About this Recording
8.557890 - GRIEG: Music for String Orchestra
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Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Music for String Orchestra

 

Edvard Grieg, the greatest of Norwegian composers, was descended on his mother's side from a Norwegian provincial governor who had adopted the name of Hagerup from his adoptive father, the Bishop of Trondheim. On his father's side he was of Scottish ancestry. His great-grandfather, Alexander Greig, had left Scotland after the battle of Culloden, when the cause of the Stuart claimants to the thrones of England and Scotland was finally destroyed by the English army under its royal Hanoverian general. In Norway the Greigs became Griegs and during the nineteenth century established themselves comfortably in their new country, Edvard Grieg's father and grandfather both having served as British consuls in Bergen.

The Grieg household provided a musical background for a child. Musicians visited the family and these visitors included the distinguished violinist Ole Bull, who persuaded the Griegs to send their son Edvard to Leipzig Conservatory, an institution he entered at the age of fifteen, there to benefit from the demands of a traditional German musical education.

In Leipzig not everything was to Grieg's liking. He objected to the dryness of normal piano instruction, based on the work of Czerny and Clementi, and was able to change to a teacher who was able to instil in him a love of Schumann. He attended concerts by the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra that Mendelssohn had once directed and was present when Clara Schumann, the composer's widow, played her husband's piano concerto there, and at performances of Wagner's Tannhäuser. At the same time he was able to meet other musicians, including Arthur Sullivan.

After a short period at home again in Norway, where he was unable to obtain a state pension, Grieg moved to Denmark. The capital, Copenhagen, was a cultural centre for both countries, and here he had considerable encouragement from Niels Gade. The principal influence that was to change his life came from a meeting with Rikard Nordraak, a young Norwegian, who fired him with ambition to seek inspiration in the folk-music of Norway. Nordraak was to die tragically young, at the age of 24. Grieg, however, continued to prepare himself for employment in Norway, first of all taking a long holiday which led him to Rome, where he met the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. It was a concert arranged by Grieg in Christiania (Oslo) and given by him with his cousin and future wife Nina Hagerup and the violinist Wilhelmine Norman-Neruda that secured him a position in Norway and provided support for the projected Norwegian Academy of Music, established in the following year, 1867.

The period that followed saw Grieg's struggle, with the backing of Liszt and the support of his friend, the dramatist Bjørnson, to establish some sort of national musical movement in Norway. He divided his time between concert activities, on tour as conductor and pianist, composition, and periods spent in enjoyment of the Norwegian countryside.

Grieg's ambitions for Norwegian music were very largely realised. At home he came to occupy a position of honour, and his collaboration with Bjørnson and Ibsen further identified him with the culture of his homeland. He died in 1907, as he was about to undertake one more concert tour. For years he had suffered from lung trouble, the result of an illness in his student days. It was this that was to bring about his death at the age of 64.

Acclaimed as the first writer of his generation after Voltaire and as the Molière of the North, Ludwig Holberg, a near contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, was born in Norway but spent most of his life in Denmark. A leading representative of the Scandinavian Enlightenment, he wrote comedies and satires influenced by the French. Grieg's From Holberg's Time: Suite in the Olden Style was commissioned to mark the bicentenary of Holberg's birth. In five movements, originally for piano, it was arranged by the composer for string orchestra, the form in which it is now most familiar. Grieg here takes the form of the Baroque suite, with its traditional French dance movements, re-interpreted through the neoclassical prism of his own time.

For his Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34, Grieg arranged two songs from a set of twelve settings of poems by Aasmund Olavson Vinje. Våren (Last Spring) and Hjertessår (The Wounded Heart), published in orchestral form in 1881, have won great popularity in this form. The songs were also later arranged by Grieg for solo piano and for piano four hands.

The Two Melodies, Op. 53, Norsk (Norwegian) and Det første møde (The First Meeting) for string orchestra were published in 1891. These are also arrangements of earlier songs, The first of the pair is the twelfth of the Vinje settings, Fyremål (My Goal), and the second an arrangement of an 1870 setting of a poem by Bjørnson, Det første møde (The First Meeting).

During the course of his life Grieg wrote a very large number of short piano pieces, published in a series of nine collections of Lyric Pieces. The arrangement for strings of Two Lyric Pieces, Op. 68, is of the fourth and fifth of a set of six piano pieces, published in 1899. The second of these is a lullaby, Bådnlåt.

The Two Nordic Melodies, Op. 63, are also known in versions for piano. The first, I Folketonestil (In Folk Style), uses a melody by Fredrik Duc, the Norwegian- Swedish ambassador to France, who had sent it to Grieg. The second brings together Kulokk (Cow Call) and Stabbelåten (Peasant Dance), arranged from a set of 25 Norwegian folk-dances and folk-songs first published in 1870.

Åses død (Åse's Death) is part of the music Grieg wrote for Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, which follows the activities of its picaresque hero in his various adventures. The death of his mother Åse takes place at the end of the third act, and the well-known excerpt from Grieg's score, included in the first of his two Peer Gynt Suites, follows that event, as Peer sets out on another journey.

Keith Anderson


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