About this Recording
8.573137 - GRIEG, E.: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-3 (arr. for violin and orchestra) (Kraggerud, Tromso Chamber Orchestra)

Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
Three Concerti for Violin and Chamber Orchestra (based on the sonatas for violin and piano, orchestrated by Henning Kraggerud and Bernt Simen Lund)


Edvard Hagerup Grieg is one of the world’s best known composers, with compositions that reach far beyond the classical music field. Many people who claim they do not know his music will, for instance, surely recognize themes from his Peer Gynt Suite. Norwegians are extremely proud of their great son, with his Piano Concerto in A minor one of the most played and recorded of all piano concertos. But why on earth did he not compose a violin concerto? This question has puzzled and troubled me since I was a young boy.

When I started my career as a soloist more than twenty years ago, I was constantly asked to suggest Norwegian violin concertos. But when I proposed the excellent concertos by Sinding, Egge, Svendsen, Valen, Elling and others, there was not much interest. In the absence of a violin concerto by Grieg, and since these other Norwegian composers were not met with enthusiasm, I focused on the Sibelius Violin Concerto and have performed it more than a 100 times as a Nordic violinist playing a Nordic concerto (the closest I could get to Norway itself!). To explain how much use I could have had for a ‘Grieg Violin Concerto’, I can reveal that of Leif Ove Andsnes’s engagements in the first four years of his career almost 70% were as a soloist with foreign orchestras and with Grieg’s Piano Concerto on the programme. As a professor at the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo, I want the younger generation of violinists to have more Norwegian repertory to offer.

Short pieces for violin and orchestra are also not in demand, perhaps because modern orchestras seem to prefer the established pattern of Overture-Concerto-Interval-Symphony for their programmes, a trend Busoni is reputed to have started. Even short pieces such as the Romances by Beethoven are hardly ever played in concerts.

Ever since my arrangement of Grieg’s I Love Only You for violin and orchestra (Naxos 8.554497: Norwegian Violin Favourites) I have toyed with the idea of arranging his violin sonatas for violin and orchestra as well. There are many reasons for orchestrating the sonatas. Despite being among Grieg’s own favourite pieces, they are less known than many of his other works. Today there are fewer recitals than before, even though it would make more financial sense to have two people catering for 400 people than 70 playing for 1000. Soloists mostly earn their living performing with orchestras, and play chamber music for fun.

Corresponding with his editor Dr Max Abraham in the autumn of 1881, Grieg joked that he composed best under pressure. If someone would only pay him in advance, he would not rest before he had composed for that amount. Dr Abraham did not hesitate to send Grieg 3000 Marks with the request for a piano concerto and an overture, or a trio, violin sonata, small pieces or similar, within a year. Grieg answered: “Does it have to be a piano concerto or would a violin concerto be equally fine, if it should present itself to me that way?”

Unfortunately Grieg’s question remained unanswered, and the world missed the opportunity of having a violin concerto by one of the finest creators of melodies. That he was able to write well for the violin, he had already proved in his first two violin sonatas. A few years later he proved it again in his third sonata, the last large-scale piece he was to complete.

Perhaps here is one of the answers to why Grieg did not compose a violin concerto, and also why his entire production contains so few large-scale works; Grieg felt at ease writing shorter pieces, and, after the failure of his early and only attempt at a Symphony, was increasingly uncomfortable with more substantial works. Although envious of his countryman Johan Svendsen’s ease with composing fluently on a large scale, especially in his symphonies, Grieg was indeed very proud of his violin sonatas and performed them with some of the most renowned violinists of the time.

Edvard Grieg was not reluctant to arrange and orchestrate his own music. A good example is his famous Holberg Suite, originally a solo piece for piano. In fact most of his pieces for string orchestra are arrangements. Norwegian Dances, Op 35, was orchestrated from a version for piano four-hands, with Grieg’s permission.

To orchestrate the three violin sonatas is, of course, a major challenge, so I put it off for years, waiting for a suitable opportunity. Then, when I was asked to become artistic director of Tromsø Chamber Orchestra and heard that they had an excellent arranger of music among their members, I aired the idea of arranging these sonatas together with him. Both Bernt Simen Lund and the orchestra embraced my suggestion. With half the work for me, it was much more fun, and a much better result than if I had done it alone.

We decided to reinforce the strings with a few wind instruments. When the melodies in the original piece flow between piano and violin in the same range, we needed a more contrasting sound than that of solo violin versus string orchestra. We settled for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon to keep the feel of chamber music. This also let us keep the original solo violin part without changing octaves or having it covered by too heavy orchestration.

As part of our preparations we studied Grieg’s own orchestrations and the different sources of the originals. Even though there are Urtext editions of the Sonatas, my best source has always been Rolf Christian Erdahl’s excellent dissertation from 1994, where he goes through all the manuscripts, editions and alterations by Grieg in a much more thorough way than the Urtext editions.

One of the main challenges easily forgotten when arranging from the piano is the pedalling, both the written and unwritten, and how much sustaining the pianos gave at the time. Something looking like a short note in the piano score might sound through several bars. As a result, with some of the arpeggios, a full chamber orchestra is almost not enough to take the place of a single pianist. Sometimes the piano original works well with few adjustments, but in other places it seems that Grieg has run out of fingers, hinting at even bigger chords. In some places the melodies in octaves are missing a few notes here and there owing to what is playable on the piano. With an orchestra we have, of course, made use of our greater possibilities.

Creativity comes when deciding which instruments should be given the different melodies and parts. The opening of the slow movement in the Third Sonata just cried out for a flute, but other places needed more consideration. For years I have been straining my mind, imagining how anything from Bach Partitas to Ysaÿe Sonatas could be orchestrated as a way for me to perform them better. With Bernt Simen’s input as well, we often ended up with different ideas for the same passage. The result was solutions that neither of us would have come up with alone. After the première concert in November 2012, we made some alterations in the arrangements before the recording sessions took place.

Grieg composed his Violin Sonata, Op 8, in 1865, while living in Denmark. The preceding Opus 7 was the Piano Sonata in E minor, and oddly enough the Violin Sonata in F major starts with an E minor chord, as if he wanted to modulate from the previous piece. But look at the initials of his name: E-H-G are the three notes of an E minor chord in German letter notation. This sonata seems influenced by Schumann, though with a very Norwegian-sounding middle part in the second movement. Niels W. Gade said it sounded too Norwegian, but Grieg, who had been exposed to Norwegian folkmusic by Ole Bull, said that the next one would be even more Norwegian. In 1867, just after his marriage and moving to Norway, he composed one of his most Norwegian-sounding works, the Violin Sonata in G major, Op 13.

Twenty years went by before he composed his Third Violin Sonata. Having just completed his new home, Troldhaugen, near Bergen, he wrote to Dr Abraham. He had met the twenty-year-old Italian violinist Teresina Tua, and claimed that a new composition for violin would be because of her. This sonata diverges from Norwegian style, and is very passionate and fiery, perhaps owing to the visit from “the little fiddle-fairy on my troll hill”.

Henning Kraggerud

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