Herman Berens d.y. (1862−1928)


Gustaf Herman Berens [Herman Berens the younger], born on 17 November 1862 in Stockholm and died on 5 July 1928 in Stockholm, was a conductor and composer. The son of composer Hermann Berens the older. He began his career as a singer at the Tivoliteatern in Kristiania (now Oslo), but continued later as the conductor of both the Vasateatern and Södra Teatern in Stockholm. From 1897 he was répétiteur and chief conductor at the Royal Opera. He also led the male choir Stockholms allmänna sångförening. Berens wrote music for several successful plays, two operettas, as well as a fair amount of chamber music. Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1921.

(Svenskt Porträttarkiv)


Herman Berens was born in Stockholm on 17 November 1862. He was the son of Hermann Berens (1826−1880) and Hedvig Matilda Brauner (1829−1887). His father was a central figure within Stockholm’s musical life and he was active as a composer and conductor (Mindre teatern and Kungliga Teatern − the Royal Opera), and teacher in composition and orchestration at the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music), among other things. It is safe to assume that Berens received his earliest musical education at least partially from his father. He obtained his higher education from the conservatory, where he was a student from 1880−1883.

The singer

After completing his studies at the conservatory, Berens was engaged in the autumn of 1884 as a singer at the Tivoli theatre’s opera society in Kristiania (Oslo). Kristiania’s Tivoli was an amusement park modelled after Copenhagen’s Tivoli, and had, among other things, a theatre where guest troupes and visiting artists performed. From 1883 opera singer Olefine Moe together with author Mathilda Lundström, both of whom had previously been active in Stockholm, ran the opera. Moe was born in Bergen, but educated in Stockholm by Fredrika Stenhammar, and worked at both Kungliga Teatern and Mindre teatern. The conductor at the Tivoli theatre’s opera at the time was the then 19-year-old Hjalmar Meissner, also from Stockholm. Berens debuted on this stage as Max in Adolphe Adam’s opera Alphyddan. He later held roles such as Figaro in W. A. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Valentin in Charles Gounod’s Faust and Laertes in Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon. The opera society was closed down in 1886 due to economic difficulties.

Berens, however, had already after a year at the Tivoli opera gone over to the Fröbergska teatersällskapet (a theatre company), also as a singer, together with others from the Tivoli theatre. Carl Johan Fröberg, who was previously a teacher at the educational arm of Kungliga Teatern and répétiteur at the opera, founded this theatre company in 1877. His son, Mauritz Fröberg, who had been an actor in the company, replaced him in 1884. The troupe was composed of a group of young actors and singers (both male and female) who travelled around Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia.

The conductor and composer

After a short time in the Fröberg troupe Herman Berens took the next step in his career, changing direction from singing to conducting. Between 1886 and 1895 he was the conductor at both Södra teatern and Vasateatern. When Vasateatern was founded in 1886 the leadership fell to August Berndt, who had earlier been associated with the Tivoli theatre, and Berens was employed as conductor, thus becoming the musical leader. However, already in the spring of 1887 Berndt decided to resign, and Berens followed him over to Södra teatern where he held the same position.

Berens stayed at Södra teatern for two years. During his time as conductor he had the opportunity to develop as a composer, and wrote a significant amount of music for the stage. He composed, among other things, music to Frans Hedberg’s fairy play Hin och smålänningen and Pierre Newsky’s drama De landsförvista. The music for Hin och smålänningen is quite ambitiously written for orchestra (flute, piston oboe, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, timpani, and a five-part strings), but comprises mainly accompaniment to the plot as well as a few short simple song numbers.

In addition to music for a series of plays Berens wrote several operettas, including I ungdomens vår, which premiered at Södra teatern on 26 March 1889. The operetta has one act and is based on a free translation of a French comedy by Ernst Wallmark. The work was well received by the public, and music critics even made notice of it in the press. In a review in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (29 March 1889) the music is given as an example of a successful attempt within its genre with stylistic inspiration from both Vienna and Paris, although the critic thinks that in terms of musical style and performance, it did not quite live up to the ‘ease and unconstraint’ necessary for the performance of the dialogue (which the critic attributes to the composer’s Nordic origins). The critic also emphasises Berens’ orchestration as especially meritorious. As in some of his earlier incidental music this operetta is ambitiously arranged for orchestra with the same instrumentation as Hin och smålänningen.

In 1889 the Vasateatern was taken over by August Warberg and Emil Strömberg, at which point Berens chose to return to his position as conductor there, leaving Södra teatern. Already in his first season back at Vasateatern another of Berens’ new compositions was performed. It was his operetta Princessa för en dag, and it premiered on 27 March 1890. This was a much more comprehensive production in three acts, but also this was a free arrangement of a French original, again by Wallmark. Here Berens shows good style and knowledge of repertory, but perhaps not great originality. The work was received well by the public and was performed 19 times during the spring. The work’s success was also evidenced by its publication in arrangement for voice and piano by Hirschs förlag (Hirsch’s publishing company) the same year. Berens stayed at Vasateatern until 1895, except for one season which he spent on a study trip to Leipzig (most likely in 1890−1891). After 1895 he joined an operetta company in Denmark, where he worked for two years.

