Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)


Hugo Emil Alfvén, born in Stockholm on 1st May, 1872, deceased at Tibble, Leksand (Dalecarlia, Sweden) on 8 May, 1960. Composer and conductor. Violinist in the Kungl. Hovkapellet (i.e., the orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera) 1890-1901, Director musices in Uppsala 1910-39, Leader of choirs Allmänna sången in Uppsala 1919-31 (then a male choir) and Orphei Drängar 1910-47. Conductor of the Siljansbygdens körförbund 1904-57 and 1st conductor of the Svenska Sångarförbundet 1921-43. Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) was for decades Sweden´s most highly esteemed composer. His music was heard at almost all national ceremonies. His big birthdays every ten years were celebrated as important events. He received many distinctions. And his works were always featured on concert programmes, on radio and recordings. His personality also contributed to the public attention – his clear-cut features often appeared in the press and his relationship with women was just as talked-about as his musical creativity. 

Hugo Alfvén was born in Stockholm. His parents were Baptists and his father was the leader of the congregation´s choir. The piano was Hugo Alfvén´s first instrument, but he soon passed on to the violin. At the age of 15 he was admitted to the The Royal College of Music in Stockholm. At the same time he began to study painting, and had to choose between music and art for his career. It was definitely music when in 1890 he found employment as second violinist in the Royal Opera-House Orchestra. He stayed in the orchestra for two years, where he gained knowledge of orchestral instruments, musical works and styles of conducting. 

After that he continued his musical studies. In 1897 his First Symphony was premiered and given a mainly favorable reception. The same year he went on a study trip to Berlin, Paris and Brussels. Alfvén’s breakthrough as a composer came with the premiere of his Second Symphony in 1899. All at once he was recognized as one of the country’s most promising composers. He received commissions for works for various special occasions – and this was to continue throughout his whole career. 

In 1910 he was appointed director musices (conductor and artistic leader) at Uppsala University. As musical copyright had not yet been established, a permanent position was desirable for a composer and conductor. As director musices he was conductor of the Royal Academic Orchestra, but soon afterwards he took over the leadership of the men´s choir Orphei Drängar (Sons of Orpheus) – and not long after that of the well-known Allmänna Sången as well, which was then a men´s choir. His composing was limited to summer vacations or his leaves of absence when he worked on commissions.

As a composer, Hugo Alfvén´s most important efforts focused on music for large orchestra. He wrote five symphonies, three rhapsodies, of which “Midsummer Vigil” (Midsommarvaka) is the most frequently performed, the whole-evening ballets “The Mountain King” (Bergakungen) and “The Lost Son” (Den förlorade sonen) as well as a handful of single-movement orchestral works, including the symphonic poem “A Tale from the Archipelago” (En skärgårdssägen). Parallel to this he wrote art songs and choral works. On the other hand, he wrote no chamber music, nor any operas.  

Upon retirement, Hugo Alfvén and his then wife, Carin Alfvén, left Uppsala to take up residence in Leksand. In connection with his 70th birthday in 1942 a large collection was taken to defray the expenses of a new house for them both. Three years later the couple were able to move into Alfvéngården in the village of Tibble, which is today a museum exhibiting his life work. He died there 88 years old in 1960. 

