In NTNU’s manuscript collection in Trondheim, no less than 22 complete violin concertos from the 18th century have been preserved. Currently, there are three concertos that remain anonymous, with no other known sources, and one of spurious origin. Apparently, the collection has been kept together in its current state since the late 18th century, and these pieces were presumably performed in Trondheim throughout the 18th century by the Stadsmusikant (town musician) and his staff of paid musicians (‘assistants’). Consequently, these works are the oldest classical music to have been performed in a professional context in Norway.

In the 18th century, Trondheim was a prosperous city with a booming economy. A handful of wealthy families from Schleswig-Holstein, a duchy under the kingdom of Denmark-Norway, settled in Trondheim and built their fortunes in exporting fish, lumber and copper from the mines of Røros and elsewhere in Trøndelag. Trondheim was closely connected to the larger cities of Northern Europe, and its wealthy class of citizens demanded the latest in European art, food and other luxuries.

In 1737, Johan Daniel Berlin (1714-1787) was appointed to the post as Stadsmusikant in Trondheim by the king of Denmark and Norway. He was born in Memel in East Prussia (Klaipeda), and he spent seven years as an assistant himself to Copenhagen’s Stadsmusikant before settling in Trondheim. He soon took the position as organist in the Nidaros cathedral as well, and later also Vår Frue kirke, making him the most influential person on the music scene in Trondheim and in all the northern districts.

Among Berlin’s surviving manuscripts, we find numerous orchestral pieces, mainly symphonies and instrumental concertos. Apart from his own compositions, many of them are already known works by known composers, whereof some are hand-written copies of contemporary printed editions, like Vivaldi’s opus 3 and opus 8. However, a few pieces are not known from elsewhere, and in some cases, it is uncertain if the name on the front page or the folder is the name of the composer or simply the owner of the parts.

From the voluminous printed catalogue of items auctioned off after Mr. Berlin’s death, we know that the manuscripts in the NTNU collection is only a fraction of the music he left behind. For example, his collection held 119 symphonies, 41 violin concertos, 13 oboe concertos and 12 concertos for oboe d’amore. How many concertos for oboe d’amore are known today?

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The other preserved violin concertos in the NTNU collection are:

  • XM 24. Johan Daniel Berlin
  • XM 30. Küntzen (Johann Paul?)
  • XM 53. Vivaldi, RV 214
  • XM 117. Vivaldi, RV 208a
  • XM 127. Meck, op. 1 no. 7 in F major (1720/1721)
  • XM 128. Teloni, concerto a 5 for ‘tromba marina’
  • XM 143. Samuel Dietrich Grosse (1756-1789)

The goal of this investigation is not primarily to establish the identity of the composers of the concertos that remain anonymous. Nevertheless, revealing the origins of these works, and mapping the routes they took to the 63rd latitude, would shed light on Trondheim’s and Norway’s cultural history, as well as rising awareness of Trondheim as a well-connected European cultural city through the centuries.

Most gracious and sincere thanks to Trondheim Kommune for awarding this work with Trondheim’s Cultural Grant of 2017.

Sigurd Imsen, September 2019