After his Fourth Symphony, Alfvén devoted himself to cantatas, rhapsodies and choral compositions, and his fifth, unfinished symphony only comes towards the end of his life. He often lamented the financial situation which fettered him to the production of “potboilers”. But the cessation of his symphonic output probably had a number of other causes too, in both his private and his artistic life. Alfvén saw – as did, probably, Sibelius – a new age dawning, with stylistic ideals quite alien to him. 17 Alfvén’s symphonies, as we have already remarked, are now in the process of being “upgraded”, at the same time as Zorn’s paintings are fetching sky-high prices and reproductions of them are being sold in countless numbers. This is symptomatic of a neo-Romantic era, with a new bourgeois, middleclass generation seeking its identity in art. Translation Roger Tanner (2012). The article was originally published in Swedish in Romantiken över gränser. Lund 1993, pp. 135-154. Reprinted in Alfvéniana 2/99, pp. 3-14, and in Hugo Alfvén – en vägvisare. Gunnar Ternhag & Jan Olof Rudén (eds.). Hedemora, 2003. Gidlunds, pp. 36-49. The datings of the compositions in the article refer to the first performance.
When Lille Bror Söderlundh presented him with a dedicated copy of his violin concerto in 1954, Alfvén opened it and, his attention riveted by the original signal from the double basses at the beginning of it, burst out: “But for d*’s sake, you haven’t started writing modern, have you?” Seth Karlsson, an expert on both Söderlundh and Alfvén, told me this story.
Aesthetic ideals of music in turn-of-the-century Sweden