Publications by the composer

Hugo Alfvén, in Svensk Musiktidning, 18 May, 1899
Johan Lindegren, in Hvar 8 Dag, no. 18, 3 February, 1907
Låt-täflingarna i Mora. Ett sommarminne, in Svenska Dagbladet, 4 August, 1907
Alkohol och konstnärligt skapande, in Bilaga (appendix) to Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, 28 January, 1907
Du gamla, du fria, in Afton-Bladet, 1st July, 1912
H.A. [A survey response regarding the competence of Swedish orchestra musicians], in Musikern, 15 September, 1919
Opera och konsert oförenliga? [Are opera and concert incompatible?] A dialogue between Tobias Norlind and Hugo Alfvén], in Svenska Dagbladet, 1st March, 1922
Till dirigenter och sångare [For conductors and singers], in Sångartidningen, no. 5, (May) 1922
Alfvén's Midsommarvaka [Swedish Rhapsody no. 1]. The composer relates how he got the idea for the rhapsody, in Helsingborgs Dagblad, 14 January, 1926
Vasaättlingen Kungliga Hovkapellet [i.e., the orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera], in Musikern, Year 19, no. 3, (1st February) 1926
Musikern som tycker om boxning [The musician who enjoys boxing]. Hugo Alfvén's self-portrait essay, in Idun, 31st October, 1926
Det nya sångfestprogrammet, några anvisningar beträffande inövandet [some rehearsal instructions], in Sångartidningen 1931, pp. 14, 25, 39, 40, 49, 85.
Glada manskörssånger. En utredning för Svenska Sångarförbundet [An investigation made for the Svenska Sångarförbundet], in Sångartidningen 1933, p. 12
Några minnen från min bekantskap med Verner von Heidenstam [Some recollections from my acquaintance with Verner von Heidenstam]. Mårbacka och Övralid, in Hågkomster och livsintryck XXII. Uppsala 1941, pp. 425-443.
Min lärare [My teacher] Johan Lindegren, in Musikmänniskor. Minnen av svenska tonsättare [Recollections of Swedish composers]. Folke H. Törnblom (Ed.). (Hågkomster och livsintryck XXIV.) Uppsala 1943, pp. 121- 131
Skiss till en självbiografi [Draft for an autobiography], in Afton-Tidningen, 31st May, 1943
Första satsen. Ungdomsminnen (memoirs, part 1/4, 1946)
Tempo furioso. Vandringsår (memoirs part 2/4, 1948)
I dur och moll. Från Uppsalaåren (memoirs, part 3/4, 1949)
Final (memoirs, part 4/4, 1952)
Hugo Alfvén berättar. Radiointervjuer utgivna av Per Lindfors. [Hugo Alfvén reminiscing. Radio interviews published by Per Lindfors.] Stockholm (1966)


Godin, C: Hugo Alfvén, i Vår Sång, 1945
Hedwall, Lennart: Hugo Alfvén — En svensk tonsättares liv och verk (Norstedts förlag, Stockholm, 1973)
—— : Hugo Alfvén och hans manskörssånger, in Sångartidningen, 1972
—— : Kring Hugo Alfvéns romanser, in specialnummer av [special edition of] Musikrevy, 1972 
—— : article in Sohlmans Musiklexikon, vol. 1, pp. 101-104 (1975)
Nyblom, C G: Hugo Alfvén (1920)
Nyblom, K: Hör, I Orphei Drängar — Skildringar ur sångsällskapet OD:s levnad, 1-2, (1913, 1928)
Percy, G: Hugo Alfvén — symfonikern och pionjären, in specialnummer av [special edition of] Musikrevy, 1972
Pergament, Moses: Hugo Alfvénin Svenska tonsättare (1943)
Rudén, Jan Olof: Hugo Alfvéns kompositioner. Käll- och verkförteckning med tematisk katalog (1972)
Svensson, S E: Hugo Alfvén som människa och konstnär (1946)
Ternhag, Gunnar (red.): Hugo Alfvén — brev om musik (Gidlunds förlag, Stockholm, 1998) 
Ternhag, Gunnar/Rudén, Jan Olof (red.): Hugo Alfvén — en vägvisare (Gidlunds förlag, Stockholm, 2003)
Törnbom, Gösta: article in Svenska Män och Kvinnor, band 1, pp. 52-53 (Bonniers förlag 1942)
Åhlén, Carl-Gunnar: Hugo Alfvén var också dirigent, in specialnummer av [special edition of] Musikrevy, 1972)


Mainly Hugo Alfvén's archive in the Uppsala University Library; also the Gothenburg University Library, Landsarkivet Härnösand, National Library of Sweden, Landsarkivet Lund, Lund University Libraries, Scenkonstmuseet (Swedish Museum of Performing Arts) Stockholm, Riksarkivet (National Archives of Sweden) Stockholm, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, Stockholm City Archive.
Portraits: The Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Svenska porträttarkivet

Summary list of works

5 symphonies, 3 rhapsodies, En skärgårdssägen, Festspel (Festival), 2 Festival Ouvertures (Op. 26 och 52), Drapa, Elegi, Festive March, Marcia funebre in stile italiano, Orchestral Suite Gustav II Adolf, Den förlorade sonen (The Prodigal Son, ballet suite), Synnöve Solbakken, En bygdesaga, Sonata for Violin and Piano in C minor, Romance for violin and piano, Elegy for French horn (or cello) and organ, piano pieces, about 60 songs with piano accompaniment, songs with orchestra, at least 11 cantatas for choir and orchestra, pieces for choir a cappella, ballets (e.g., "Bergakungen") as well as music for plays and films.

Works by Hugo Alfvén

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 324