Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, op. 19

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        America’s concert stages have always been dominated by the composers of Germany, Austria, Italy, and France--and to some degree, Russia. But, of course, the rest of Europe has enjoyed an equally active musical culture. Imported musical style from the aforementioned countries dominated the peripheries of Europe for many centuries, but during the surge of nationalism that characterized the nineteenth-century, composers began to develop indigenous musical styles. In Scandinavia we are all familiar with the works of Grieg and Sibelius, and perhaps Nielsen, but naturally there are many other worthy names, and Hugo Alfvén is one. Active during his long life as a violinist, conductor, and composer in his native Sweden, he composed a large number of choral works and songs, in addition to a substantial body of orchestral music. Early on, he was torn between a career as an artist, and that of a musician--he obviously chose the latter, but during his lifetime he produced many paintings of professional quality which are now on exhibition. Accordingly, almost all of his music is descriptive--or program music. He was especially inspired by the varied beauty of sea. Those who have sailed into Stockholm are inevitably impressed by the endless, constantly-changing colors of the Swedish archipelago, and so was Alfvén--it was a lifelong preoccupation for him. In addition to composing five symphonies, numerous suites, and overtures for orchestra, he wrote three “Swedish Rhapsodies.” No. 1 was composed in 1903 and is subtitled Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil), and is an evocative example of his mastery of orchestration and rich harmonic language. It is based upon Swedish folk music, includes a depiction of a peasant wedding, and overall it beautifully summons images of the colors of the long Swedish summer day.

---Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan