About this Recording
8.553391 - GRIEG, E.: Piano Music, Vol. 5 (Steen-Nøkleberg) - Norwegian Melodies, EG 108: Nos. 1-63

Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907) Piano Music Vol

Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907)

Piano Music Vol. 5


In 1874, the Danish music publisher, Edvard Wagner, asked Grieg to make a collection of folk-tunes and songs which would be published under the title: Melodies of Norway. Grieg accepted the task in spite of having second thoughts. The intention was, according to the subscription invitation, that: “The songs would be, easy-to-play Arrangements for the Piano, while at the same time presenting a degree of challenge to the performer and adhering to a certain Artistic standard.” immediately afterwards, Grieg kept his distance from the arrangements as he felt that they had nothing to do with art. It was simply a routine job he took to earn money. To Wagner, he insisted that he would accept the job on the condition that his name would not be mentioned in connection with the published work. Only much later did it become known that Grieg was responsible for this selection and the arrangements. In 1877 Wilhem Hansen took over the publishing rights for, Melodjes of Norway, because Wagner went bankrupt. There were, of course, those who had guessed that Grieg had had something to do with them, because in the revised edition, the publisher wrote: “The songs that would be easy-to-play Arrangements for the Piano, while at the same time presenting a degree of challenge to the performer and adhering to a certain Artistic standard, have, by virtue of this Man's Name who assisted the Editors... (a Name not unknown among the Greatest Musicians in Norway)... been the best guarantee for the qua1ity of the selection and the great care that has been taken in the rearrangement of the pieces.”


Towards the end of his life, Grieg looked upon these adaptations in a more positive light, and when he was criticized by Gerhard Schjelderup, who described them as uscandalously common, and completely lacking in sophisticationu, he defended them by saying, that one had to evaluate them in relation to the public for whom they were intended. The pub1isher, Wagner, intended that, Melodjes of Norway, would be a collection for the “amateur piano player”: the arrangements should not be too difficult technically, but still be at a level that would appeal to, and satisfy the taste of, the average music lover. In the above mentioned subscription invitation to the first edition, it was also stated: "As the name Melodie 5 of Norway suggests, this Work shou1d be a collection of all the beautifu1, the national, the home loving and appealing, that Norwegian Song Literature has to offer." That Grieg succeeded in doing this, is evident from the fact that new editions of the collection were constantly being published. After Grieg's death, the collection was expanded considerably with new arrangements by the composer Eyvind Alnres, (1872 - 1932), who continued using the same guidelines that Grieg established with his own arrangements. Even today, Melodie5 of Norway, is a collection that is widely used and highly appreciated in very many Norwegian homes, and for thousands of Norwegians has been the first -and for many the most important -first experience with their national music.


The greater part of Melodie5 of Norway consists of songs, romances, and songs for male choir. In the 1870s the vast majority of these compositions already belonged to the established Norwegian Song Heritage. Even though some of them were relatively new, they were able to hold their own, and soon were accepted as a regu1ar part of the repertoire. In addition, Grieg included a long list of folk-tunes, not just songs, but also pure instrumental folk-music. Altogether, the folk-tunes are about a third of the collection. Most of the folk-music is from L. M. Lindeman's collection Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodie5, which from the middle of the last century, and far into this, has been the most important source of folk-music inspiration for Norwegian composers. This collection: "Lindeman's Great Collection", as it is often called, consists of piano arrangements of memoranda which were collected primarily by Lindeman during his yearly travels, through most of the valleys in Southern Norway, in order to search for new material. He took the first of such journeys as early as 1848, and several generations of Norwegian composers have found their folk music raw material from that collection since then.


The original edition of Melodie 5 of Norway, which is recorded here, is completely and totally Grieg's work. Even though he wou1d not have his name connected to the collection, he did put his name on six of the folk-tune arrangements (Nos. 6, 22, 45, 59, 125,126). These were the ones that he rightfully acknowledged as his own arrangements. L. M. Lindeman is named as the one who made the folk -tune arrangements for eight of the pieces, (Nos. 36, 81, 87, 96, 115, 123, 127, 146). Grieg made only small changes in those, such as transposing down to a simpler key or mode (for example from A Major to G Major: Nos.115, 123,146). In the above folk-tunes, where most of them are from Lindeman's collection: "Older and Newer etc. ...", the changes from Lindeman's origina1 arrangement are greater, and Lindeman is therefore not given credit for these rearrangements. Lindeman was a marvelous organist and a learned church musician, but his arrangements can often seem somewhat overdone and some of the counterpoint can seem unnecessary .Grieg' s changes very often improve these superfluous things, and as the astute piano pedagogue that he was, he retained the essentia1 uniqueness of the folk-tune. The compromise between what on the one hand should be playable for the average amateur, and on the other hand should have a certain artistic content, cannot have been easy to accomplish. Even more the reason to admire the results Grieg achieved in this collection. As for the remaining compositions in the collection, the reworking is reduced to writing the melody for voice to highest voice for the right hand, something which in most cases leads to changes in the piano movement. Sometimes Grieg has a1so made improvements or simplifications which were not dependent upon the transcription from one medium to another. The songs are often transposed down, genera1ly from a whole note and then as a rule to a key with fewer sharps and flats, and often one that made it easier to play. Just as often he seems to do this to make it easier for the unschooled voice to sing it as well. In some of the compositions he a1so makes relatively large changes, in, for example, preludes and epilogues, and sometimes he cannot resist the temptation to make certain harmonic improvements. Whereas at other times, there are little or no changes made from the origina1. The latter are primarily where the origina1 song is the "ballad type" and where the song's melody is a1ready in the piano's upper register.


Perhaps it is understandable that Grieg, at the end of the 18705, was afraid of being exposed as the one responsible for Melodies of Norway, among other things, considering that ten of his own songs were among those in the selection. He was probably concerned that these seemingly unpretentious and popular arrangements would undermine his own artistic reputation. Where his own reputation as a serious composer and artist was concerned, he was very sensitive and vulnerable. However, his selection of works of other Norweglan composers who were represented shows that he was interested first and foremost in quality .Ha1fdan Kjerulf, (1815 -1868) is represented by sixteen of his finest romances and songs for the choir. Grieg included thirteen songs from Rikard Nordraak (1842 -1866), are twenty Norwegian composers represented, and with his thoroughness and sense for detail, Grieg has obviously left his mark on the collection as a whole.


Finally, one must not forget that, Melodies of Norway, as the first printing directly from Grieg's hand, was not just a collection of melodies. It also includes some of the most praiseworthy Norwegian lyric poetry written during the previous century. Bjornstjerne Bjornson, (1832 - 1910) has as many as thirty-three of his poems included, but then, since the middle of the last century he has been the Norwegian poet whose works have most often been set to music. Others, who through poetry have left their markon the collection, are Johan Sebastian Welhaven (1807-1873) with eleven poems, Henrik Wergeland (1808 -1845) with ten, and Andreas Munch (18l1-1884) with five.


According to my judgement some melodies are well suited for a small house organ, and were definitely played on such. Other tunes have a resemblance to the Norwegian folk music instrument “Langleik” whose sound is very close to the clavichord. The Graf-piano (1850) was used for recalling the ambience of the nineteen century in more instrumental pieces. The combination with melodies and pieces played on the modern piano might well have been chosen in another way but this was my personal choice in this particular recording.

Einar Steen-Nokleberg


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