Allusions to Schubert, Berlioz and Chopin mingle with “Swedish, Sjögrenian”, Swedish folksong idiom or free church songs “Con brutalità”, in two-part counterpoint, is an unmistakeable “homage” to Johann Sebastian Bach. Alfvén opens the third movement with dramatic, short figures in dotted semiquavers and in a “tragic” C minor. Berlioz, as has so often been remarked before, is one of the sources of inspiration, but the horror clichés of Italian opera are also present, lurking in the background. The melody of the trio section conveys a typically “Nordic impression”. This has if anything a Mixolydian tinge, and the tonal ambivalence is accentuated by Alfvén’s harmonies and cadenzas. In Preludio & Fuga, Alfvén once more displays the contrapuntal skills he learned from Johan Lindegren, but there are also distinctly “Alfvénian” touches to the formal structure, the interval constellation and, above all, the harmony. True, this is “pastiche”, but Alfvén’s melodic exposition benefits from the austerity of form. Here he has had nothing like the same chance of launching out into banalities! But still there are some effects which seem shockingly out of context. Sometimes one gets the feeling that Alfvén is “sending up” symphonic form, with a totally incongruous “oompa” bass. A harmonic build-up ends with a tutti crescendo, after which the chorale Jag går mot döden vart jag går (“Wher’er I walk, to death I go”) is presented by the brass. This evolves into a fugue subject based on the first notes of the chorale similar to Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Overture to The Huguenots and Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony. There is no doubt that Alfvén had “classical ambitions” in his Second Symphony, and, on the whole, he accomplished a symphony which won the approval of experts at home and abroad. But Kretzschmar’s little aside, “trotz allem Verzicht auf nationale Besonderheiten,” shows that people noticed the idiosyncrasies that were eventually to blossom forth in his rhapsodies and furnish inspiration for the depictive music which characterises the Fourth Symphony.
Aesthetic ideals of music in turn-of-the-century Sweden