Joseph Martin Kraus, the Swedish Mozart

It's an unfair characterization, of course, but when Joseph Martin Kraus's name is mentioned, the comparison to Mozart usually follows. Superficially, there is some justification; the two were born five months apart in 1756, and died a year apart. Stylistically, though, Kraus's symphonies more resemble Haydn's than Mozart's in their conciseness and humor.


Kraus was born in Germany and moved to Stockholm, Sweden in 1778, where King Gustav III was busy putting an end to the Age of Liberty, a period when the monarchy was minimized and power entrusted to a parliament. Gustav promoted instead the benevolent monarchy, enacting economic and social reforms, and spending lavishly on the arts. Kraus benefited from the King's artistic bent and began composing for the Swedish court. His symphonies were written during his employment there. Many of the symphonies are either lost or mis-attributed. The ones that survive are mostly three-movement works—another difference with Mozart, whose most famous symphonies have four movements—and are not widely known.

I'm on a mission to introduce more classical music fans to the music of Joseph Martin Kraus. Petter Sundkvist and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra have recorded a dozen of Kraus's symphonies, and I will be featuring them in episodes of Dead White Guys that I host on a rotating basis. You can hear Kraus's Symphony in C major, VB 138, in the second hour of the August 19 show.