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8.553399 - GRIEG: Piano Transcriptions of Songs, Op. 41 / Nordic Melodies, Op. 63
English 

Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907)

Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907)

Piano Music Vol. 13

 

Tre klaverstykker, EG 105 (Three Piano Pieces)

[1] Allegro agitato

[2] Allegretto

[3] Allegro molto vivace, quasi Presto

 

To elegiske melodier, op.34 (Two Elegiac Melodies)

[4] HjertesAr (The Wounded Heart)

[5] VAren (Spring)

[6] Fra: Norges Melodier: Nr. 6: Springdans fra Vinje, EG 108

(Norwegtan Melodies No.6)

 

To melodier, op. 53 (Two Melodies) IZI Norsk (Norwegian)

[8] Det forste mote (The First Meeting)

 

Klaverstykker etter egne sanger, op.41 (Piano Transcriptions of Songs)

[9] Vuggesang (Cradle-Song, Op. 9, No.2)

[10] Lille Haakon (Margretes vuggesang)

(Little Haakon (Margaret's Cradle-Song), Op. 15, No.l)

[11] Jeg elsker dig (I love thee, Op. 5, No. 3)

[12] Hun er sA hvid (My darling is as white as snow, Op.18, No.2)

[13] Prinsessen (The Princess, EG 133)

[14] Til varen (To spring-time my song I am singing, Op. 21, No.3)

[15] Fra: Norges Melodier: Nr. 22 Halling (Norwegian Melodies No.22)

 

To nordiske melodier, op. 63 (Two Nordic Melodies)

[16] I folketonestil (In Folk-Style)

[17] Ku]okk (Cow-Call)

[18] Stabbellaten (Peasant Dance)

 

Tre klaverstykker, EG 110-112 (Three Piano Pieces)

[19] Hvite skyer (Storm Clouds)

[20] Tusselat (Procession of Gnomes)

[21] Dansen gar (In the Whirl of the Dance)

 

Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, in 1843. He showed a strong interest in music at a very early age, and after encouragement from the violinist and composer Ole Bull (1810 -1880) was sent to the Conservatory in Leipzig at the age of fifteen to receive his musical education. There he had fundamental and solid musical training, and through the city's flourishing musical life, received impressions and heard music which would come to leave its stamp on him for the rest of his life - for better or for worse. Even though he severely criticized the Leipzig Conservatory, especially towards the end of his life, in reality his exceptional gifts were recognised, and one sees in his sketchbooks of the Leipzig period that he had the freedom to experiment as well. He had no good reason to criticize the conservatory, nor his teachers, for poor teaching or a lack of understanding.

 

From Leipzig Grieg travelled to Copenhagen, bringing with him the solid musical training he had acquired, and there soon became known as a promising young composer. It was not long before he carne under the influence of Rikard Nordraak, whose glowing enthusiasm and unshakeable belief that the key to a successful future for Norwegian music lay in nationalism, in the uniquely Norwegian, the music of the people - folk-songs - came to play a decisive role in Grieg's development as a composer. Nordraak's influence is most obvious in the Humoresques for piano, Op. 6, which was considered a turning-point in Grieg's career as a composer.

 

In the autumn of 1866, Grieg settled in Christiania (Oslo). In 1874 Norway's capital was the centre for his activities. During this time he also wrote 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 -he was constantly on concert-tour as a pianist or as a conductor, always with his own works on the programme. After his last concert-tour in 1907, he wrote to his friend Frants Beyer:

 

This Tour has been strange. The Audiences have been on my Side. In Germany I have received more ac claim 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 were increasing numbers of people who were gradually becoming more critical of Grieg's music and of his abilities and talent as a composer. In the meantime his popularity among music-loving audiences increased in inverse proportion. Grieg enjoyed some of his greatest popularity with the general public during the last years of his life, when, in spite of his greatly weakened health, he was continually on tour, in popular demand from concert-managers all over the world. The critics, however, were sceptical and 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 guess this popularity is all right, hut it is dearly bought. My reputation as a composer is suffering because of it, and the criticism is disparaging.'

 

From early on Grieg was labelled a composer of 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, Op. 16, and the String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27, the Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 7, the three Violin Sonatas, Op. 8 in F major, Op. 13 in G major and Op. 45 in C minor, and the Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36, he was not able, in spite of his many desperate attempts to do so, to feel completely at home with more extended ihUSicil:1 forms. He felt that this was a short-coming, and unfairly blamed his education at the Leipzig Conservatory. Nevertheless, he also showed that he could master these f6rMs when on rare occasions he found raw musical material that could be reworked and treated within the traditional structure of sonata-form. The only problem was that the musical material to which he felt closest and that most fascinated him, 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, identified 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 Op. 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. And since I have published up to seventy works by now, I should be allowed to say that nothing is more incorrect than the claim from 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.'

 

Much instrumental Norwegian folk-music is built from small melodic themes, units which are repeated with small variations in appoggialuras 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 with this 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 taken from the folk-dance, as well as from compositions which are not based upon folk-music. He placed great emphasis on the rhythmic element, 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 his understanding of the rhythmic element 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 al1. Much more rhythm. It' s a folk-dance, a peasant dance. You should see the peasants at home, with a fiddler stamping in time with 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 at the heart of his work. Often it is the harmony itself which is the basis of the composition. Grieg pointed this out emphatically in a 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. 1 have I understood that the secret depth one finds in our Folk-songs is basica/1y owing to the richness of their untold harmonic possibilities. In my reworking of the Folk-songs Op. 66, but also I elsewhere, l have attempted to express my interpretation of the hidden harmonies in our Folk- I songs.'

