Tune in at 1:00pm as we celebrate the 152nd birthday of the Swedish violinist, conductor and composer Hugo Alfvén.

Considered to be one of Sweden’s pre-eminent composers right up until his death in 1960, Alfvén wrote a considerable amount of orchestral music. Five Symphonies, three what he called Swedish Rhapsodies, and a large amount of program music. Much of Alfvén’s orchestral music depicts the Swedish countryside and myths and is heavily influenced by late Austro-German Romanticism.

Monday April 29: Symphony No. 1 in F minor (Composed in 1897)

First performed in 1897 by the Royal Swedish Orchestra, Alfvén’s Symphony no 1 caused a sensation with Swedish audiences. Up until that point the majority of Swedish music performances consisted of singing groups, chamber music and solo singing; compositions written for smaller forces. The symphonies of Franz Berwald were known but not regularly performed after his death.

Alfvén’s First Symphony is influenced by two composers who knew how to write for orchestra, Berlioz and Wagner, but it is perhaps the music of the Norwegian composer Johann Svendsen that comes shining through the most in Alfvén’s writing. Svendsen’s music was very well known and respected throughout Sweden.

When the symphony was premiered it was a great success, but despite this Alfvén was not happy with it and as a result re-orchestrated the symphony seven years later.

Tuesday April 30: The Mountain King Ballet-Pantomime Suite (Composed in 1916 − 1923)

Alfvén worked on the ballet music for The Mountain King intermittently over seven years. He drew inspiration for the ballet music from the illustrations done by John Bauer whose children’s story book Among the Goblins and Trolls had shaped generations of Swedish children’s views of the mythical creatures that could be found in the forest.

The ballet is based on the legend of Den Bergtagna, the shepherdess who is abducted by the mountain king and rescued by her beloved. They are aided by a troll, who, however, irate at not getting the girl himself, lets them die in a snow-storm. The subject was popular in the romantic era, and had been used fifty years earlier in an opera by Ivar Hallström, which was also the first Swedish opera to use folk music as its base.

Once the ballet had become part of the Ballet repertoire in Sweden Alfvén extracted four section to create an orchestral suite:

I. Besvärjelse (Invocation)

II. Trollfickans dans (Dance of the Troll Maiden)

III. Sommarregn (Summer Rain)

IV. Vallflickans dans (Dance of the Shepherd Girl)


Wednesday May 1: Symphony No. 3 in E major (1905)

In the summer of 1905 Alfvén and his wife Marie visited Italy. They had a small place in Sori, just outside of Genoa.

The Third Symphony was inspired by the love of life and the joy that the couple had in Italy. Like Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 4, Alfvén’s third celebrated the sunshine and warmth of the Italian Countryside as he stated “The symphony has no programme, it depicts neither concrete nor abstract. It is an expression of the joy of living, an expression of the sun-lit happiness that filled my whole being.”

The resulting symphony is one that became one of Alfvén’s most brilliant and harmonically satisfying creations.

Thursday May 2: Suite from music for the film Mans Kvinna (1944)

Mans Kvinna (A Country Tale) was written for a 1944 film of the same name. The movie is based on a book written by Vilhelm Moberg’s that was written a decade earlier.

Set in Värend during the 1790s, it focuses on Märit, married to the farmer Påvel but attracted to a younger farmer Håkan. Their liaison given away by a maidservant whom Håkan abandoned, Påvel puts his wife under confinement on the grounds she is his property. At the close, the lovers elope across the fields in search of a freedom the community is sure to condemn.

The film ended up being not the success many had hoped it would be, but Alfvén’s music was singled out as being one of the most positive things about the movie. From the score Alfvén created a six movement orchestra suite.

I. Introduktion (Introduction)

II. Drommeri (Dreams)

III. Brottslig karlek – Angest (Guilty Love – Anguish)

IV. Svartsjuka – Pastoral (Jealousy – Pastorale)

V. Sorgetaget (Funeral March)

VI. Vargaskall (Baying of Wolves)


Friday April 3: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Från havsbandet (From the Outskirts of the Archipelago) (Completed in 1919) (Vienna 1922)

Alfvén started work on his Fourth Symphony in 1918, but it was not until he took a sabbatical from his position as the Director of the Music at Uppsala University, than he was able to work on the symphony in earnest.

The symphony received its premier in November of 1919, by the Stockholm Musical Academy. The audiences loved the symphony and it was later performed in Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Berlin.

The critics however were less impressed. One of the big complaints was Alfvén’s use of a soprano and tenor soloist in the symphony. They thought it a derivative of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony no 3. (Nielsen’s 3rd makes use of the same composition device.) Alfvén would have known about Nielsen’s Symphony. It was composed in 1911.

One of the other issues the critics took aim at was a supposed erotic subtext, which Alfvén ultimately denied. He said of the symphony, “My symphony tells the tale of two young souls. The action takes place in the skerries, where sea rages among the rocks on gloomy, stormy nights, by moonlight and in sunshine … the moods of nature are no less than symbols for the human heart.”

The symphony is played without break, almost like a tone poem, Alfvén portraying the two characters through the vocal soloists and the scenery of the skerries that surrounds them. The skerries are a series of small rocky islands in the Baltic Sea that are halfway between Sweden and the tip of Finland.

Tune in at 1:00pm all this week to hear the remarkable music of Hugo Alfvén.

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