Ormandy's excellent mid-fifties Sibelius & Alfvén Tone Poems
New transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn perhaps the first to fix major technical flaws
"...the Philadelphia Orchestra fully maintains its high reputation in these four tone-poems: some details indeed, such as the sul ponticello passage in En Saga, emerge more effectively than in any other recording..."
from review of the Sibelius recordings by L.S. in The Gramophone, January 1959
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recording:
The Alfvén was transferred from its 12-inch reissue on ML-5181. I have not heard the original 10-inch release (AL-35), but on this LP, it is plagued by severe pitch instability. The work starts more than a half-tone flat, and gets progressively flatter as it goes on. Through careful pitch checking, I have corrected the playback speed so that, perhaps for the first time, it may be heard at the proper pitch throughout.
notes from Wikipedia
Hugo Emil Alfvén (help·info) (May 1, 1872 – May 8, 1960) was a Swedish composer, conductor, violinist, and painter.
Alfvén was born in Stockholm and studied at the Music Conservatory there from 1887 to 1891 with the violin as his main instrument, receiving lessons from Lars Zetterquist. He also took private composition lessons from Johan Lindegren, a leading counterpoint expert. He earned a living by playing the violin at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. He also played the violin in Hovkapellet (the Swedish court orchestra).
Starting in 1897, Alfvén travelled much of the next ten years in Europe. He studied violin technique in Brussels with César Thomson and learned conducting in Dresden as sub-conductor under Hermann Ludwig Kutzschbach. In 1903-4 he was professor of composition at the Royal Conservatory, Stockholm. From 1910 Alfvén was Director musices (music director) at the University of Uppsala (a post he held until 1939). There he also directed the male voice choir Orphei Drängar (or 'O.D.') (until 1947). He conducted in festivals at Dortmund (1912), Stuttgart (1913), Gothenburg (1915), and Copenhagen (1918-1919). He toured Europe as a conductor throughout his life. He received a Ph.D. honoris causa from Uppsala in 1917 and became a member of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm in 1908. Alfvén recorded some of his orchestral music in stereo late in 1954 (the first classical stereo recordings made in Sweden) ; the recordings were issued on LP in the U.S. by Westminster Records. A three-CD collection of Alfven's recordings as a conductor has been issued.
Alfvén became known as one of Sweden's principal composers of his time, together with his contemporary Wilhelm Stenhammar. Alfvén's music is in a late-Romantic idiom. His orchestration is skillful and colorful, reminiscent of that of Richard Strauss. Like Strauss, Alfvén wrote a considerable amount of program music. Some of Alfvén's music evokes the landscape of Sweden.
Among his works are a large number of pieces for male voice choir, five symphonies and three orchestral "Swedish Rhapsodies." The first of these rhapsodies, Midsommarvaka is his best known piece.
Alfvén's five symphonies, the first four of them now several-times recorded (with another cycle in progress), give a picture of the composer's musical progress. The first, in F minor, his Op. 7 from 1897, is an early work, tuneful in a standard four movements. The second, in D major (1898-9), his Op. 11 (and in a way his graduation piece, as interestingly recounted ) concludes with a substantial, even powerful chorale-prelude and fugue in D minor. The third symphony in E major, Op. 23 (1905), also in four movements, more mature in technique though light in manner was inspired by a trip to Italy. The fourth symphony in C minor, Op. 39, of 1918-9 "From the Outermost Skerries" (there is also a tone-poem, A Legend of the Skerries) is a symphony in one forty-five minute movement using wordless voices, inspired by Carl Nielsen's Sinfonia Espansiva. The 5th in A minor, begun 1942, is one of the composer's last works, and has only been recorded twice in full (recordings and performances of the 5th, while rare enough, are usually of its quarter-hour first movement).
Brilliant Classics has a 5-CD set devoted to Hugo Alfvén that includes the symphonies and other orchestral works; Naxos Records and BIS Records among others have either collections or groups of individual recordings covering all of his symphonies and a range of his works.
Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 (Midsommarvaka)
The first rhapsody - Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, also known as Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil) - was written in 1903 and is often simply called the "Swedish Rhapsody." It is the best-known piece composed by Hugo Alfvén, and also one of the best-known pieces of music in Sweden.
There are several pop culture references to the main theme of Alfvén's "Swedish Rhapsody No. 1":
It was arranged and recorded as a fingerstyle guitar solo in 1957 by American guitarist Chet Atkins, and became one of Atkins' best-known recordings.
The solo is also featured on Deep Purple's classical live album "Made in Japan" (1972) where guitarist Ritchie Blackmore plays it in his solo on the song "Lazy"
The original version of a popular song "Mah Nà Mah Nà" interpolates its melody.
It is featured in The Simpsons episode Little Orphan Millie erroneously depicting Danish culture.
The melody has been used on ice cream vans in some parts of the United Kingdom.
The melody is used throughout The Wiggles Big Big Show.
Painter and Writer
Alfvén's contributions were multidimensional and also included painting and writing. He was a talented watercolorist and once thought to devote himself entirely to painting. He also was a gifted writer. His 4-volume autobiography has been called "captivating" and provides significant insight into the musical life of Sweden in which Alfvén was a central figure for well over half a century.
