Grieg is one of the world’s best known composers, but the three Violin Sonatas are a relatively unfamiliar part of his output, despite being among his own favourite pieces. Grieg never wrote a violin concerto, and the foremost Norwegian violinist of his generation, Henning Kraggerud, assisted by Bernt Simen Lund, a member of the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, has taken up the challenge of creating three new concertos from the sonatas.
Violin Concerto No. 1 in F major, Op. 8 Violin Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 13 Violin Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45
In these arrangements the solo violin is set against a string orchestra augmented by wind instruments in order to retain the feel of chamber music.
Listen to an excerpt from Violin Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 13
The Genesis of Grieg’s Violin Concertos
Edvard Hagerup Grieg is one of the world’s best known composers, with compositions that reach far beyond the classical music field. Many people who claim they do not know his music will, for instance, surely recognize themes from his Peer Gynt Suite. Norwegians are extremely proud of their great son, with his Piano Concerto in Aminor one of the most played and recorded of all piano concertos. But why on earth did he not compose a violin concerto? This question has puzzled and troubled me since I was a young boy.
When I started my career as a soloist more than twenty years ago, I was constantly asked to suggest Norwegian violin concertos. But when I proposed the excellent concertos by Sinding, Egge, Svendsen, Valen, Elling and others, there was not much interest. In the absence of a violin concerto by Grieg, and since these other Norwegian composers were not met with enthusiasm, I focused on the Sibelius Violin Concerto and have performed it more than a 100 times as a Nordic violinist playing a Nordic concerto (the closest I could get to Norway itself!). To explain how much use I could have had for a ‘Grieg Violin Concerto’, I can reveal that of Leif Ove Andsnes’s engagements in the first four years of his career almost 70% were as a soloist with foreign orchestras and with Grieg’s Piano Concerto on the programme. As a professor at the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo, I want the younger generation of violinists to have more Norwegian repertory to offer.
Ever since my arrangement of Grieg’s I Love OnlyYou for violin and orchestra (Naxos 8.554497: NorwegianViolin Favourites) I have toyed with the idea of arranging his violin sonatas for violin and orchestra as well. There are many reasons for orchestrating the sonatas. Despite being among Grieg’s own favourite pieces, they are less known than many of his other works. Today there are fewer recitals than before, even though it would make more financial sense to have two people catering for 400 people than 70 playing for 1000. Soloists mostly earn their living performing with orchestras, and play chamber music for fun.
To orchestrate the three violin sonatas is, of course, a major challenge, so I put it off for years, waiting for a suitable opportunity. Then, when I was asked to become artistic director of Tromsø Chamber Orchestra and heard that they had an excellent arranger of music among their members, I aired the idea of arranging these sonatas together with him. Both Bernt Simen Lund and the orchestra embraced my suggestion. With half the work for me, it was much more fun, and a much better result than if I had done it alone.
We decided to reinforce the strings with a few wind instruments. When the melodies in the original piece flow between piano and violin in the same range, we needed a more contrasting sound than that of solo violin versus string orchestra. We settled for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon to keep the feel of chamber music. This also let us keep the original solo violin part without changing octaves or having it covered by too heavy orchestration.
As part of our preparations we studied Grieg’s own orchestrations and the different sources of the originals. Even though there are Urtext editions of the Sonatas, my best source has always been Rolf Christian Erdahl’s excellent dissertation from 1994, where he goes through all the manuscripts, editions and alterations by Grieg in a much more thorough way than the Urtext editions.
One of the main challenges easily forgotten when arranging from the piano is the pedalling, both the written and unwritten, and how much sustaining the pianos gave at the time. Something looking like a short note in the piano score might sound through several bars. As a result, with some of the arpeggios, a full chamber orchestra is almost not enough to take the place of a single pianist. Sometimes the piano original works well with few adjustments, but in other places it seems that Grieg has run out of fingers, hinting at even bigger chords. In some places the melodies in octaves are missing a few notes here and there owing to what is playable on the piano. With an orchestra we have, of course, made use of our greater possibilities.
