About this Recording
8.557854 - GRIEG, E.: Orchestral Music, Vol. 2 - Orchestrated Piano Pieces (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Engeset)
English 

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Vol. 2: Orchestrated Piano Pieces

 

Edvard Grieg often said that he was aware of limitations in his German education, and that he needed stimulus from other musical cultures. He mentioned the Italian light, the richness of Russian colour, and not least the clarity and lightness of France. In an article in the German periodical Signale he discussed the 'heavy and philosophical' aspects of German culture, and concluded that they were not enough for Norwegians, who also love clarity and brevity.

The elements in Grieg's music which point forward towards, for example, impressionism and barbarism/primitivism are particularly unsuited to Germanic orchestral garb. It is worth noting that it was not the diffuse sonorities of French music that he mentioned, but rather its 'clarity': 'Esprit' rather than 'Geist'.

In my opinion Grieg can certainly be called a good orchestrator, apart from some variable early efforts. He continually changed and improved many of the orchestral versions he made, as a result of years of practical experience on the conductor's podium. He also had an individual way of using the orchestra, which usually suits the musical material very well. But he had something of an inferiority complex when it came to instrumentation. This is perhaps one reason why it is often others who have orchestrated some of the most 'orchestral' of his piano works.

 

Slåtter – Suite for Orchestra, Op. 72
(Orchestration: Øistein Sommerfeldt)

"How easy it is to stifle their fragrance!" (E. Grieg on Slåtter)

The folk-fiddler Knut Dahle (1834–1921) from the Telemark region of southern Norway wrote to Grieg six times from 1888 onwards, begging him to transcribe important slåtter (folk-fiddle dance melodies) from his repertoire. Grieg thought they should be 'notated by a violin player […] for the sake of the bowings, tunings, fingerings and tone colours' and he got Johan Halvorsen to do the job in 1901.

In the piano work Slåtter, Op. 72(1903), Grieg varied the tunes on many levels, with rich harmonies, sometimes extremely chromatic. Subtle pedal effects often create a personal 'piano flavour', inspired by, for example, the ring of the 'sympathetic' under-strings of the Hardanger fiddle. Grieg's imagination and creativity are obvious, even if he was striving for simplicity and clarity. Here the aesthetic of folk music influenced Grieg's own aesthetic. The progressive facets of his musical language were noted by, among others, the French musicians 'the Apaches' (including Ravel), who, according to Johan Halvorsen, were enthusiastic about 'the new Grieg'.

What Grieg was really doing was building bridges between folk-music and art music, an idea that has often been important in Norway, with its democratic and inclusive tradition. It should also be said, however, that there are many elements of variation and complexity in the original folk-dances that Grieg chose not to adopt: microtones, irregular rhythms (especially in the triple-time springar dances), ornaments, trills, details of accentuation and phrasing. Indeed the Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt (1908–81) said in a review that the Op. 72 Slåtter are almost worthless, almost a trivialisation of folk music, although in their time they pointed forward towards an aesthetic not unlike the one Tveitt himself evolved.

No. 8: Wedding March, after Myllarguten [Note 1]

According to a famous fiddler from Telemark, Myllarguten composed this march when his sweetheart Kari jilted him to marry someone else.

So Myllarguten's Wedding March in a bright A major has a melancholy subtext; and, knowing that, it is perhaps possible to hear an unhappy love hidden underneath the lightness. The same short motif incessantly comes back, incessantly embellished.

No. 4: Halling [Note 2] from The Fairy Hill

A man called Brunjuv Olson lost a bull. He searched for it on the fells for many days. So he grew exhausted and fell asleep, and dreamt that he heard a wondrous strange tune. Beyond a hill he saw a wonderfully pretty girl. [Note 3] She said to him: 'You shall play like this on the fiddle, Brunjuv Olson, when you get home to your wife and children – and on the other side of the mountain you'll find your ox. '

In this Fairy Hill Tune Grieg develops the original slått with a harmonically and melodically rich middle section, which uses material from the tune at half speed.

No. 2: Jon Vestafe's Springar

The story goes that Jon Vestafe, one Autumn night, had killed his sweetheart (because she had been unfaithful). He was imprisoned, and made up this 'springar' in prison. When he was brought to trial, he was allowed to play it for the judges. After the trial he was set free – so what witchcraft there must be in this tune!

The original slått in this case actually has an upbeat: Halvorsen's faulty notation is clearly reinforced in Grieg's version. A Telemark fiddler would also play this springar with beats of unequal lengths.

