Start                    Sheet Music                     About us                     Links                     På Svenska

Wilhelm Stenhammar

Back to Previous

To order please send an email to;

wilhelm stenhammar (1871-1927)

Throughout the entire history of Swedish music, no musician created a more wide-ranging legacy than the Stockholm-born Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927). As a composer he wrote some of the most significant and individual works of his generation, rivalled in Scandinavia only by Nielsen in Denmark and Sibelius in Finland; as music director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra he fostered and moulded what became Sweden’s first truly professional ensemble of its kind, introducing countless new works to Swedish audiences. His achievements as a concert pianist and chamber musician may be less well known, but must be considered of the greatest importance for musical life in early 20th-century Sweden.

As a pianist, Stenhammar literally brought music to the masses in an unprecedented way, performing several hundred concerts in cities, towns and villages all over Sweden. It was in this way that the Swedish public was introduced to the great classical and romantic repertoire, as Stenhammar collaborated with the Aulin String Quartet, singer John Forsell and violinist Henri Marteau, among others. In solo recitals, Stenhammar focused mainly on the Viennese Classics. Curiously however, his own works featured very rarely on his programmes!

The young Stenhammar had seemed to develop like an archetypal composer-pianist:  already as a child he had composed several pieces for piano, including three Sonatas, the first when he was only nine years old. His first major public recognition came in 1892 when, aged 20, he was the soloist in the first Swedish performance of Brahms’ D minor Piano Concerto, and two years later with the premiere of his own first Piano Concerto in B flat minor op.1. The huge success of the latter occasion marked a key moment not only in Stenhammar’s own career, but in the musical life of Sweden. With its four movement symphonic design and a duration of nearly 50 minutes, the concerto was on a scale never before attempted by a Swedish composer. The reaction from the Stockholm audience and critics was nothing short of ecstatic – “a young man’s masterpiece”, wrote one newspaper. Over the following decade, Stenhammar frequently played his concerto with orchestras all over Western Europe, including the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Richard Strauss, and the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester conducted by Hans Richter. The success of the B flat minor Concerto (and no doubt, the fact that he grew tired of performing it) eventually prompted Stenhammar to compose a second Piano Concerto, the D minor op.23, which has since established its place as a highlight of the late romantic Scandinavian repertoire.

Given that performing his Concerti played a major part in his career as a pianist, Stenhammar’s reluctance to perform his own solo works may seem surprising. Only three major works for solo piano were published during his lifetime; Three Fantasies op.11 (1895), the Sonata in A flat major op.12 from the same year, and Nights of Late Summer (Sensommarnätter) op.33 (published in 1914 but probably composed in the early years of the 1900s). With few exceptions Stenhammar never returned to these works after giving their first performances. Perhaps he was finding that the prevailing taste for short decorative pieces for amateur music making left audiences less ready to appreciate new music of a larger scale and a more abstract nature. Indeed, Edvard Grieg, Stenhammar’s senior by 28 years, who had enjoyed a huge success with his Lyric Pieces, found it similarly difficult to get recognition for large scale works, such as the Ballade op.24.

The picture of Stenhammar’s output for solo piano would not be complete, however, without the Sonata in G minor from 1890, appearing in print for the first time in the present edition. The year 1890 found Stenhammar at the age of 19 and for the last three years he had been studying the piano with Richard Andersson, a former pupil of Clara Schumann and Heinrich Barth. Andersson not only transformed Stenhammar’s piano playing, but also introduced the teenager to the great piano works by composers such as Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann. It is hardly surprising that these discoveries coincide with the teenager’s own compositional efforts becoming increasingly serious.

The G minor Sonata with its ambitious classical four movement layout and playing time upwards of 20 minutes could in many ways be regarded as Stenhammar’s first mature work. His newly acquired command of the piano is immediately apparent – this is very obviously the work of a confident and passionate young pianist. And although the music has undeniably strong similarities with its influences (Schumann’s Sonata in the same key op.22 seems to have provided particular inspiration), the highly personal harmonic and melodic language that defines Stenhammar’s mature works is present to a significantly higher degree than in any of his earlier compositions. Furthermore, the care with which the manuscript has been prepared, and the title page written in German with space left for an opus number suggest that Stenhammar had planned to offer the Sonata to a foreign publisher, and that it represents an important statement by the young man – Stenhammar proclaiming himself as a composer.

The G minor Sonata was to suffer a similar fate to the rest of Stenhammar’s output for solo piano: after the first performance of the work (with himself at the piano at a charity concert in May 1891) Stenhammar never played the work again. The manuscript was rediscovered as it was donated to the Music Library of Sweden after Stenhammar’s death. In the last few decades the Sonata has attracted considerable interest among pianists, resulting in several recordings of the work (at least six at the time of writing). The editor hopes that the present edition will make this unique piece of Swedish music history more readily available and that it will be found useful by any performers and scholars wishing to familiarize themselves with the music of Wilhelm Stenhammar.

Martin Sturfält
London, May 2008

Back to Previous Back to Top
Our Publications by Wilhelm Stenhammar
5 Songs
String quartet no 6
Click here for the Pricelist!

MUSIKALISKAKONSTFORENINGEN.SE |                      Contact: