Alfred Berg (1857−1929)

Carl Alfred Berg was born in Hudiksvall on 13 October 1857 and died in Lund on 17 April 1929. Educated in Uppsala and Lund, he worked as both a choral conductor and composer but was known above all as a legendary choirmaster of the Lund University Male Chorus 1891−1925 (except for several leaves of absence for music studies in Germany). Berg was the university’s director musices (Director of Music) 1897−1923. His choral and solo songs received widespread acclaim whereas his cantatas were mostly appreciated in the local community.

Life

Education and background

Alfred Berg grew up in Hudiksvall, where he enjoyed piano lessons from an early age with his mother, an accomplished amateur pianist who was often in demand in the city’s music life. After completing high school in 1877, Alfred Berg moved to Uppsala, where he immersed himself in the subject of botany, specifically plant physiology. He later published several scientific papers on these subjects. However, his life in Uppsala resulted in a vital interest, and near engrossment, in music. Alfred Berg participated frequently with the male choir Allmänna Sången and played violin in the Akademiska kapellet (the Academic Orchestra) under the direction of Jacob Axel Josephson.

As a result of his father’s death, Berg’s financial circumstances changed; he then accepted a position as tutor in a landowner’s family in Halland. However, his employer, Cavalry Captain Ehrenborg, encouraged him to return to his academic studies in Lund, and from 1886 assured his education by providing him with substantial financial aid. Thus, by 1888 Alfred was able to complete his undergraduate degree in short time.

Leading positions in university musical societies

But once again, his musical interests took command. From 1889 to 1894 Alfred Berg was leader of the Studentkapellet (the Student Orchestra). He was then selected to head Lunds Studentsångförening (the Lund University Male Chorus); in 1891 he was chosen to be the choir’s conductor and remained in this position until 1925. In 1890 he began to study abroad for various lengths of time at music conservatories in Germany. The longest duration was in Leipzig, from 1894 to 1896, in order to acquire professional music training.

After substituting several times as the Akademiska kapellet’s conductor, Alfred Berg became the regular conductor of the orchestra in 1897, serving as such until 1923. One of his duties as orchestra conductor included teaching music theory. Additionally, he led a number of choirs and ensembles in the county of Skåne for various periods of time. At a national level he was involved in the Svenska sångarförbundet (the Swedish Choral Society) as assistant conductor from 1910 to 1911 and as the principal conductor from 1912 to 1916.

In 1918, Alfred Berg was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Lund. He was recognised not only for his active participation in Lund musical life but also for producing a valuable catalogue of the Akademiska kapellet’s substantial collection of older sheet music. Also worthy of mention is his immersion into the acoustical problems that were, and are, associated with the design of concert halls. He published a study on this subject, and his suggestions were taken into consideration by the architect Nils Einar Eriksson during the construction of the Gothenburg Concert Hall in the 1930’s. Eriksson declared Alfred Berg to be ‘a noted authority in the field of acoustics’.

Living legend in Lund

During his time as student choirmaster, Alfred Berg was given the nickname ‘Fader Berg’ (Father Berg), almost by chance. He became legendary by way of his musical competence and authoritative manner, inspiring both enthusiasm and friendly collegiality. Led by ‘the Father’, the choir’s wide-ranging tours became triumphal pageants showcasing Scandinavia. The climax of these tours was reached in 1904, with a tour starting in Landskrona in May and ending three months later in New York City, for a total of 39 concerts. On this tour, the Lund singers’ performances at the world exhibition in Saint Louis received singular attention.

Works

As a composer, Alfred Berg had two specialties: choral and solo songs on the one hand, cantatas and ‘utility music’ on the other. He was capable of filling the need for festive music at academic ceremonies or important anniversaries for the Order of Freemasons as well as local community events. The latter included writing funeral music for the demise of prominent men: his motet ‘Människa af kvinna född’ was said to have made a strong impression on listeners at the funeral of Bishop Wilhelm Flensburg.

Several of his solo songs and secular compositions for male choir secured his popularity as a composer. Songs such as ‘Aftonen’ (‘Betrakta, betrakta, han sjunker så sakta’, by poet and literary critic Carl David af Wirsén), ‘Harrgårdstösa i äppelapla’ (Gustaf Fröding) and ‘Vaggen, vaggen, stilla vågor’ (Lund poet Sigurd Agrell), achieved status as standard repertoire for male choirs. Most famous, however, was ‘Aftonsång’ (‘Afton, o hur skön! / I melodisk bön / dränker jag hvar jordisk smärta.’) in which the baritone solo was performed in a professedly irresistible, sentimental manner by the Royal Swedish Opera singer John Forsell on several tours with Lunds Studentsångförening.

Carlhåkan Larsén © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

'Kritik öfver några växtformer beskrifna af Fl. Behm', Botaniska notiser, 1890, pp. 22−24.
'Lichenologiska anteckningar', Botaniska notiser, 1890, pp. 161−173.
'En ny form af Torilis Anthriscus (L.) C. Gmel', Botaniska notiser, 1894, pp. 108−109.
Studien über Rheotropismus bei den Keimwurzeln der Pflanzen, Lund, 1899.
Jadassohn, Salomon: Lärobok i enkla, dubbla, tre- och fyrdubbla kontrapunkten, trans. and rev. Alfred Berg, 2nd examined ed., Lund, 1901.
'Minder fra mine Norgesreiser',  Julegranen, 1915.
'En julresa', Hudiksvallspostens julnummer, 1916.
Om konsertsalarnas akustiska problem: föredrag, Gothenburg, 1922.
Fader Bergs minnen 1863−1894, Stockholm, 1937.

Bibliography

Barr, Knut: På studentsångarfärd till Amerika. Illustrerade resebref, Stockholm: Hasse W. Tullberg, 1905.
Berg, Alfred: Fader Bergs minnen, ed. Ingo Frölich, Stockholm, 1937.
Bohlin, Folke (ed.): Lunds Studentsångförening 150 år, Lund: Föreningen Gamla Lund, 1981.
Fernström, John
: Jubals son och blodsarvinge, Självbiografiska anteckningar, Lund: Gleerup, 1967 (new ed. with the author's complete text,
Stockholm: Fischer, 1997).
Frimureriska tonsättare och frimurerisk musik
. Uppsala: Forskningslogen Carl Friedrich Eckleff, 2006, p. 310.
Hallström, Sven (ed.): Kring Fader Berg, Lund: Gleerup, 1945.
Jonsson, Leif:
Ljusets riddarvakt. 1800-talets studentsång utövad som offentlig samhällskonst, diss. Uppsala University, 1990, pp. 284−291.
Lundblad, J Th: 'Alfred Berg', in: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 3, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1922.
Lunds universitets matrikel. Album academiae carolinae 1926, Lund, 1926.
Möller, Henrik: Lundensisk studentsång under 100 år, Lund, 1931.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works, cantatas, piano pieces, songs (Aftonsång, etc.) and choral music (Aftonen, Harrgårdstösa i äppelapla, Vaggen, vaggen, stilla vågor, etc.).

Collected works

Orchestra (unprinted works)
Anabasis, academic festival march.
Io triumphe, dito.
Två karolinska marscher [two marches]. 1. Karl XII:s marsch vid Narva, 2. Stenbocks marsch.
I sorg och saknad, intermezzo for orchestra.
Fugue with theme in Swedish folk tone (Stenbocks polska).

Piano
Valse burlesque, Lund, 1906.
Marie Antoinette, minuet, 1912.

Violin and piano
Jultomte-marsch, Lund, 1906.

One voice and piano or similar
Two songs. 1. Aftonsång (Johan Nybom), 2. Vårluft (Zacharias Topelius). [Publ. under the pseudonym A., Stockholm, 1879.]
Four songs for one voice and piano, Stockholm, 1887. 1. Hälsning från fjärran (Friedrich Lenau), 2. Hågkomst (J.W. von Goethe), 3. Ensamhet (Zacharias Topelius), 4. Ensam kärlek (Johannes Fastenrath).
Aftonsång (Johan Nybom), Stockholm, 1890 [new rev. ed.; later several new ed.; also transcription for piano and orchestra].
Folk songs, transcribed and published by Selma Colliander, harmonised by Alfred Berg, Stockholm, 1902.
Four songs for one voice and piano, Lund, 1906. 1. Du ler (E.A. Karlfeldt), 2. Vintervaggsång, 3. Zwei Rosen, 4. En Vårnat (J.S. Welhaven).
Gotländsk folkvisa, folk song arr. for one voice and piano, 1912.

Onve voice and two instruments
Led oss, solo song with acc. of piano/organ and obligato violin, Lund, 1906.

Female choir, mixed choir
Double fugue for mixed choir and large orchestra, Leipzig, 1896.
Aftenstemning (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson) for soprano solo, four-part female choir and piano, Lund, 1906.

Male choir a cappella/male choir with piano
Människa af kvinna född, motett vid biskop W. Flensburgs begrafning [funeral motet], 1897.
Aftonen (C.D. af Wirsén), 1898.
Stjärnsången (Esaias Tegnér, melody by Karl Erik Sjögréen) for soli and male choir with several voices, Malmö, 1898.
Kilden (Holger Drachmann), 1899.
Herre Gud, allsmäktige, funeral motet, 1902.
Till havs (Johnny Roosval), 1904.
Jordens oro viker (J.O. Wallin), 1905.
Hymn till fosterlandet for male choir and piano, 1906.
Selinda och Leander (E.A. Karlfeldt), 1909.
Soldatsång (Verner von Heidenstam), 1909.
Vaggen, vaggen, stilla vågor (Sigurd Agrell), 1910.
Harrgårdsstösa i äppelapla (Gustav Fröding), 1911.
En visa i juli (?), 1912
Saliga, motet for male choir and tenor solo, 1912

Cantatas etc. (unprinted works)
Requiem öfver döda kamrater ('Slumren ljuft, I hädangångne', Nils Flensburg), ?.
Kantat vid H. Maj:t Konung Oscar II:s promotionsjubileum i Lund, 1893.
Kantat vid sekularpromotionen i Lund 1900.
Kantat vid Malmö Par Bricoles 25-årsfest 1903.
Tackom och lovom Herren. Festhymn vid grundstenläggningen av S:t Johannes kyrka i Malmö, 1903.
Kantat vid Odd Fellowordens 25-årsjubileum i maj 1908.
Skånsk kantat vid H.K.H. Kronprinsessan Margaretas besök i Malmö 1908.
Kantat vid avtäckningen af Otto Lindblads byst i Lund 1908
Kantat vid invigningen af Akademiska Föreningens nybyggnad den 20 oktober 1911
Kantat vid Kristianstads 300-årsjubileum 1914
Sex kantater för Frimurarorden, 1891−1920.