1872 - 1960
Hugo Alfvén is one of Sweden´s most performed composers. Although his works clearly derive from the national-romantic era, most of them have never lost their popularity. Moreover, Alfvén composed what have become repertory works in different genres. Alfvén started as a violinist, but soon developed his musical interest into both composing and conducting. Beside a successful career as composer, he was very much appreciated as both orchestral and choral conductor. For many years he conducted the famous male choir Orphei Drängar, also writing several compositions for this ensemble. Alfvén wrote his key works for orchestra rather early in his career, continued later to compose mostly for choir (both male and mixed choir) and for voice and piano.
Critical Acclaim...Alfvén employs the wordless voice to conjure an atmosphere of chilling other-worldliness - of lost souls calling to each other in passages of almost erotic desire – Classic FM
Hugo Alfvén, along with Wilhelm Stenhammer, was one of his time’s most significant Swedish composers. Alfven’s music is Late Romantic in character and is often typified by a technically superior use of the sonorities of the symphony orchestra.
Many of Alfvén’s works have the character of programme music. They are colourful renderings of Swedish landscapes and moods: Dalarna,the Archipelago or the Swedish midsummer.
As a musician and conductor Hugo Alfvén was particularly active. As a conductor he toured most of northern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. For almost forty years he was an honorary doctor and leader of the student Orpheus Boys’ Choir at the University of Uppsala.
In 1954 Hugo Alfvén recorded a number of his works on LP. This was the first classical stereo recording in Sweden. What is perhaps Alfvén’s best known orchestral work Swedish Rhapsody no. 1, Midsummer Vigil (1903), was a huge hit in 1953 for the Canadian bandleader Percy Faith, and later also for the guitarist Chet Atkins. The easily recognizable, tuneful main theme has even found its way to Deep Purple’s Lazy from the Live in Japan album and an episode in Matt Groening’s cult series The Simpsons.
Hugo Alfvén was not only active as a composer and musician. His abilities as a water-colourist made him consider a complete change of career at one point, and his autobiography in four volumes is particularly absorbing reading in the genre.
Hjarne Fessel 2014