The composer Øistein Sommerfeldt (1919–94) was a huge fan of Grieg. He wrote in his diary: 'What would we have been as a musical nation without Grieg. Nothing! Absolutely nothing!'

From 1955 he worked for many years on orchestrations of Slåtter from Grieg's Op. 72. In this music he found 'A power which also drew stimuli from spheres very far from the "well-behaved" heavenly ones.' It was in Paris that Sommerfeldt had the idea of orchestrating the pieces, and he worked on them during several periods of study with Nadia Boulanger. So there was also a French musical influence in these Grieg orchestrations. Sommerfeldt collected them into three suites which he constantly revised, becoming more and more self-critical. In 1974 he asked Kristian Lange, the Head of Music at Norwegian Radio, to throw away all the scores and parts, and in 1977 a new short suite appeared, which is the one on this CD.

For this recording we have to a great extent followed Sommerfeldt's bowings, phrasing and articulation, although it was tempting, especially in the Fairy Hill Tune, to use more recent notations of slåtter by Sven Nyhus as a starting-point. We played with almost no vibrato, and tried to find a style and aesthetic which was different from that of the younger Grieg. But these orchestrations are the product of multiple factors: from folk tradition through Knut Dahle and Johan Halvorsen to Edvard Grieg, and on to Øistein Sommerfeldt – a lot of Norwegian music history, and many different styles.

 

Norwegian Dances Op. 35
(Orchestration: Hans Sitt)

Throughout his life Grieg loved playing piano duets. This enthusiasm is surely the basis of his command of the form in the four Norwegian Dances, Op. 35, composed during a summer stay in 1881 at the village of Lofthus, on the Sørfjord in Hardanger. He took his tunes from Ludvig Matthias Lindeman's large collection of Norwegian Mountain Melodies Old and New (1853).

No. 1 (in D minor) is based on the melody Sinclair's March from the mountainous region of Vågå in northern central Norway. No. 2 (in A major) is a halling, as played by Arne Thingstad from Åmot in the Øster Valley of eastern Norway, near the Swedish border. Nos. 3 and 4 are also hallings (in G major and D major). Halfdan Kjerulf (1815–68) made simple piano arrangements of both of them in 1861, and Johan Svendsen used No. 3 as the basis of his First Norwegian Rhapsody in 1876. In both the first and third dances Grieg used his typical technique of writing a middle section which reworks the melody at half speed.

When Peer Gynt was being prepared for revival in Copenhagen in 1886, the first three Norwegian dances were added as ballet music for the Hall of the Mountain King in Act 2, in an orchestration by the Dane Robert Henriques. (Grieg's composer-friend Frans van der Stucken made another orchestration of Nos. 2 and 3.) It is not clear why Grieg did not do the instrumentation himself, but during the work on Peer Gynt he said it was because of time pressure.

In 1890 Peters Edition proposed that Hans Sitt orchestrate Op. 35. Grieg was lukewarm about the idea, and suggested it should be done by a Frenchman, for example Lalo, but in 1891 Peters nevertheless published Sitt's orchestration.

Hans Sitt (1850–1922) was born in Prague, the son of a successful Hungarian violin-maker. He was a conductor, violinist, orchestra leader, violin professor in Leipzig, viola-player in the Brodsky Quartet, and… composer. His orchestration is by now long-established as the leading version.

 

Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak
(Orchestration: Johan Halvorsen)

"My great and only hope for our Norwegian art!" (E. Grieg on Nordraak) In the Spring of 1866, when Grieg heard that his friend, the young composer Rikard Nordraak, had died, he 'took refuge in music' and 'composed a Funeral March for Nordraak'.

Grieg himself arranged his Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak several times for different ensembles of wind and brass instruments. Johan Halvorsen made this version for symphony orchestra aboard the ship King Sverre (named after a twelfth-century Norwegian ruler) on his way to Grieg's funeral in Bergen. At the funeral ceremony in the great hall of the West Norwegian Industrial Arts Museum, the brand-new orchestration was played by a large specially-assembled orchestra.

The March was certainly radical for its time. It is characterized by shifts between major and minor and the ending has a quite special, modal cadence. The violent eruptions of pain around the first climax made a Swedish critic say that this was no memorial to 'a quiet, amiable, prematurely lost song composer […] [its] expressive power […] instead brings to mind one of the grim grey fighters of the past and his disturbing deeds. '

We know Grieg was in deep despair over Nordraak's death, and that he saw Nordraak as representing a positive national force which could transform Norwegian music. As a performer I find these eruptions genuine and deeply felt, and typical of Grieg's own personal style, full of contrasts.