 

Grieg's interest in harmony had become obvious to others already while he was at 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 (sotto voce half tones, vague thirds) such as one finds in many of the songs, a melodic characteristic which would otherwise be impossible from an instrument like the piano.

 

Grieg's instrument was primarily the piano. From his earliest years to the concert-tour in the year he died, he performed as a pianist 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 marveilous 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 music 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-popular, if not with the critics, then at least with the majority of those interested in music.

 

Grieg's compositions were written in 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 the general education in most middle-class families, especially for girls. No wonder the music publishers 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. Nevertheless, in general, Grieg had an excellent relationship with his publisher in Leipzig. He was particularly dose to Dr Max Abraham (1831 - 1900), who became editor at Peters in 1863. This is dearly 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 and agreed 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 of his future compositions with rights, für allen Länder (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 the feelings of unrest, of not having developed his talent to the full degree, of having left something undone, something unfulfilled within himself. Throughout his life, Grieg was a restless soul. He never felt completely at peace anywhere. When he was in Bergen, he longed for Olristiania, and when he was there he longed for Copenhagen and the continent. When he was abroad, he longed to be back home, but no sooner had he arrived in Bergen than 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, on the concert- platform and in the Norwegian mountains, especially Jotunheimen. When he was in the presence of his audience or experiencing the powerful and free nature of the western part of Norway, he felt whole and complete.

 

The Three Piano Pieces, EG 105 were written in 1860, when Grieg was sixteen and still a student at the Leipzig Conservatory .In the original manuscript, which is now in the Grieg Collection in the public library in Bergen, Grieg directed that the pieces should be destroyed after his death and were never to be published. Similar instructions were added to other manuscripts which Grieg, for various reasons, did not want to be published. These three pieces, however, show him, in 1860, as a gifted student of increasing maturity, in complete command of the instrument and of his craft as a composer. They are, on the other hand, by comparison with the piano pieces of Opus 1 from 1861-1863 much less concentrated in form and content. They provide a valuable record of Grieg's education and growing maturity, although he himself saw them as relatively meaningless in terms of art.

 

In 1880 Grieg wrote a number of songs, using the poetry of Aasmund Olavson Vinje (1818-1870). These were published the following year as Opus 33. In 1880 he also arranged two of the songs (No.2, Spring and No.4, The Eccentric) for string orchestra and published them wth Peters as Opus 34. In a letter to H. T. Fink he wrote:

These songs have had an extensive distribution outside Norway in this form. The heartfelt, evocative melancholy of these poems is the reason for the serious tone of the music and is, furthermore, what inspired me to rework them for orchestra. Where one does not have the poem in front of one, one must make the content apparent through more expressive titles, hence The Last Spring and The Wounded Heart.

 

In 1887 Peters published Grieg's re-arrangement of these orchestral pieces for piano. The Wounded Heart is a tragedy, its tragic feeling conveyed by harsh dissonances and chromatic notes, while The Last Spring, with its soft colours, is in a mood of sad resignation. Both of these arrangements for orchestra are used where there is a need for quiet thought and reflection or to express or relieve mourning or grief.

 

In Two Melodies for String Orchestra, Op. 53, Grieg also returned to Vinje's Songs, Opus 33. The first of these pieces, Norwegian, is a reworking of Opus 33, No.12, Intentions. The background for the other, The First Meeting, is Opus 21, No.1, which has the same title, a setting of words by Bjomstjeme Bj0rnson (1832 -1910). These two re-arrangements for orchestra were published in 1891, the date also of the piano arrangement.

 

With Piano Transcriptions of Songs, Op. 41, Grieg joins romantic virtuoso tradition. Taking some of his best songs, he revised them into striking and brilliant virtuoso pieces. These were published by Peters in 1885 and were probably an attempt to satisfy the well nigh insatiable appetite of the public and the publishers for new pieces by Grieg. Margaret's Cradle-song and I love thee were already worked by him for the piano in 1875 and were included in Melodies of Norway, although in a much simplified version.

Two Nordic Melodies, Op. 63, were originally written for string orchestra in 1895 and published the following year at the same time as the piano arrangements. In the first, In Folk-Song Style, Grieg uses a melody by Fredik Due (1853- 1906), who was at the time Norwegian and Swedish ambassador to Paris, as well as being an enthusiastic amateur musician and composer. In 1894 he sent Grieg some compositions for violin and piano and Grieg found one of the melodies so beautiful that he had to try it out with string orchestra. In honour of Due, Grieg dedicated the work to him. The second piece, Cow- Call and Peasant Dance, is a reworking of two pieces from Opus 17,25 Norwegian Folk Ballads and Dances, No.22, Beckon me across the marsh and No.18, Peasant Song. Compared with the original piano versions of the songs, the harmonies of these two folk-songs have been much changed, now treated more broadly.

The three piano pieces storm Clouds, EG 110, Procession of Gnomes, EG 111 and In the Whirl of the Dance, EG 112, were written in 1898. They were published after Grieg's death by his friend Julius Röntgen (1855 -1910). Each of them have interesting points of harmony and the first and last piece demand considerable virtuosity in performance.

 


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