Hugo Alfvén went straight to the heart of the Swedish folk tunes when he wrote his Midsummer Vigil, Swedish Rhapsody, op. 19 (1903), for a large orchestra - a festive work in the favourite rhapsodic form of Romanticism where one theme (character) succeeds another to create a varied musical narrative. The work seems to leap right out of Swedish folk music with the presentation of the theme by a playful clarinet, lightly accompanied by a harp and pizzicato strings. But before we know where we are the leaves are whirled up and the full orchestra takes over - now with a more imitative, Fortspinnung-like character. After a breakneck ride on the whirligig, the slow middle section comes in with the beautiful Vindarna sucka uti skogarna (‘The winds sigh out in the forests’) as the basic material. A particular Swedish specialty is the melancholy, slightly resigned folk melody of which Vindarna sucka uti skogarna is a textbook example.
After this the theme is unfolded again in the full orchestra, finally making the transition to the third and last part of the work, the coda, where several themes are interwoven humorously into a sparkling finale with the sound of the folk fiddler and leaping dancers somewhere in the background.
According to tradition Midsummer Vigil was written as a response to criticism, since Alfvén had been accused of being far too earnest and serious in his work. Thus he proved that the opposite could also be the case.
The list of Alfvén’s works includes five symphonies, piano works, symphonic poems, ballet music and not least choral works, for both mixed choir and equal voices. The unusually many works for male choir can be attributed to the post he held for many years as conductor of the famous male choir Orphei Drängar. Besides his activities as a composer and choir conductor, Alfvén functioned as an orchestral conductor until a few years before his death in 1960.