EdvardGrieg (1843 - 1907)
PianoMusic Vol. 12
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, in 1843. He showed a strong interest inmusic at a very early age, and after encouragement from the violinist andcomposer Ole Bull (1810 - 1880) was sent to the Conservatory in Leipzig at the age of fifteen to receive his musicaleducation. There he had fundamental and solid musical training, and through thecity's flourishing musical life, received impressions and heard music whichwould come to leave its stamp on him for the rest of his life - for better orfor worse. Even though he severely criticized the Leipzig Conservatory,especially towards the end of his life, in reality his exceptional gifts wererecognised, and one sees in his sketchbooks of the Leipzig period that he had the freedom to experimentas 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 musicaltraining he had acquired, and there soon became known as a promising youngcomposer. It was not long before he carne under the influence of Rikard Nordraak,whose glowing enthusiasm and unshakeable belief that the key to a successfulfuture for Norwegian music lay in nationalism, in the uniquely Norwegian, themusic of the people - folk-songs - came to play a decisive role in Grieg'sdevelopment as a composer. Nordraak's influence is most obvious in the Humoresquesfor piano, Op. 6, which was considered a turning-point in Grieg's career asa composer.
In the autumn of 1866, Grieg settled in Christiania (Oslo).
In 1874 Norway's capital was the centre for hisactivities. During this time he also wrote the majority of the works which laidthe foundation for his steadily increasing fame. In spite of his poor health-he had had a defective lung ever since childhood -he was constantly onconcert-tour as a pianist or as a conductor, always with his own works on theprogramme. After his last concert-tour in 1907, he wrote to his friend FrantsBeyer:
This Tour has been strange. TheAudiences have been on my Side. In Germany I have received more ac claim for my ARTthan ever before. But the Critics both in Munich and in Berlin have let me know in no uncertain terms, thatthey think I am a dead Man. That is my punishment for my lack ofProductivity in these last Years, which my wretched physical condition hascaused. It is a hard and undeserved Punishment -but I comfort myselfwith the thought that it is not the Critics, who govern the world. (Letterto Frants Beyer, 5th March, 1907)
More clearly than anything else, this letter shows a trend whichGrieg experienced in his later years in relation to his music. It was also adevelopment which would continue internationally until long after his death.
Within the musical "establishment", there were increasing numbers ofpeople who were gradually becoming more critical of Grieg's music and of hisabilities and talent as a composer. In the meantime his popularity amongmusic-loving audiences increased in inverse proportion. Grieg enjoyed some ofhis greatest popularity with the general public during the last years of hislife, when, in spite of his greatly weakened health, he was continually ontour, in popular demand from concert-managers all over the world. The critics,however, were sceptical and condescending, and there is no doubt that Griegfelt hurt by their attitude:
I cannot be blamed if my music is playedin third-rate hotels and by school-girls. I could not have created my music anyother way, even though I did not have my audience in mind at the time. I guessthis popularity is all right, hut it is dearly bought. My reputation as acomposer is suffering because of it, and the criticism is disparaging.
From early on Grieg was labelled a composer of small forms. Hisindisputable lyrical ability and talent were never doubted, but apart from somevery few works such as the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, andthe String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27, the PianoSonata in E minor, Op. 7, the three Violin Sonatas, Op. 8in F major, Op. 13 in G major and Op. 45in 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 feelcompletely at home with more extended ihUSicil:1 forms. He felt that this was ashort-coming, and unfairly blamed his education at the Leipzig Conservatory.
Nevertheless, he also showed that he could master these f6rMs when on rareoccasions he found raw musical material that could be reworked and treatedwithin the traditional structure of sonata-form. The only problem was that themusical material to which he felt closest and that most fascinated him, was ofanother quality and character.
Grieg's encounter with Norwegian folk-music, and hisassimilation of essential features from this music, released certain aspects ofhis own creativity that soon led to his music being, for many, identified withfolk-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 arrangedfolk-songs for the piano, in Op. 30, I have freely rendered folk-ballads forthe male voice. In three or four of my remaining works, I have attempted to useNorwegian songs thematically. And since I have published up to seventy works bynow, I should be allowed to say that nothing is more incorrect than the claimfrom German critics that my so-called originality is limited to my borrowingfrom folk-music. It is quite another thing if a nationalistic spirit, which hasbeen expressed through folk-music since ancient times, hovers over my originalcreative works.
Much instrumental Norwegian folk-music is built from smallmelodic themes, units which are repeated with small variations in appoggialurasand sometimes with rhythmic displacements. Sections are then joined together toform larger units. We seldom find any true development as it is understood intraditional classical music. It gradually became clear to Grieg that he felt thegreatest affinity with this music. That is why it also became so difficult todistinguish between what in Grieg's works came originally from folk-music, andwhat was his own composition. This must also have been especially difficult forforeign critics and audiences.
In Grieg's music there are two features which particularlyattract our attention, rhythm and harmony. In many instances Grieg's rhythm inhis piano compositions is taken from the folk-dance, as well as fromcompositions which are not based upon folk-music. He placed great emphasis onthe rhythmic element, and considered it paramount in the presentation of hisworks which have dance as the point of departure. He was of the opinion that inorder to be able to play one of his compositions, one had to know and feel