Wilhelm Stenhammar, a Swedish composer, pianist, and conductor, was active mostly in Sweden in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Stenhammar was born in Stockholm where he received his first musical training. He then went to Berlin to study the piano in 1892. In 1897, Stenhammar began his career in conducting. He received an appointment as Artistic Director from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in 1906. He held the position until 1922. Symphony No. 2 was composed between 1911 and 1915. It was dedicated to the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, which premiered the composition on April 22, 1915. The work was published in Stockholm in 1916.
Stenhammar was strongly influenced by the music of German-Austrian composers like Richard Wagner, Johanness Brahms, and Anton Bruckner. At the same time, his Swedish background also led him to have keen interests in the works of Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius. In comparison with that of his fellow Scandinavian composers, however, Stenhammar’s music remained conservative. By the time Stenhammar was writing Symphony No. 2, he began exploring the music of the composers of the past and had developed his own classicism. Those “classical” composers who influenced Stenhammar include Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart. In addition, Stenhammar also studied polyphony of the Renaissance Era. In Symphony No. 2, he adopts a modal language and writes melodies based on modal themes. At the same time, Stenhammar did not forget to incorporate his Scandinavian heritage. The influence of Swedish folk music and folk-dance rhythms can be easily detected.
Stenhammar scores Symphony No. 2 rather conservatively for a composition written in the early twentieth century. It calls for a pair of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and five-part strings. The sound produced by this type of orchestra is essentially the same as that envisaged by Brahms or Bruckner when they were writing their symphonies a few years before Stenhammar. Symphony No. 2 consists of four clearly divided movements. The first, marked Allegro energico, begins with a folk-song-like tune that is played in unison by the violas, cellos, and bassoons. The second movement starts quietly, again with the violas and cellos (but this time in four parts) playing a simple, solemn melody. After the lively third movement, a complex double fugue appears in the finale. This must have been the result of Stenhammar’s studying of counterpoint prior to composing Symphony No. 2.