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. 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 the Hovkapellet (the Swedish court orchestra).
Starting in 1897, Alfvén travelled much of the next ten years in Europe. He studied violin technique in Brussels and learned conducting in Dresden. 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 until 1947. He toured Europe as a conductor throughout his life.
Alfvén became known as one of Sweden's principal composers, together with 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 programmatic 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 (Midsummer Vigil) written in 1903 and often simply called the "Swedish Rhapsody" is his best known piece and one of the best known pieces of music in Sweden.
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, his opus 7 from 1897, is an early F minor work, tuneful in a standard four movements. The second (1898-9), his opus 11 (and in a way his graduation piece, as interestingly recounted ) in D major concludes with a substantial, even powerful chorale-prelude and fugue in D minor. The third symphony (1905) opus 23 in E major, 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 of 1918-9 - opus 39, 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 once in full (recordings and performances of the 5th while rare enough, are usually of its quarter-hour first movement).