra Musical Director Eggert was planning to leave Sweden. Before his departure, he scheduled a concert featuring the Royal Court Orchestra with soloists under the first Royal Concertmaster Mueller, for the coming Thursday, 14 May at 6:00 PM at the Great Knights’ Hall. The concert program as given in the Dagligt Allehanda is identical to that provided by Norlind and Broman (see above). The announcement ended with a listing of where tickets could be purchased, including Eggert’s residence at 131 Oesterlang Street. Admission was 32 skillings.

Three days later, on 14 May 1807, the Dagligt Allehanda again printed the concert announcement of 11 May 1807, but with several minor changes. The phrase ”the coming Thursday 14 May” was changed to read ”today Thursday 14 May” for obvious reasons. In addition, two changes were made in the concert program itself: the aria by Joseph Martin Kraus in item 2 had been replaced by an aria by Giovanni Simone Mayr, and the instrumentalist Hirschfeld in item 6 had been replaced by Preumayr. Apart from these three variants, the announcement of 11 May 1807 and that of 14 May 1807 were identical.

On 20 May 1807, the Dagligt Allehanda published the following notice:

”The Sextet and the English folk tune that I promised to perform in my most recent concert at the Great Knights’ Hall were withdrawn owing to the illness of Messrs. Crusell, Hirschfeld, and Preumayr.”

[Signed] J. Eggert

[8] Conclusions

The Dagligt Allehanda program notices of 11 May 1807 and 14 May 1807 are not identical. This significant point attests to Eggert’s penchant for accuracy and to his desire to keep the readers of the Dagligt Allehanda informed of exactly what was to be performed. His published apology of 20 May 1807 confirms this. The cumulative weight of the three newspaper announcements is most compelling, and certainty strongly suggests that the E-flat Symphony was performed on Thursday 14 May 1807.

The notice of 20 May 1807, as short as it may be, is of utmost importance. Considering the fact that the text was written six days after the concert, it proves that the concert had taken place as announced, with the exception of the Sextet and the English folk tune. The E-flat Symphony must have been performed on Thursday 14 May 1807. Otherwise, Eggert would have mentioned its absence from the concert program as well.

Until another Eggert symphony is discovered-a symphony with a Funeral March and a Fugue as two of its movements-it seems certain that the E-flat Symphony was performed on Thursday 14 May 1807.

The notice published in the Dagligt Allehanda on 11 May 1807 is not simply corroborating evidence for the Norlind and Broman article; it is their original source. They quoted from this newspaper elsewhere in their 1925 STM article and copied the concert program verbatim from the 11 May 1807 issue. Because they obviously had overlooked the announcement with the program changes published by the Swedish daily on 14 May 1807, Norlind and Broman erred in their account of the concert program.

In light of these findings, we do not return to that bitterly cold evening of 22 December 1808 at the unheated Theater an der Wien where Ludwig van Beethoven mounted his marathon Akademie in order to hear the first use of a trombone section in symphonic music. We must revert to the earlier and unusually snowy evening of 14 May 1807 at the Great Knights’ Hall in Stockholm, Sweden. It was here that Joachim Nikolas Eggert conducted his E-flat Symphony, the musical piece that most likely marked the symphonic birth of the trombone section.


Personal communications

Bertil Van Boer, personal communication to the author (June 5-6, 2000).

Anna Lena Holm, senior librarian (rare collections), Music Library of Sweden, personal communication to the author (June 5-6, 2000).

Published sources

Boer, Bertil van. 1983. The Symphony, 1720-1840, edited by Barry Brook, Series F Volume III. The Symphony in Sweden, part 2, edited by Bertil van Boer. New York: Garland.

Boer, Bertil van. 2000 ”Joachim (Georg) Nikolas Eggert,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, Macmillan.

Dale, Kathleen and Axel Helmer. 1980. ”Joachim (Georg) Nikolas Eggert.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan.

Guion, David M. 1988. The Trombone: Its History and Music 1697-1811. New York: Gordon and Breach.

Hedwall, Lennart. 1983. Den Svenska Symfonin [The Swedish Symphony]. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell.

Hedwall, Lennart. 1996. Svensk Musikhistoria. Stockholm: Edition Reimers.

Raum, J. Richard. 1992a. ”The Eighteenth Century Trombone: Rumors of Its Death Were Premature,” (part 1). Brass Bulletin, 77.

Raum, J. Richard. 1992b. ”The Eighteenth Century Trombone: Rumors of Its Death Were Premature,” (part 2). Brass Bulletin, 78.

Rehm, Margarete. 2000. Information and Communication in the Past and Present. Berlin: Humboldt University.

Schreiber, Ottmar. 1938. Orchestras and Orchestral Practices in Germany Between 1780 and 1850. Berlin: Triltsch & Huther.

Tobias Norlind and Sten Broman. 1925. ”Eggert och Kuester.” Svensk Tidskrift för Musikforskning 7.

Weiner, Howard. ”Andre Braun’s Gamme et Methode pour les Trombonnes: The Earliest Modern Trombone Method Discovered.” Historic Brass Society Journal, 5 (1993).

©Avishai Kallai, 2001

STM-Online vol. 4 (2001)


ISSN: 1403-5715