 

The Bridal Procession Passes By, from Pictures from Folk Life, Op. 19, No. 2
(Orchestration: Johan Halvorsen)

One of Grieg's best-known piano pieces is The Bridal Procession, Op. 19, No. 2(1871). He often performed it himself, and even made two recordings of the piano version. As in Klokkeklang and the Op. 72 Slåtter, bare open fifths are an important building block. The piece is rich in colour and full of character. Its popularity was ensured by the brilliantly simple idea of having the exotic bridal procession audibly pass by.

In orchestral form the piece was used in the first act of Peer Gynt, at the beginning of the wedding in Hegstad. Geirr Tveitt made the sarcastic remark that this was no bridal march: it was much more like a reinlender (the Norwegian equivalent of the duple-time schottische dance). It was not heard at the première of Peer Gynt in 1876: it was orchestrated by Georg Bohlmann for the Copenhagen production of January 1886. For the 1902 Oslo staging Johan Halvorsen made a new orchestration, and this was included in the full edition of the incidental music published in 1908. Another friend of Grieg's, the English composer Frederick Delius, also orchestrated the piece, in 1889, but in a quieter and more delicate way than Halvorsen.

Halvorsen worked as a conductor throughout his career, and he was known as a good, practical orchestrator who always made the material sound impressive and colourful. Over the years he became a good friend of Grieg's, and Grieg helped the younger composer in many ways. Halvorsen married Grieg's niece Annie, which made the bond between the two men even closer.

 

Ballade in G minor for piano Op. 24
(Orchestration: Geirr Tveitt)

"A piece of life-history" (E. Grieg on Ballade)

In the mid-1870s Grieg created a kind of musical and programmatic universe in works like the G minor Ballade for piano, Op. 24(1876), the G minor String Quartet, the orchestral song Den Bergtekne (The Mountain Thrall) and the Ibsen songs Op. 25. He said that this period was 'an important time in my life, eventful and soul-shaking'. Both his parents died in the autumn of 1875. At the same time he was going through 'a difficult spiritual struggle' with religious doubt. In 1875 it also became clear to Edvard and Nina that they would never be able to have children, and we can deduce from letters that there were problems and complications in their love life.

The Ibsen song Spillemænd (Fiddlers), Op. 25, No. 1was surely central to all this, with its portrayal of the fiddler learning to play with uncanny brilliance from the fossegrim, [Note 4] playing his way into great churches and halls, but losing the woman he loves. The Ballade has something of the same inner arc of tension as this song. It gathers itself together into a chorale-like fortissimo climax as if reflecting the idea of the fiddler playing in 'great churches and halls'. Grieg was perhaps not conscious of any of this; rather, it was an expression of the complex of problems that was swirling within him. The music Grieg wrote at this time is rich and many-faceted, personal, compassionate and very human.

The folk melody Grieg used in the Ballade came from the Valdres region of central Norway, northwest of Oslo. It has a patriotic text by Kristine Colban Aas (d. 1790) called The Northland Peasantry. This could well illuminate Grieg's feelings about his compositional aims. But for me, the highly-subjective Ballade can hardly be seen first and foremost as a politico-cultural manifesto about Norway's place in Europe. It is certainly possible to perform the most folkloristic things in the Ballade as lively dances. The G major hymn near the end of the piece can be played as if it represents victory for the good powers of the 'north'. But I feel that the tragic and diabolic sides of this music are so strong that such an interpretation can tell only part of the story. The 'catastrophe' of the Ballade's final climax has exactly the same rhetorical gestures as the point in the melodrama Bergljot, Op. 42,where Bergljot realizes that her husband and son are both dead.

Grieg's Ballade definitely has the character of a tragedy, then, but in this frank self-portrait the ideas of good and evil are inadequate. It gives us an inkling of an ancient philosophy of life beyond the dualism of Christianity: the supernatural world is not merely threatening. Under the surface of Nature are powerful life forces which music, individualism and liberty can build on. There is a similar philosophy in Ibsen's fjellsymbolikk ('mountain symbolism'): 'the call of the hills' is many-sided, and it is surely strong in the artistic temperament.