Time at the Kungliga Teatern

In 1897 Berens returned to Stockholm and became leader of Stockholms allmänna sångförening, a large male choir founded by August Jahnke in 1862, and which still exists today. He held the position until 1904. That same year he was engaged at the Kungliga Teatern, where he held various positions until 1924. His first position at the opera house was as a répétiteur, and his role was to work with the singers on learning their parts. He accompanied the singers on piano during rehearsals, a task through which he became acquainted with a broad repertoire. The combination of his knowledge of conducting and his acquaintance with repertoire made him suitable as a substitute for the chief conductor at the opera. His position was expanded with time to also include the title of assistant conductor. Between 1908 and 1910 he was employed as chief conductor, after which he returned to his normal position.

Herman Berens was elected as a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1921. For many years he was an alternate on the academy board and sat on the composer’s grant committee. Towards the end of his life Berens had problems with his health and thus his death on 5 July 1928 came as no surprise.

Significance of the compositions

Herman Berens’ activities as a composer are characterised by his stage music and his incidental music. The stage music is varied and ranges from straightforward song melodies with simple chordal accompaniments to elaborate orchestral parts with intrinsic sound effects. Stylistically the compositions keep mainly to the comic genre with inspiration from both French and German styles.

Aside from stage music Berens also left behind some chamber, such as simple piano pieces as well as a few larger orchestral pieces, including a festive march.

Anne Reese © 2015
Trans. Nicole Vickers


C.B.: ‘Sångare, kapellmästare och kompositör: Herman Berens 50 år’, Ridå: tidning för teatern, nos 18−19: 1912.
Lellky, Åke: ‘Berens, Gustaf Herman’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 1. Stockholm: Sohlmans, 1975, p. 413.
[Obituary], Svenska Dagbladet, 6 July 1928.
[Obituary], Dagens Nyheter, 7 July 1928.
Norlind, Tobias: ‘Gustaf Herman Berens’, in: Allmänt musiklexikon, vol. 1. Stockholm, 1916, p. 85.
Nyström, Pia & Elmquist, Anne-Marie: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien: matrikel 1771−1995. Stockholm: Kungl. Musikaliska akademien, 1996.
Morales, Olallo: ‘Kungl. Musikaliska akademiens årsberättelse’, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, 1928.
Rabe, Julius: ‘Herman Johan Berens’, in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 3. Stockholm: Bonniers, 1922, p. 334.

Summary list of works

4 operettas (I ungdomens vår, Prinsessa för en dag, Hökar i Dufslaget, Kalabaliken i Bender), incidental music (2 comic operas, 1 drama), works for orchestra (festive march, etc.), chamber music, works for piano.

Collected works

Stage music
Hin och smålänningen, comedy by Frans Hedberg, 1888.
Jon Blund, play with song by S. Kinnmanson, 1888.
De landsförvista, drama in 4 acts by Pierre Newsky.
I ungdomens vår, operetta in 1 act, after a free adaptation of a French original by E. Wallmark, 1889.
Prinsessa för en dag, operetta in 3 acts after a free adaptation of a French original by E. Wallmark, 1890.
Kalabaliken i Bender, opéra comique in 3 acts, free adaptation by E. Wallmark.
Hökar i Dufslaget, comic operetta in 2 tableaus in a free adaptation by Picard af E. Wallmark.

Instrumental music
Gamla Stockholm, march for orchestra, 1897.
Det var en gång, minuet for wind instruments.
Festive march for wind ensemble.
Waltz in G major for small orchestra, 1921.
Minor walts for violin and piano.
Marjorie, intermezzo for piano. 
Mazurka for piano.
Russian march for Piano.
Waltz in B-flat major for violin and piano.
Waltz in D major for piano. 
Valse noble, for piano.
En liten vals och Ludvig XIVs gavott, waltz and gavotte for violin and piano.
Skrivar-Hans (Och ja' vill ha' 'e fästemö).
Äventyr på fotvandring, song and piano.

Arrangements and adaptations
Prinsessa för en dag, arr. for song and piano.
'Det var en gång'. Menuette & Gavotte, piano.
Festive march for wind ensemble, arrangement for piano.
Den lycklige bonden, text by C.M. Bellman, arr. for male choir.
Herr Dardanell och hans upptåg på landet, by J.N. Ahlström, arr. for clavier.
Sverges flagga, H. Alfvén, for piano, strings and wind ad lib. 
Sverges flagga, H. Alfvén, arr. for large wind ensemble.
Fredmans epistel no. 25 (‘Blåsen nu alla’) by C.M. Bellman, arr. for S, Bar, B and piano.
Fredmans epistel no. 51 (‘Movitz blåste en konsert’), by C. M. Bellman, arr. for S, Bar, B and piano.
Psalm 451 (‘Mina lefnadstimmar stupa’) by G***** [Prince Gustaf] arr. for male voices.
Sverge!, by W. Stenhammar, arr. for small wind ensemble.
Gluntarne, by G. Wennerberg, pot-pourri for piano, strings and wind ad lib, 1919.