He was born in Saint Petersburg and died in Leningrad. Ewald was a professor of Civil Engineering in St. Petersburg, and was also the cellist with the Beliaeff Quartet for sixteen years. This was the most influential ensemble in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century, introducing much of the standard quartet literature to Russian concertgoers. He also collected and published Russian folk songs. Ewald’s professional life, like that of many of his musical contemporaries, was in an entirely different field; that of a civil engineer, in which he excelled, being appointed in 1900 as professor and manager of the Faculty of Construction Materials at the Institute of Civil Engineers. An obituary signed by his fellow professors of the I.C.E. makes mention of a profound heritage in the development of materials production for construction resulting from Ewald’s work, and suggests that “…an entire industry for the production of brick and cement manufacturing is beholden to him”. Brass players however are indebted to him for something very different a series of quintets which have become a staple of the repertoire and which represent almost the only, and certainly the most extended examples of original literature in the Romantic style.
Ewald’s formal musical training began in 1872 when he enrolled at the St Petersburg Conservatory at the age of twelve. Founded in 1861 by Anton Rubenstein, this institution was the first of its kind in Russia and it was here that Ewald received lessons in cornet, piano, horn, cello, harmony and composition.
Ewald’s ‘cello teacher Karl Davidov encouraged him to immerse himself in practical music making of any sort whenever the opportunity arose. For that reason Ewald soon became (and was to remain throughout his life) one of the most active and versatile members of a remarkable circle of dilettante musicians. This group, whilst all being amateur in the strict sense of the word, made, with the influence of a shared interest in indigenous folksong, a significant contribution to the development of a distinctive Russian national musical style which, for the majority of the 19th century had been almost entirely submerged by the Germanic tradition in both teaching and practice.
Amongst this circle was a group who became known as The Mighty Handful, consisting of Mily Balakirev (railroad clerk), Alexander Borodin (chemist), César Cui (soldier and engineer), Modest Mussorgsky (Imperial Guard Officer) and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (navy officer). The musical focal point for Ewald and the Mighty Five, as well as others, was provided by what became known as the ‘Friday Evenings’ - weekly soirées for amateur performers and composers at the house of Mitrofan Petrovich Belaïev (timber merchant), which were initiated in 1888 and continued unbroken until his death in 1904.
Belaïev’s importance in the development of the musical life of Ewald and all the other Friday Evening participants was considerable and went far beyond merely providing a venue for their activities. After the death of his father in 1885, Belaïev set about encouraging the development of new music in a number of practical ways, such as: the founding of a publishing house (Edition M.P. Belaïeff); the promotion of orchestral concerts; and the aforementioned Friday Evenings. It was at these evenings that one of the regular performing ensembles was a string quartet in which Belaïev played the viola and Ewald the ‘cello. As well as providing opportunities for music making, these gatherings allowed Belaïev to audition potential publications and it is almost certain that it was for performance by, and amongst his friends and musical contemporaries, that Ewald’s four quintets were written.