Joachim Nikolas Eggert

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Born: 22 February 1779 — Gingst, Rügen — Sweden
Died: 14 April 1813 — Stockholm — Sweden
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Joachim Eggert

Trombone Pioneer

by Avishai Kallai

Though Ludwig van Beethoven has long been credited with introducing the trombone section to the symphony orchestra, the little-known Swedish composer Joachim Nikolas Eggert preceded him in this accomplishment by 18 months!

Eggert’s Biography

Joachim (Georg) Nikolas Eggert was born on 22 February 1779 in Gingst, Ruegen (then part of Sweden, but now Germany). He started to play the violin at the age of 11 under the tutelage of local musicians. In 1794, Eggert moved to Stralsund to study violin and composition under Kuhlow. During the period between 1800-1802, he studied music theory under the guidance of Fischer and Fleischer in Brunswick, and Forkel in Goettingen. For six months in 1802, he was music director at the Court Theater of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Eggert was appointed as a violinist to the Swedish Royal Court Orchestra on 9 August 1803. Later that year, he began to receive commissions to compose music for special occasions. In 1807, he was elected to the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and made his debut as a conductor. Eggert was the acting Kapellmeister of the Swedish Royal Court Orchestra from 1808-1810, and its Kapellmeister from 1810-1812. He brought Viennese Classicism to Sweden and was the first to put Beethoven’s major works on a Swedish concert program. Eggert conducted the Swedish premieres of Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) in 1810, and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in 1812. During this period, his four completed symphonies received much attention and both of his musical dramas were staged. On 14 April 1813 in Thomestorp (Ostergotland, Sweden), Eggert succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 34.

Eggert’s E-flat Major Symphony

The E-flat Major Symphony, Eggert’s Third, was composed in April 1807. On 4 May 1807, Eggert presented and dedicated it to the Royal Academy of Music as a token of his esteem to the Academy for electing him as a member. 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. Of his four completed symphonies, only the third has three movements, requires trombones, and lacks the large percussion section of the others. The tempi of the movements are as follows:

  • A. Adagio maestoso-Allegro spiritoso (E-flat 4/4 sonata form).
  • B. Marche: Grave (E-flat 4/4).
  • C. 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.

Interesting here is the use of three trombones. 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.

Eggert’s trombone writing is unusual in that he shunned the French and the Austrian 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 Major Symphony was avant-garde. Many of its tonalities and symphonic effects came to be commonplace by the end of the nineteenth century.

The Swedish Royal Court Orchestra

Except in Austria and southern Germany, competent trombonists were rare commodities in continental Europe and England during the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth century. By 1685, the trombone virtually disappeared in England and France. In London of 1738, Handel scored three trombones in two oratorios, Saul and Israel in Egypt. Since there were no trombones in England at that time, it is presumed that Handel exploited visiting trombonists, possibly from Germany. Shortly afterward, he discarded a trombone movement-a "Dead March"-from yet another oratorio; evidently, the foreign trombonists were no longer available. Even as late as 1784, the organizers of the Handel Commemorations were faced with a dilemma: no trombones and no trombonists. Eventually, they did find six German musicians in the king’s military band who could play tenor, bass, and contrabass trombones. In 1774, Gluck reintroduced trombones to France in Parisian productions of his operas Iphigenia in Aulis and Orpheus and Eurydice. He utilized German trumpeters and hornists, already living and working in Paris, who were able to double on the trombone.

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 had no need for trombones on a regular basis until around 1840.

There was one amazing exception: The Swedish Royal Court Orchestra. As early as 1790, this outlying orchestra had three trombonists on its payroll. In essence, the Stockholm Hovkapellet anteceded all of the late Classical and early Romantic orchestras of Europe in having a full-balanced wind and brass section. 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.

The Norlind-Broman Article

Did the first presentation of Eggert’s E-flat Major Symphony predate the premiere of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on 22 December 1808? In an article in the Svensk Tidskrift for Musikforskning (Swedish Journal of Music Research), Tobias Norlind and Sten Broman actually did provide evidence of the first performances of the four completed symphonies. The premiere of Eggert’s First Symphony in C Major took place on 29 April 1805 at a reception for the King and Queen of Sweden in the Rikssalen (State Hall) in Stockholm. The performance was repeated for the public on 14 May 1805. His second, in G Minor entitled "Skjoldebrand," was first performed on 20 February 1807.

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. According to Norlind and Broman, 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.

Which symphonies did Eggert conduct that evening? Clearly, two different symphonies were performed, and both of them used material from his 1804 Funeral Cantata. The C Minor Symphony could be one of the two symphonies that Eggert presented. The other symphony was dedicated to the Royal Academy of Music and contained a March and Fugue. Only the E-flat Major Symphony fits this description.

The Verification

Did the premiere of Eggert’s E-flat Major Symphony take place on 14 May 1807, as asserted by Norlind and Broman? 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. 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 Eggert scheduled a concert featuring the Royal Court Orchestra and soloists for the coming Thursday, 14 May at 6:00 pm at the Rittarhussalen (Great Knights’ Hall). The concert program as given in the Dagligt Allehanda is identical to that provided by Norlind and Broman (see above).

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: Preumayr had replaced the instrumentalist Hirschfeld in item 6, and an aria by Mayr had replaced the aria by Kraus in item 2. Apart from these three details, the announcements of 11 May 1807 and 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 Rittarhussalen were withdrawn owing to the illness of Messrs. Crusell, Hirschfeld, and Preumayr."
[Signed] J. Eggert


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. His published apology of 20 May 1807 confirms this. The cumulative weight of the three newspaper announcements is most compelling, and certainty proves that the E-flat Major Symphony was performed on Thursday 14 May 1807.

The notice of 20 May 1807 is of utmost importance. It was published after the concert indicating that the concert had taken place as announced, with the exception of the Sextet and the English folk tune. The E-flat Major 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 Major Symphony was performed on Thursday 14 May 1807.

The notice published in the Dagligt Allehanda on 11 May 1807 was the original source for the Norlind and Broman. They quoted this newspaper elsewhere in their 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 this, 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 Rittarhussalen in Stockholm, Sweden. It was here that Joachim Nikolas Eggert conducted his E-flat Major Symphony, the musical piece that most likely marked the symphonic birth of the trombone section.

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[details ←] Breathless (3 recorders, ONE player-), recorder,
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[details ←] God The Father Be Our Stay, organ, , choral, vocal,
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[details ←] Praise To The Lord, The Almighty, organ, trumpet, , choral, vocal,
[details ←] Psalm 27/The Lord Is My Light, hand bell, trumpet, percussion, handbell, , choral, vocal,
[details ←] Sing Of Mary Pure And Lowly, piano, organ,
[details ←] Sing Of Mary Pure And Lowly, piano, organ, , choral, vocal,
[details ←] Sing With All The Saints In Glory, hand bell, percussion, handbell,
[details ←] Sing With All The Saints In Glory, organ, , choral, vocal,
[details ←] Sing With All The Saints In Glory, choral, vocal,
[details ←] Six Hymn Preludes, Set 3, organ,
[details ←] Six Hymn Preludes, Set 4, organ,
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