ALFVEN: Symphony No. 3 / Legend of the Skerries

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Hugo Alfven (1872-1960)

Symphony No.3 in E major

Dalecarlian Rhapsody

Legend of the Skerries

The music of Hugo Alfven has always been closeto the hearts of the Swedish people. More than any other composer, he isregarded as representing the spirit of the country. This might also be due tothe fact that for many years he lived in Dalecarlia, the province where genuinefolk-music tradition is at its strongest.

He spent the first part of his life inStockholm, however, and from the age of fifteen studied the violin at theConservatory. During the 1890s he also had private lessons in composition fromJohan Lindegren, the foremost master of counterpoint. At the same time he wasengaged as a violinist at the Opera. This gave him ample opportunities to acquainthimself with the nature and possibilities of different instruments. Hiscolourful and virtuosic mode of orchestration has been favourably compared withthat of Richard Strauss.

From 1897 Alfven spent ten years travelling inEurope, partly financed by a Jenny Lind scholarship. In Brussels he polishedhis violin technique and in Dresden he studied conducting. He declined a postas a teacher of composition in Stockholm, settling instead in Uppsala where hewas appointed Director Musicesatthe University in 1910. He was to stay there for thirteen years.

In Uppsala Alfven began a collaboration withthe male, mostly academic, choir OrpheiDrangar (Servants of Orpheus) known as OD, whose conductor heremained until 1947, bringing the choir international renown through tours inEurope and the United States. He also conducted other well-known choirs, suchas Allmanna Sangen and Siljanskoren. Thus for half a centuryAlfven played a dominant r??le in Swedish choral tradition, not only asconductor but also as composer and arranger.

Alfven's talents were not solely restricted tomusic. He was a fine water-colourist and in his youth seriously consideredtaking up painting instead of music. He also wrote a lively and interestingautobiography in four volumes in which you catch glimpses of his contemporariesin music.

Many music-lovers know Alfven best as thepopular, cheerful entertainer in compositions such as Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil) (thebest-known piece of Swedish music outside Sweden), Vallflickans dans(Dance of the Shepherd Girl), the ballet Den forlorade sonen (The Prodigal Son) anda great many choral songs. His five symphonies and his symphonic poems reveal adifferent, more elegiac and often more dramatic aspect of his character. His First Symphony, composed in 1897, has amelancholy Sturm und Drang moodthat is to recur at intervals throughout his life as a composer, but there isalso a buoyant vitality that was to flourish, two years later, in his Second Symphony. These two compositionswere radically to change the face of Swedish music. Following almost a centuryof relative isolation from continental trends, they marked the beginning of agreater international influence on orchestral music. Stenhammar, Natanael Berg,Rangstrom, Atterberg, Peterson-Berger and others were to follow.

Alfven spent much time in the Stockholmarchipelago, where he felt at home and where he found inspiration for many ofhis principal works. As early as 1894, at a rural wedding on Svartno, he hadheard a farm-hand sing some of the lunes that would, in time, be the frame-workof Midsommarvaka, a depiction of"the wanton merry-making and yearning love of Midsummer's Eve, anapotheosis of the pure, serene poetry of the luminous Swedish summer's night,the beautiful, happy festival of ail nature", as he himself described it.

After MidsommarvakaAlfven wanted to paint its counterpart "the skerries in thedarkness of the autumn night, the stonns and the elegiac moonlight". Theresult was the emotionally charged tone-poem Enskarg?Ñrdssagen (Legend of the Skerries), completed in 1904 andperformed by the Royal Opera House Orchestra the following year, conducted bythe composer. "My innermost self belongs to the skerries" Alfvenwrites. "I have had my best ideas when sailing on dark and stormy nights.

The wild autumn has been my greatest inspiration." His tone-poems are notintended as detailed descriptions but he emphasizes that there is more to themthan the outward shape. 'The impressions of nature are constantly linked to thedark joy of human passions". The constant changing of nature becomes ametaphor for love, invigorating and ecstatic but even more desperate and sad.

Against the background of the dark and threatening sea a fateful drama of thevanity of human love is enacted. Alfven was to return to this theme in his Fourth Symphonyfifteen years later.

Following the completion of En skarg?Ñrdssagen, Alfven began to plan anew symphony, but he needed a change of surroundings and chose Italy, thenature and culture of which had impressed him strongly during earlier visits.

It was there that he met his future wife Marie Kroyer, at the time married tothe alfresco painter PeterKroyer.

In the summer of 1905 Hugo and Marie returnedto Italy. In Sori, just outside Genoa, the ThirdSymphony began to take shape. Once again love was the inspiration,only this time as a wholy positive force: the symphony became one of his mostbrilliant and harmonious creations. Alfven says. "The symphony has noprogramme, it depicts neither concrete nor abstract. It is an expression of thejoy of living, an expression of the sun-lit happiness that filled my wholebeing". The beauty of the Italian countryside and the presence of thewoman he loved - what could be more stimulating to a creative mind? Alfvenconducted the first performance in December 1906 in Gothenburg. A few monthslater he again conducted the symphony, now with the Royal Opera House Orchestrain Stockholm.

The Dalarapsodi(Dalecarlian Rhapsody) of 1931 belongs to the composer's lateryears. Like so many other compositions from this period it is nostalgic andrather sad. There is a muted feeling in this description of "the darknature and the melancholy temperament of the Swedes". As so often, theartist Alfven depicts a specific setting, this time the lonely woods andmajestic mountains north of Lake Siljan. The melodies are mostly from that partof Dalecarlia.

"I imagine a shepherd-girl sitting on thegrass at her mountain farm in the quiet and deserted woodlands, blowing her horn.

I want to depict her dreams, her longing. In the distance she hears a bridalprocession pass by and in her dreams she is once more among her friends down inthe village. She remembers merry dances in the evenings and church on Sundaysand the exalted solemn hymns. She shivers as she remembers the night when astrange man appeared among them, seized a fiddle and played wild and strangetunes that made the people go mad. It was the Devil himself. The shepherd-girlstarts up with a cry of fear, then she wakes from her horrible dream and looksaround in confusion. Quietly she takes up her horn again. I hear the samemelody as in the beginning. And the woods answer her, sighing deeply."Alfven conducted the first performance of this, the last of his three Rhapsodies,in Stockholm in 1932.

Englishtranslation: Kerstin Swartling

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Formed in 1891 as the Scottish Orchestra, in1951 the ensemble, now full-time, took the name of the Sco
Item number 8553729
Barcode 730099472920
Release date 12/01/1999
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Alfven, Hugo
Alfven, Hugo
Conductors Willen, Niklas
Willen, Niklas
Orchestras Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Disc: 1
Symphony No. 3, E major, Op. 23
1 Dalecarlian Rhapsody - Swedish Rhapsody No. 3, Op.
2 Legend of the Skerries, Op. 20
3 Allegro con brio
4 Andante
5 Presto
6 Allegro con brio
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