Symphony No. 2

Wilhelm Stenhammar

Symphony No. 2 in G minor

Op. 34

About this work

Swedish composer, conductor, and pianist Wilhelm Stenhammar's Symphony No. 2 in G minor, Op. 34, (1911-1915) is his symphonic masterpiece, and one of the great Scandinavian symphonies of its time. A friend of Nielsen and Sibelius, Stenhammar wrote music that was more conservative than theirs: Stenhammar was steeped in the music of Brahms, and not for him were the harmonic or structural innovations of Nielsen, Sibelius, or his fellow Swede Hugo Alfvén. This does not mean, however, that his music lacked strength or power. Indeed, Stenhammar's Symphony No. 2 is fully as muscular as Nielsen's Third or Sibelius' Second. But rather than write in the chromatic language of the fin de siècle, Stenhammar composed his Second in a modal language based on the almost medieval themes of the work. Using his modal language and modal themes, Stenhammar constructs huge arches and vaults of contrapuntal architecture and thereby creates a sense of monumental grandeur not unlike that of Bruckner's symphonies. The opening Allegro energico is cast in sonata form, but with the movement's expansive development balanced by an equally large coda. The following Andante sounds like a contrapuntally conceived religious procession of deep solemnity. The Scherzo switches from the sacred to the secular with a buoyant dance theme and a bucolic trio featuring the winds. The Finale is the largest movement of the four and by far the most original: after a rhapsodic, slow opening, the music unfolds as a series of fugues based on lyrical themes culminating in an impassioned slow fugue marked Tranquilemente and concluding with a massive double fugue that sounds almost choral in its lyrical beauty.