About this work
The First Symphony of the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen was a composition exercise by a talented pupil. Svendsen's Second, however, is the undoubted masterpiece of nineteenth century Norwegian symphonism. It was written in 1874, during Svendsen's most creative period. This was the same year he became sole conductor of the Music Society concerts, having previously shared the podium with Grieg, and in which he began receiving an annual composer's salary from the Norwegian government.
Although like the First Symphony in the standard sequence of four movements, the Second's thematic and harmonic content is wholly characteristic of the composer and his country. While the opening Allegro has the usual sequence of exposition with main and subsidiary themes with development and recapitulation, Svendsen's themes speak in their own voices and the harmonic relationship between the themes and its progression in the development is utterly original. The Andante sostenuto which follows goes much deeper emotionally than its predecessor in the First Symphony, and the Intermezzo: Allegro giusto is a stylized Norwegian folk dance. The Finale, however, is by far the most original movement. Although cast in the same slow-introduction-fast-main-movement-form as the Finale of the First Symphony, the Finale of the Second has four independent themes arranged in a wholly unique harmonic arrangement. And the climax of the movement and the symphony is more majestic and more convincing than its parallel in the First.