Alfvén’s highly romantic, colourful style is a paint box which he always has with him so as to give the drawn melodic outline a colourful sound. Form defers to the surge of poetic feeling and to brightly coloured constellations of instruments and sound. Svensson argues: In its choice of sounding material and its treatment of dissonances, it is colouristic, at times indeed impressionist. And here the treatment and combination of the instruments of the orchestra has been concentrated more and more on achieving subtle effects of tone colour. 4 In particular, the constant shifts of colouring evoke many associations with Zorn’s paintings. There is another parallel between Alfvén and Zorn which is perhaps a little more farfetched. Zorn paid grandiose tribute to the great and the good of his time by painting their portraits. This more or less “official” portraiture can be seen as a parallel to Alfvén’s increasing delight in composing cantatas for grand occasions. This gave him social standing and averted the destitution threatening a composer with his kind of lifestyle. Alfvén and folk music Unlike Béla Bartók, Alfvén never got beyond the stage of “using” folk music in the form of robust, sentimental or catchy tunes with romantic or burlesque associations. Folk music does not in his case bring about any organic growth from one stylistic ideal to another. Instead the styles coexist side by side, like segmented soil strata, representing a certain period in his output. So what role did folk music play for Alfvén? His interest in it was profound and sincere, as witness, not least, his going to the trouble of noting down tunes and arranging a large number of folksongs. Even if this did not bring about any organic stylistic development in his writing, folk music may have been the very thing that piloted him between his markedly different stylistic periods. Svensson divides Alfvén’s output into the following: - a romantic-classical period up to and including Herrens bön (1902) - a high-romantic period from En skärgårdssägen (1900) to Bergakungen (1923) inclusive, - and a classical, folkoristicperiod characterised by diatonic melody and predominantly homophonic texture, beginning roughly with Universitetsjubileumskantaten (1927). For present purposes we will confine our attention to stylistic periods (1) and (2), in which we find his Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies, Midsommarvakan and En skärgårdssägen. Just as Zorn’s buxom wenches and his depictions of the magical Midsummer dancing in Dalarna won acclaim in the art salon, so Alfvén’s interpretations of fiddler tunes and folksongs in rhapsody form came to be savoured in the “concert salon”.5 Both artists stand forth as communicators of rural culture in its final phase, still segregated from urban culture, to a middle-class urban culture which enjoyed the music in the concert hall and the paintings at gallery openings. But not only this: reproduction of the works of art made them a part of mass culture. This in turn has given Alfvén and Zorn a wide popular following. In Alfvén’s case, his many folksong arrangements made a further contribution to his 4
Svensson 1946, p. 51f, has mapped the known melodies in Midsommarvaka: “In Midsommarvaka Alfvén has used a string of familiar fiddler tunes. The opening theme, Knäpplåten, together with another well-known dance tune, makes up the thematic base of the first part of the rhapsody (Allegro moderato). [….] The intermediate Andante section is based on a tune in Vindarna sucka i skogen by Ivar Hallström.” 5 The third part of the Rhapsody, Allegro 2/4, later Allegro con brio in ¾ time, is based on a well-known fiddler tune plus Jössehäradspolskan and, as a subsidiary theme thereto, Trindskallevisan. Hedwall (1973, p. 196f) gives examples of Alfvén processing tunes noted down after Erhard Lännman for his knäppolska and pekdans, and also recounts the debate occurring in both the USA and Germany about the tunes being of German origin. Alfvén, at all events, found the “universal, traditional” in accordance with the very same ideals pursued by J. A. P. Schulz in his songs 150 years previously!
Aesthetic ideals of music in turn-of-the-century Sweden