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8.550883 - GRIEG: Pictures from Everyday Life / Ballade, Op. 24
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
Edvard Grieg, was born in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. He showed a strong interest in music at very early age, and after encouragement by violinist and composer, Ole Bull (1810 -1880), he was sent to the Conservatory in Leipzig at tile age of fifteen to receive his music education. At the conservatory he received a fundamental and solid training, and through the city's active musical life, he received impressions, and heard music, which would leave their stamp on him for the rest of his life, for better or for worse. Even though he severely criticized the conservatory, especially towards the end of his life, in reality he was recognised as a great talent, and one sees in his sketchbooks and practices from the Leipzig period that he had the freedom to experiment as well. He had no basis for criticizing the conservatory or his teachers for poor teaching or a lack of understanding.
From Leipzig he travelled to Copenhagen with a solid musical ballast and there he soon became known as a promising young composer. It was not long before he was under the influence of Rikard Nordraak, whose glowing enthusiasm and unshakeable that the key to a successful future for Norwegian music lay in nationalism, in the uniquely Norwegian, the music of the people folk-songs. Nordraak came to playa decisive role for Grieg's development as a composer. Nordraak's influence is most obvious in Grieg's Humoresker, Opus 6, considered a breakthrough. In the autumn of 1866, Grieg settled down in Christiania (Oslo). In 1874 Norway's capital city was the centre for his activities. During this time he also created the majority of the works which laid the foundation for his steadily increasing fame.
In spite of his poor health he had had a defective lung ever since childhood Grieg was constantly on concert-tour as pianist or a conductor, always with his own works on the programme. After his last concert-tour 1907, Grieg wrote to his friend Frants Beyer:
"This Tour has been strange. The Audiences have been on my Side. In Germany I have received more acclaim for my ART than ever before. But the Critics both in Munich and in Berlin have let me know in no uncertain terms, that they think I am a dead Man. That is my punishment for my lack of Productivity in these last Years, which my wretched physical condition has caused. It is a hard and undeserved Punishment - but I comfort myself with the thought that it is not the Critics, who govern the world" (Letter to Frants Beyer 5th March, 1907)
More clearly than anything else, this letter shows a trend which Grieg experienced in his later years in relation to his music. It was also a development which would continue internationally until long after his death. Within the musical "establishment", there was an increasing number of people who gradually became more critical towards Grieg's music as well as his abilities and talent as a composer. In the meantime his popularity among the average music-loving audience increased in inverse proportion. Grieg experienced some of the greatest demonstrations of his general popularity during the last years of his life, when, in spite of his greatly weakened health, he was continually on concert-tour, in popular demand by concert-managers from all over the world. The critics, however, were sceptical and to a point condescending, and there is no doubt that Grieg felt hurt by their attitude:
"I cannot be blamed if my music is played in third-rate hotels and by school-girls. I could not have created my music any other way, even though I did not have my audience in mind at the time. I suppose this popularity is all right, but it is dearly bough. My reputation as a composer is suffering because of it, and the criticism is disparaging".
From early on Grieg was labelled a composer of the small forms His indisputable lyrical ability and talent were never doubted, but apart from some very few works such as the Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 16, and the String Quartet in G minor, Opus 27, Piano Sonata in E minor, Opus 7, the three Violin Sonatas, Opus 8 in F major Opus 13 in G major and Opus 45 in C minor, and the Cello Sonata in A minor, Opus 36, he was not able, in spite of his many and desperate attempts, to feel at home with the "large form".
He felt that this was a shortcoming, and unfairly blamed his education at the Leipzig Conservatory. Nevertheless, he also showed that he could master these forms when on rare occasions he found raw musical material that could be reworked and treated within the traditional sonata-form. The only problem was that the musical material to which he felt closest and by which he was most fascinated, was of another quality and character.
Grieg's encounter with Norwegian folk-music, and his assimilation of essential features from this music, released certain aspects of his own creativity that soon led to his music being, for many, identical with folk-music. By some, he was considered more or less simply an arranger of folk-music, and that hurt him very deeply:
"In my Op. 17 and 66, I have arranged folk-songs for the piano, in Op. 30, I have freely rendered folk ballads for the male voice. In three or four of my remaining works, I have attempted to use Norwegian songs thematically. Arid since I have published up to 70 works by now, I should be allowed to say that nothing is more incorrect than the claim from certain German critics that my so-called originality is limited to my borrowing from folk-music. It is quite another thing if a nationalistic spirit, which has been expressed through folk-music since ancient times, hovers over my original creative works. (Letter to Henry T. Finck, 17.7. 1900)".
Much of the instrumental Norwegian folk music is built up of small melodic themes, almost units, which are repeated with small variations in appoggiatura and sometimes with rhythmic displacements. Sections are then joined together to form larger units. We seldom find any true development as it is understood in traditional classical music. It gradually became clear to Grieg that he felt the greatest affinity to this music. This becomes especially clear to us through his piano music. That is why it also became so difficult to distinguish between what in Grieg's works came originally from folk-music, and what was his own composition. This must also have been especially difficult for foreign critics and audiences.