Obviously the Ballade also builds on more classical and early romantic models: Chopin and Brahms had each already written four piano Ballades, and Grieg's is reminiscent of big sets of variations for piano by the likes of Brahms and Beethoven. In my opinion, however, it is as much an epic work as a set of variations. In the Middle Ages the ballad was a genre that was strong in the Nordic countries, with long epic narratives like Villemann and Magnhild or Bendik and Årolilja which played out through a long series of stanzas with rather monotonously regular rhythmic patterns. We can also feel a certain monotony in Grieg's Ballade: the main theme is characterized by a falling movement, and 'bites itself in the tail'– it has the effect of circling around and coming back to where it started. All of the variations stay in G minor (or major). As a performer I feel that the taut and melancholic unity of the piece is essential to the narrative, and brings its rich chromatic harmonies into greater focus. For me, the Ballade develops in three waves, each larger than the previous one, and each of which is suddenly broken off. In the last wave the stable variation pattern disappears, and the music finally reaches a 'point of catastrophe', with a pause on E flat in the bass instruments. This E flat eventually allows itself to slip down to D, the dominant of G minor, and the first section of the main theme returns, quiet and nostalgic.

Already in the 1930s Geirr Tveitt told his first wife, the pianist Ingebjørg Gresvik, that he wanted to orchestrate Grieg's Ballade. He often played it as a pianist, but felt it was really an orchestal work. Tveitt worked on a complete analysis of all of Grieg's music, but it was lost in the tragic fire at his home near Norheimsund above the Hardanger Fjord in 1970. He probably thought that his orchestration of the Ballade was burnt too.

In 1979 Øistein Sommerfeldt went to the National Library of Norway with the manuscript of this orchestration, which he had found in the archive of the Norwegian Society of Composers, but no-one could say who the orchestrator was. In 1988/89 Tveitt's widow, his second wife Karen Margrethe Tveitt, mentioned to Øyvind Nordheim of the National Library how sad it was that her husband's Ballade orchestration had been lost. Nordheim then remembered the manuscript, and was immediately able to establish that it was Tveitt's. The first performance of the piece took place in Norheimsund in the summer of 1991, with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karsten Andersen.

Geirr Tveitt shared Grieg's own view that Norwegian composers could find vital stimulus in France. Tveitt's orchestration of the Op. 24 Ballade uses celesta and harp, and many sonic effects reminiscent of the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Koechlin. While Grieg repeats passages exactly, Tveitt changes the instrumentation practically every time a passage reappears. Tveitt's palette of sound is especially imaginative, with almost crazily virtuosic use of string harmonics, as well as sul ponticello and pizzicato effects. For the pianissimo ending of one of the slow variations Tveitt asks for a triangle to be played in a different room from the rest of the orchestra. Many passages are extremely densely orchestrated and full of pure elemental force: there are frenzied sections where every instrument has semiquavers – even the trombones, tuba and double basses. Tveitt puts less emphasis on the classical elements in the Ballade. In a way, he builds on Grieg's own stylistic experiments – impressionism in Klokkeklang (Ringing Bells), barbarism in the Slåtter – and orchestrates the piece as Grieg would perhaps have done if he had lived another fifty years. Personally I think, if that had happened, Grieg would actually have created a clearer, more transparent structure. All the same, Tveitt's orchestration shows a profound understanding of Grieg's piano score.

 

Ringing Bells, from Lyric Pieces, Op. 54, No. 6
(Orchestration: Edvard Grieg/Anton Seidl)

'True: I love the scientific urge for clarity. But the mystical draws me too – yes, even now. ' (Letter from Grieg to Frans Beyer, 4 August 1905)

In all, Grieg wrote ten books of Lyric Pieces for piano. In 1895 the German conductor Anton Seidl (1850–98) orchestrated some of the fifth book (Op. 54, composed and published in 1891) as a Norwegian Suite. Grieg used this as the basis for his Lyric Suite of 1905. He did not include Klokkeklang (Ringing Bells) in this suite, but he made significant revisions to Seidl's orchestration of it.

Klokkeklang is in many ways a pure study in sound, with a constant, powerful superimposition of layers of open fifths. This feature of the music is almost scientifically experimental in its single-minded focus on the material itself, on the very base-elements of music. It could be called 'early modernism'. The sonic experimentation of Klokkeklang was radical, and Grieg knew this. It is natural now, more than a hundred years later, to associate it with Debussy's later sonic experiments in, for example, La cathédrale engloutie (The Submerged Cathedral), the tenth piece in the first book of Préludes, or with Bartók's use of fifths and fourths. We can also see a similar world of overtone-laden sounds, open fifths, minimalism and stasis in our own time in Arvo Pärt's 'tintinnabuli' technique (again named after its bell-like qualities).