Creativity comes when deciding which instruments should be given the different melodies and parts. The opening of the slow movement in the Third Sonata just cried out for a flute, but other places needed more consideration. For years I have been straining my mind, imagining how anything from Bach Partitas to Ysaÿe Sonatas could be orchestrated as a way for me to perform them better. With Bernt Simen’s input as well, we often ended up with different ideas for the same passage. The result was solutions that neither of us would have come up with alone. After the première concert in November 2012, we made some alterations in the arrangements before the recording sessions took place.
Scandinavian Violin Music Featuring Henning Kraggerud
There was a particularly rich vein of Nordic writing for the violin between the years 1910 and 1930. In this recital, Henning Kraggerud explores this memorable repertoire. It ranges from Halvorsen’s folk-flecked Norwegian Dance to Stenhammar’s passionate Sentimental Romances. Late romanticism floods Sinding’s Abendstimmung whilst Sibelius’s Six Humoresques remain a masterpiece of the genre. The earlier works of Ole Bull illustrate the brilliance and panache of ‘The Nordic Paganini’.
“This disc gives us consistently enjoyable performances. The two young Norwegians play with idiomatic style, and give the impression of expressing every aspect of the music. … Highly recommendable.”—The Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Sibelius ranks as one of the most important and strikingly original symphonic composers of the twentieth century. His Violin Concerto, a wonderful synthesis of technical brilliance and poignant, deeply-felt melody, is one of the greatest concertos in the repertoire. It is coupled on this disc with the rarely recorded Violin Concerto No. 1, by Christian Sinding, widely remembered as the composer of The Rustle of Spring. Written within the German late Romantic tradition, the Concerto exudes cheerful ebullience and lyrical charm, a world away from the mysterious, haunting, desolate yet beautiful Scandinavia of Sibelius. The Romance, Op. 100 here receives its world première recording.
“a masterly performance... warm and powerful, with a confident, wide vibrato and immaculate intonation”—Gramophone “Kraggerud’s performance is superb throughout”—ClassicsToday.com
Sinding ranked second only to Grieg in his homeland and was honoured abroad, composing a wealth of immediately appealing and well-crafted Romantic music including the works for violin and piano on this first volume.
Volume 2 presents several of Sinding’s finely crafted salon pieces, whose charming character, sweet melodic lines and lively harmonies are his hallmarks. The Sonata in Olden Style, while richly Romantic, includes an innovative movement whose time signatures 5/4 and 7/4 perhaps look forward rather than back.
Norwegian violin music dates back to the country’s traditional folk instrument, the Hardanger fiddle. The oldest surviving fiddle dates from the early 1650s, its construction significantly different to the normal violin. Almost two hundred years later it inspired the violinist Ole Bull to write works based on melodies he heard folk musicians playing on the instrument. Amending a conventional violin, he developed a technique that many thought rivalled Paganini. It was this virtuosity that took him around the world, bringing Norwegian music to international attention. It was largely his influence that led to the delightful and often extremely demanding works that are included on this disc.
About the Artists:
Henning Kraggerud is renowned not only for his virtuosity, but also for his creativity. Violinist, violist, composer, director, Professor at Barratt-Due Institute of Music, and Artistic Leader of Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, he has expanded the boundaries of the world of the classical violin. He is also, with Lars Anders Tomter, Artistic Director of Risør Festival of Chamber Music, a position he took over from Leif Ove Andsnes.
As Norway’s only full-time professional chamber orchestra, Tromsø Chamber Orchestra has a unique place in the hearts of people in Tromsø and Northern Norway. With innovative and courageous programming, the orchestra gives weekly concerts ranging from jazz and folk-music to classical and contemporary works, collaborating with some of the leading soloists in Norway and Europe.