In Grieg's music there are two features which particularly attract our attention, rhythm and harmony. In many instances Grieg's rhythm in his piano compositions, is often taken from the folk-dance, as well as from compositions which are not based upon folk-music. He placed great emphasis on the rhythmic, and considered it paramount in the presentation of his works which have dance as the point of departure. He was of the opinion that in order to be able to play one of his compositions, one had to know, and feel, the dance rhythm. Characteristic of the understanding of the rhythmic, is the story about the meeting between Grieg and Ravel in Paris in 1894 at the home of William Molard:
"While the bright-eyed company discussed music, Ravel quietly went over to Molard's piano and began to play one of the master's Norwegian Dances. Grieg listened with a smile, but then began to show signs of impatience, suddenly getting up and saying sharply: "No, young man, not like that at all. Much more rhythm. It's a folk-dance, a peasant dance. You should see the peasants at home, with fiddler stamping in time with the music. Play it again! And while Ravel played, the little man jumped up and skipped about the room to the astonishment of the company."
Harmony is extremely central. Often it is the harmony itself which is the basis for the composition. Grieg pointed this out emphatically in letter to his biographer, Henry T. Finck:
"The realm of harmony, has always been my dream-world, and my relationship, to this harmonious way of feeling and the Norwegian folk-songs, has been a mystery even for me. I have understood that the secret depth one finds in our folk-songs, is basically owing to the richness of their untold harmonic possibilities. In my reworking of the folk-songs Op. 66, but also otherwise, I have attempted to express my interpretation, of the hidden harmonies, in our folk-songs."
Grieg's interest in harmony became obvious to others already during his practice while attending the Conservatory. At that time it was first and foremost a desire to experiment. Later, harmony became his way of bringing forth the very "soul" of the folk-tunes. Among other things, he deliberately used unfamiliar, radical chord progressions in order to suggest the vague tonality (sot to voce semitones, vague thirds) such as one finds in many of the folk-songs, a melodic characteristic which would otherwise be impossible to achieve with an instrument like the piano. His instrument was primarily the piano. From his earliest years to his last concert-tour the year he died, he performed as a pianist with his own compositions. He was not a virtuoso, but his intimate familiarity with the piano allowed him to present his own music in such a way as to leave a deep and lasting impression upon everyone who heard him play. According to contemporary reports he had a marvellous ability to bring out the best, the very essence, of his own piano pieces. When he took his place on the platform, the atmosphere became electric, and the critics emphasized his refined touch, tone quality, and the complete absence of superficial gestures.
Grieg's compositions contributed very modestly to the development of piano technique. Most of his piano pieces are technically speaking within the abilities of competent amateurs. This, together with musical characteristics which seem to have a stimulating and refreshing effect, contributed to the fact that he was one of the most played, and respected composers in Europe, admired if not by the critics, then at least by the majority of those interested in music.
Grieg's compositions occurred simultaneously with the epoch of the piano. Music and piano playing in the average home were at a peak during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of this century. Cyril Ehrlich has calculated that in 1910 alone, more than 600,000 pianos were produced. To know how to play the piano was part of general education in most middle class families, especially for girls. No wonder the music publishing house C. F. Peters "hoisted the flag" in London and Frankfurt every time Grieg delivered a manuscript for a new album of piano pieces. It is also understandable that Grieg sometimes experienced the demand for new piano pieces as a strain. There were also times when he felt that the production of piano pieces was a sort of bribe, or indulgence, to make sure that the publishing house issued his other works as well. In general, however, Grieg had an excellent relationship with his publisher in Leipzig. He was particularly close to Dr. Max Abraham (1831 - 1900), who was promoted to editor in 1863. This is clearly shown by the abundant correspondence that has been preserved. Verlagsbuchhandlung C. F. Peters Bureau de Musique, was the full name of the publishing house that acted as Grieg's exclusive publisher from 1890, agreeing to pay him 4000 Marks every year, a sum which was adjusted to 6000 Marks in 1901. In return, Grieg was to offer Peters all his future compositions with rights for all countries, for a certain fee.
Grieg experienced a great deal of adversity during certain periods of his life, but he also had more success than most other composer colleagues of his time. Nevertheless, he never lost feelings of unrest at not having developed his talent to the full degree, or having left something undone, something unfulfilled inside. Throughout his whole life, Grieg was a restless soul. He never felt completely at peace anywhere. When he was in Bergen, he longed for Kristiania, and when he was there he longed for Copenhagen and the continent. When he was abroad, he longer to be back home, but no sooner had he arrived in Bergen before he felt oppressed and restless and wanted to go off again. There were perhaps only two places where he really felt at home and satisfied: one, on the concert-platform, the other, in the Norwegian mountains, especially Jotunheimen. When he encountered his audience, or the powerful and free nature of the western part of Norway, he felt whole and complete.
