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Keep it Classical: Hugo Alfven’s Symphony No. 4 by mklaing

Henry Fogel, announcer on the former classical music radio station in Syracuse, WONO-FM (now Hot 107.9!) and program annotator for the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra once wrote, “Hugo Alfven is cursed by history for having written one very popular work. By this he was referring to the fact that many people tended not to look past the most well known piece of the Swedish composer, the Swedish Rhapsody No 1, “Midsummer Vigil.” Actually, Alfven wrote many other works worthy of attention, including eight symphonies. The fourth of these symphonies was written in 1918.

Symphony No. 4 of Hugo Alfven is programmatic in nature, meaning that the music tells a story. In this case, it is a passionate love story. It begins with the first moments of attraction, when, as the composer explains, “two human beings find each other and the highest bliss of love reveals itself to them,” and concludes with the dramatic end of their relationship. While most symphonies have four movements, this is technically a one- movement work, although it still has four distinct sections. Each section depicts a different step of the doomed love story. The symphony also includes singers who vocalize on the syllable “Ah” rather than singing lyrics, an uncommon feature in the classical repertoire.

Although the work was written in 1918, it was not until 1966, when the late romantic composers began to attract more favorable attention from the public, that the work had its American premiere. The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra had that honor in their concerts on November 11th and 12th, 1966, in what Henry Fogel described as “one of the major musical events in the United States this year.” 

-Meredith Laing, Managing Editor

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