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8.553400 - GRIEG: Piano Transcriptions of Songs, Op. 52 / 23 Small Pieces /
English 

Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907)

Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907)

Piano Music Vol.14

 

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 date of composition of larvik's Polka, EG 101, is not known, but it is probably the earliest surviving work of Grieg. The polka is a very ordinary dance, with no special features, but it does show that Grieg was well acquainted with the elementary technique and rules of composition. It is quite possible that the Polka was written in 1858, when the composer was only fifteen. The manuscript is in Bergen Public Library and the piece was published for the first time in 1995 in Volume 20 of the new edition of the complete works of Grieg.

 

The 23 Small Pieces for piano, EG 104, can be found in a manuscript book in the Bergen library with the postscript: To be destroyed after my death; must never be published, are mark appended to several other unpublished compositions left at the composers death. These have, nevertheless, been published in Volume 20 of the complete edition. This booklet is a compilation of individual compositions, although some are found in other contexts. Nos. 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 16, 18, 19 and 21 make up EG 103, under the collective title Nine Children's Pieces, and are dedicated to his cousin, Ludovisca Riis. The manuscript is dated 28th July 1859 and has the Opus number 17. Nos. 2, 5 and 6 are also found in an album in the II handwriting of his sister Ingeborg Benedicte. It bears the date of January 1859, but the .f pieces are probably earlier in origin. Nos. 17 and 20 are dated 1858.

 

The total picture of Grieg that may be derived from these compositions is that of someone who was intimate with the piano literature of his contemporaries. His models are Chopin, especially in the first piece, Allegro agitato, Mendelssohn and Schumann. Characteristics of the older Grieg are hard to find. He shows pleasure in experimenting with harmonic progressions and in general at times reveals an astonishing maturity, but some of these pieces also bear the mark of lack of training and of youthful arrogance. The sections where he tries to be poetic show that his musical ideas still do not have the strength to carry them through.

 

The Unveiling of the Monument in Memory of Halfdan Kjerulf; EG 167 was originally written for male voice choir. On 23rd September, 1874, in Christiania (Oslo), a monument in memory of the composer Halfdan Kjerulf was unveiled. Grieg wrote for the occasion two works for male voice choir to texts by Andreas Munch (1815-1868). These were published in Behren's Song-Book for Men's Choirs in 1874. Kjerulf was the most important Norwegian composer of the preceding generation and in several of his works introduced harmonic and melodic processes suggested by Norwegian folk-music. Through these "Norwegian" songs and especially his rearrangement of folk-tunes for the piano, he set a precedent for the fusion of folk-music and classical music. At the same time Grieg arranged for piano the composition, which was dedicated to the composers wife. The manuscript of the arrangement, which is found in the University Library in Oslo, is dated 24th November, 1874. The piece was first published in Volume 4 of the complete Grieg edition in 1984.

 

 

Canon for Four Voices, EG 179, was written in 1860, while Grieg was still a student at the Leipzig Conservatory .The piece is found in a book of theory exercises which he w rote for E. F. Richter (1808-1879) but it is an independent work that does not belong to such a book of Conservatory exercises. The manuscript is preserved in the Grieg Collection in the Bergen Public Library and the Canon was first published in Volume 20 of the complete edition. From a technical point of view it is very convincing, although it can hardly be described as great music. Surprising here too are the ingenious harmonies employed. It is uncertain which instrument Grieg had in mind, but for this recording the organ has been chosen, as it is an instrument with which he was quite familiar. In 1866 he took organ lessons from his friend Gottfred Matthison-Hansen (1832-1909), since he needed some means of securing a livelihood and it was as organists that many composers were able to make a living.

 

The Concerto in B minor for piano and orchestra, EG 120, was found posthumously among Grieg's sketches housed now in the Grieg Collection in the Bergen Public Library. The sketches for the proposed B minor concerto were published in Volume 20 of the complete works. Same of these were published after the composers death by his friend Julius Röntgen (1885-1910) in Die Musik, 7. Jg., Volume 25 (1907-1908). According to him Grieg always took his sketches with him when he travelled, so that he could take them out and work on them, if the opportunity presented itself. Supposedly he started work on the piano concerto as the result of something that was intended as a joke. In 1881 he wrote to Dr Abraham at Peters':

 

I realise to my surprise that it is very good for me to compose when I am forced to do so. I believe that if someone paid me, let us say, .1,000 Dalers a. year in advance, that I would relax long before the required number of Compositions were finished.5

 

Dr Abraham took him at his word and replied:

I am very please that you have such a burning desire to compose more than you have the last few years. Therefore, I have the pleasure of sending you 3000 Marks, as you suggested, and ask that you send me a piano concerto, some piano pieces and a concert-overture for orchestra before September next year.'

Unfortunately Grieg did not keep his part of the agreement. Instead he turned over a number of other compositions to the publishing-house. In May 1883 he w rote that he had actually begun a piano concerto but that his Muse would not budge. After this there were no further hints of any plans for the concerto, from which fragments of the piano part are here recorded for the first time.

The Piano Sonata in E minor, Opus 7, has appeared on one of the earlier recordings of the present series. It was written during a period of eleven days in the spring of 1865 at the same time as the first violin sonata, the Sonata in F major, Opus 8. Grieg tells us that he took both works with him to the Danish composer Niels W. Gade (1817-1890), who at that time held a leading position in the musical world of Europe. Gade showed great interest in the compositions, proof of which is seen in the fact that he drained four decanters of water while he went through them; Gade drank large amounts of water when he was inspired. It is, therefore, not surprising that the sonata, published by Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig in 1866, was dedicated to Gade. Wilhelm Hansen in Copenhagen published a parallel edition in 1880, but in 1887 a new and revised edition was published by Breitkopf und Härtel and Edition Peters. For this some fundamental changes were made, notably in the second and fourth movements. In the second movement, Andante molto, the changes in dynamics in the last part of the movement give the musical direction a wholly new character, compared with the revised edition of 1887. In the fourth movement, Molto allegro, Grieg omitted all of 25 bars in the exposition in the revised version (bars 31-55). Both movements are played here in their original form as they were published in 1866.


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