Pictures from everyday-life, Op 19, with the subtitle. "Humoresques for Piano", was composed during the years 1869-71, and is dedicated to JPE Hartmann (1805 -1900). In the preface of the first-edition which was published by Horneman & Erslevs Publishing House in Copenhagen in 1872, Grieg wrote "It is said, that Familiarity with the first two Pieces is necessary for the Understanding of the last one. In, "The Carnival", one gets a glimpse through the motley crowd, of a Norwegian Bridal Procession in the distance, which in turn is replaced by Giant figures, who, in big, wheeling leaps (Motives from Mountain hayfields) are phasing out the Scene. At the end comes, "The Flying Ride", hinted at by the following Stretto' overlap of the Fifth interval into A Major. At this point the situation of, "The Carnival", has developed into wild merriment. The crowd's whistling and screaming, together with the snorting of the Horses, cuts the Air like a single sharp breath Everything is combined into a Picture of the most unrestrained, boisterous revelry. These ideas have developed partly during the Carnival in Rome The Composer's intention, was to characterize, though not be a slave to, the details; as well as to capture the feeling of everyday life; in order to convey more easily, the whole impression"
Even though the folkloristic, and folk song likeness, is also central in these pieces, none of them are based directly on folk music material. In contrast to Grieg's other piano-opus containing several distinct pieces, there is a definite connection between the different pieces here. The third, "From the Carnival" <I>, is a sort of synthesis or summary of the first two In the last part of, From the Carnival, Grieg also recites directly from the, Bridal Procession, and In the Mountains. These depictions of everyday life are very demanding on the performing musician, and were among the compositions which Grieg, himself, often played at concerts. Of all the three pieces, it was particularly no 2, Bridal Procession, that became one of Grieg's most popular piano pieces ever. It was published separately, and even in Grieg's own time there were many publications of different arrangements for the most diversified groups. Often it could be difficult to separate genuine folk tunes from Grieg's original work. Therefore it is no surprise, indeed it is understandable and forgiveable, that Eduard Lalo, (1823 -1892), used material from, In the Mountains, in 1881, and employed it in his Rhapsodie Norvegienne, Op 24, believing it to be a Norwegian folk-tune.
Four Pages of an Album, Op 28, was published in 1878, by Warmuth in Christiania (Oslo). Pages of an Album, was written in the period 1864 - 1878. In the Warmuth edition the dating is reported over each piece: I. (1864); II. (1874); III. (1876); IV. (1878). The critics and posterity have shown an appreciation for no.4, Andantino Serioso, but little, if any, understanding for the other three. This seems unfair though, because the three others have qualities that should give them a natural place in Grieg's production of lyrical, poetic pieces. As a contribution to the understanding of no.4, we can quote Grieg's own words regarding this piece that was written in Lofthus in Hardanger. "While writing this piece, I could suddenly hear faint music in the distance, which came from musicians who were rowing a boat up the fjord. The tones harmonized wonderfully with my piece, and gave me the inspiration for the middle section".
Poetic Tone Pictures, Op 3, was composed in Copenhagen, in 1863 dedicated to his friend, Benjamin Feddersen, (1823 - 1902). In this work we see him moving away from the German romantic influence that marked his Op. 1 (4 piano pieces) while at the same time it was still far from the flourishing personal style obvious in Op 6, Humoresques. No 2, Allegro Cantabile, is probably the piece where his personal style is least visible, whereas in no 5, Allegromoderato, we recognize many of the harmonic liaisons, rhythmic resilience and melodic twists which would become the trade mark of his personal style. In several places we also recognize the characteristic "Norwegian" features which appear to be taken from Norwegian folk-music, but at the time, these features were used only sparsely, hesitantly, as if he dared not go all the way.
When we move twelve years ahead in time - to 1875 - he is at a peak in his artistic career. However, in his private life, he is in one of his life's deepest declines. He had recently lost his parents, and his relationship to Nina had only become worse during these years. In addition he doubted his own creativity and ability as composer, in particular when it came to works of larger format. At this point he composes, "Ballad in G minor", Op 24. He wrote the ballad in Bergen, during the winter 1875/76, while putting the finishing touches on Op 23, the stage music for Peer Gynt. If he had hitherto been fighting with and against the capital city's music public, music colleagues, and critics at home and abroad, now it was his own life he would fight with and for.
This ballad is Grieg's most ambitious solo work for the piano. It is built up as a variation work with fourteen variations. The theme is the folk melody, "The Peasant Class of the Northland" from a poem of Kristine Aas, (printed in Finmarkens Amtstidende, Vardoe, 17 March, 1832). The melody was written down in July 1848, by L M Lindeman, based on Anders Nilsen Perlesteinsbakken, Modalenin Valdres, and published in Lindeman's folk tune collection,"Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies". The main key in all variations is G minor, and Grieg basically follows the harmonic pattern which is set in the presentation of the themes as well. However, the different variations span a wide scope of feelings, from the storming extrovert to the reflected introvert. The pianistic challenge in the ballad is partly in the architectonic build up of the work and the recreating of the widely different atmospheres is represented by separate variations. In addition, there is of course, the great technical demands that are made on the performer. The theme in itself, which is almost common in its melancholy, becomes, through Grieg's harmonizing with the chromatic falling bassline, the prologue to a spiritual drama which is heightened and unfolds through the following variations, before the work at last ends up with the theme, unresolved, and now in an ever darker, gloomier form.
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