Alfvén was married three times. His first marriage (1912-1936) was to the Danish painter Marie Triepcke (1867-1940), who had previously been married to the painter Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909). After his divorce from Marie in 1936, he married Carin Wessberg. They were together for two decades (1936-1956) before she died. He married Anna Lund in 1959.
He died in 1960 in Falun (Sweden) just after his 88th birthday. His nephew, Hannes Alfvén, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1960 in the same year.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Alfvén
Sibelius' Tone Poems on this recording
notes from Wikipedia
En saga (English translation: A fairy tale or A saga) is a tone poem written by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1892. After hearing Sibelius' choral work Kullervo, the conductor Robert Kajanus encouraged Sibelius to compose a purely orchestral work, which turned out finally to be this work. The evolution of this work is somewhat ambiguous, except that in 1890-1891, Sibelius had commenced composition on an octet for strings, flute and clarinet. This work evolved into a septet by September 1892, and had acquired the title "Ballet Scene No. 2" by November of that year. However, a letter to Adolf Paul dated 10 December 1892 stated that Sibelius had finished "the orchestral piece En saga".
The composer himself conducted the first performance on 16 February 1893 in Helsinki. In the context of an invitation from Ferruccio Busoni in 1902 to conduct the work in Berlin, Sibelius revised the work, and conducted the first performance of the final version in Helsinki on 2 November 1902.
The title is in Swedish, Sibelius's mother tongue. He did not specify any story in it, although Sibelius did comment that any general literary inspiration was more from the Icelandic Eddas rather than the Kalevala (the Finnish national epic). In his later years, Sibelius recounted to his secretary::
"En saga is the expression of a state of mind. I had undergone a number of painful experiences at the time and in no other work have I revealed myself so completely. It is for this reason that I find all literary explanations quite alien."
The first commercial recording of the original version of En saga was with Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (BIS CD-800). Breitkopf & Härtel published Gregory Barrett's reconstruction of a possible original chamber version, En Saga Septet, in 2003. (MUSICA RARA MR 2283).
The tone poem Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49, was composed by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1906. Originally, Sibelius intended to title the work Väinämöinen, after the character in the Kalevala (the Finnish national epic). The publisher Robert Lienau insisted on the title Pohjola's Daughter, which Sibelius then countered with the new title L'aventure d'un héros. However, Lienau's suggestion eventually became the work's published title. This was Sibelius' first work that he wrote directly for a German music publisher. The first performance was in Saint Petersburg, Russia in December 1906, with the composer himself conducting the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre.
The passage in the Kalevala that inspired this work is from the 8th Runo, known in various English translations as "The Wound" or "Väinämöinen and the maiden of North Farm". The tone poem depicts the "steadfast, old," white-bearded Väinämöinen who spots the beautiful "daughter of the North (Pohjola)", seated on a rainbow, weaving a cloth of gold while he is riding a sleigh through the dusky landscape. Väinämöinen asks her to join him, but she replies that she will only leave with a man who can perform a number of challenging tasks, such as tying an egg into invisible knots and, most notably, building a boat from fragments of her distaff. Although Väinämöinen attempts to fulfill these tasks through his own expertise in magic, he is thwarted by evil spirits and injures himself with an axe. He gives up, abandons the tasks and continues on his journey alone. Pohjola's Daughter is considered one of Sibelius' most colorful scores and scored for a large orchestra; 2 Flutes, Piccolo, 2 Oboes, English Horn, 2 Clarinets; Bass Clarinet; 2 Bassoons; Contrabassoon; 4 Horns; 2 Cornets; 2 Trumpets; 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, Harp, and Strings.
The musical motif with which Sibelius portrays the maiden's derisive laughter as she mocks the failures of Väinämöinen's attempts to meet her challenges has been claimed as the inspiration for Bernard Hermann's soundtrack in the stabbing scene in Psycho.
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote the tone poem The Oceanides, op. 73, in 1914 immediately before his Fifth Symphony. It was commissioned for the Norfolk Festival in Connecticut, at which Sibelius conducted the premiere performance.
The Oceanides of the title refer to the feminine spirits who animated the waters in Greek mythology. However, the Finnish title Aallottaret ("Spirits of the Waves") provides an added nuance. The work was originally planned in three movements, and unfolds in three cyclical "waves". The composer uses a large orchestra to present the work's two brief themes in a rich variety of instrumental colours.
A typical performance takes eight and a half minutes.
Tapiola (literally, "Realm of Tapio"), op. 112, is a tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, written in 1926. It was the product of a commission from Walter Damrosch for the New York Philharmonic Society. Tapiola portrays the terrifying spirit (Tapio) lying behind the stark Finnish pine-forests that enveloped Sibelius's isolated home outside Järvenpää.
It was premiered by the New York Symphonic Society on 26 December 1926.
When asked by the publisher to clarify the work's program, Sibelius responded by supplying a quatrain:
It was to be his last major work, even though he would go on to live for another thirty years.
A typical performance takes between fifteen and twenty minutes.
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