There are parallels in Grieg's own music too: earlier – for example in another sonic experiment with bell-sounds in Osterlied (Easter Song) – and later, as in the piano piece I Ola-dalom (In Ola Valley, from Nineteen Norwegian Folksongs, Op. 66, No. 14).

Klokkeklang leaves room for a fair amount of freedom in the interpretation. One can intensify an almost mechanical bell-like character by way of clear foreground accents. Or one can try to bring out the softer, more distant sonic effects – evoking the Norwegian concept of 'dåm', associated with a faint, beautiful, mysterious sound: the 'sympathetic' under-strings of the Hardanger fiddle; distant church bells; or even something supernatural (the fossegrim fiddling from his waterfall, the hulder singing from her hill?). It seems to me that the Seidl/Grieg instrumentation tries to emphasize the diffusion and blurring of the sound.

Perhaps in using so many open fifths Grieg was trying to get closer to the fundamental element of folk music: the original, the genuine, nature and the primitive. These fifths probably also meant for Grieg something 'wild and unpredictable'. So maybe this is the meeting-point of science and mysticism. In the aesthetic of folk-music the simple things of everyday life happily coexist with an openness to the 'mystery'. This clearly had resonance for Grieg, and released his creative energy.

Bjarte Engeset
English version by David Gallagher

 

Notes:
1 'Myllarguten' – 'The Miller Boy' – was the nickname of Torgeir Audunsson (1801–72), the most famous Hardanger fiddle player of all time.
2 A halling is a dance in duple time.
3 She is one of the hulder, alluring green-clad fairy women with cow's tails, who live inside the hills and sing enchanting songs.
4 A fiddle-playing, waterfall-dwelling sprite.

---

 

Cover painting by Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928)

Naivism came naturally to Nikolai Astrup. Growing up in the vicarage in Jølster, a tiny mountain community just off the west coast of Norway, he saw himself as a future artist at the age of twelve, and for future use he collected all his childish drawings and first attempts at painting. Always, his concern and reason for becoming an artist was the overwhelming experience of nature and of a connection to all things alive, the way he saw it as a little boy. Being an extraordinary talent, according to his art teachers Harriet Backer and Christian Krohg, he learned all the skills of a naturalist painter in his two years of studies in Backer's private school in Oslo (then Kristiania), and half a year with Krohg in Colarossi, Paris. Indeed, he had discarded naturalism even before he went to Paris, without finding satisfactory means and methods in the neo-romanticism he encountered in Oslo. He needed a way that could reflect the authenticity of his childhood experience, and felt that the source must be the pictorial notes in his own childish work.

In Paris, in the art of Henri Rousseau, not yet recognized by the public but much appreciated by artists of the Salon des Indépendants, he found a confirmation of what had been his profound intuition. The primitive naive, uncorrupted by academia, could indeed be turned into valid and great art, without losing its primordial power. So, in Paris, after learning all a painter's skills, he became a true primitive, the primitive he had been in his heart all along. He felt the imagery of his native vicarage world calling, and, in a frenzy to apply his new confidence, broke off his Paris studies and went home, to stay.

Being short of money, Astrup had an excuse to return and live again in the realm of his youthful visions. His notebooks from these first years trying out a new method are interesting: he carried the little books in his pocket at all times, and made notes of what to paint next. Here, it is what he saw as a child, and the way he saw it, that was his concern. His vision was a blend of mysteries of spring light, farm animals, country people, ancient rites and folklore. In these years, before his first show in 1905, in conflict with his father over being an artist and a pagan with a taste for brandy, rather than a clergyman like most of his ancestors, and in conflict with most of the farmers for being an outsider, he created many of his most important works, such as "Spring Evening in the Garden".

Coming into the public eye with his 1905 exhibition in an Oslo gallery, in the year of Norway's final independence as a nation, his primitive interpretation of nature and farm life, of land and people, of tradition and belonging, immediately made him a celebrated "national" artist. Critics saw his art as an authentic product of a Norwegian soil. The way that his dialogue with contemporary European symbolism and the still unknown naivism had made his art possible, was not recognized. With an elegant and stylized French art soon becoming the new paradigm in Norwegian art, following Matisse and Lhote, so remote from Astrup's intensely private struggle within his own heart, Astrup has remained an outsider in the eyes of the critics. And yet his art, highly personal as it is, also belongs to a European birth of modernism.

Øystein Loge

 


Close the window