GRIEG: Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances, Op. 17 and Op. 66 (Arild Erikstad/ Einar Steen-Nokleberg) (Naxos: 8.550882)
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Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
Piano Music Vol. 2
Edvard Grieg, was born in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. He showed astrong interest in music at very early age, and after encouragement by violinistand composer, Ole Bull (1810 -1880), he was sent to the Conservatory in Leipzigat tile age of fifteen to receive his music education. At the conservatory hereceived a fundamental and solid training, and through the city's active musicallife, he received impressions, and heard music, which would leave their stamp onhim for the rest of his life, for better or for worse. Even though he severelycriticized the conservatory, especially towards the end of his life, in realityhe was recognised as a great talent, and one sees in his sketchbooks andpractices from the Leipzig period that he had the freedom to experiment as well.
He had no basis for criticizing the conservatory or his teachers for poorteaching or a lack of understanding.
From Leipzig he travelled to Copenhagen with a solid musical ballast andthere he soon became known as a promising young composer. It was not long beforehe was under the influence of Rikard Nordraak, whose glowing enthusiasm andunshakeable that the key to a successful future for Norwegian music lay innationalism, in the uniquely Norwegian, the music of the people folk-songs.
Nordraak came to playa decisive role for Grieg's development as a composer.
Nordraak's influence is most obvious in Grieg's Humoresker, Opus 6,considered a breakthrough. In the autumn of 1866, Grieg settled down inChristiania (Oslo). In 1874 Norway's capital city was the centre for hisactivities. During this time he also created the majority of the works whichlaid the foundation for his steadily increasing fame.
In spite of his poor health he had had a defective lung ever since childhoodGrieg was constantly on concert-tour as pianist or a conductor, always with hisown works on the programme. After his last concert-tour 1907, Grieg wrote to hisfriend Frants Beyer:
"This Tour has been strange. The Audiences have been on my Side. InGermany I have received more acclaim for my ART than ever before. But theCritics both in Munich and in Berlin have let me know in no uncertain terms,that they 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 myself with thethought that it is not the Critics, who govern the world" (Letter to FrantsBeyer 5th March, 1907)
More clearly than anything else, this letter shows a trend which Griegexperienced 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 was an increasing number ofpeople who gradually became more critical towards Grieg's music as well as hisabilities and talent as a composer. In the meantime his popularity among theaverage music-loving audience increased in inverse proportion. Grieg experiencedsome of the greatest demonstrations of his general popularity during the lastyears of his life, when, in spite of his greatly weakened health, he wascontinually on concert-tour, in popular demand by concert-managers from all overthe world. The critics, however, were sceptical and to a point condescending,and there is no doubt that Grieg felt hurt by their attitude:
"I cannot be blamed if my music is played in third-rate hotels and byschool-girls. I could not have created my music any other way, even though I didnot have my audience in mind at the time. I suppose this popularity is allright, but it is dearly bough. My reputation as a composer is suffering becauseof it, and the criticism is disparaging".
From early on Grieg was labelled a composer of the small forms Hisindisputable lyrical ability and talent were never doubted, but apart from somevery few works such as the Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 16, and the StringQuartet in G minor, Opus 27, Piano Sonata in E minor, Opus 7, the three ViolinSonatas, Opus 8 in F major Opus 13 in G major and Opus 45 in C minor, andthe Cello Sonata in A minor, Opus 36, he was not able, in spite of hismany and desperate attempts, to feel at home with the "large form".
He felt that this was a shortcoming, and unfairly blamed his education at theLeipzig Conservatory. Nevertheless, he also showed that he could master theseforms when on rare occasions he found raw musical material that could bereworked and treated within the traditional sonata-form. The only problem wasthat the musical material to which he felt closest and by which he was mostfascinated, was of another quality and character.
Grieg's encounter with Norwegian folk-music, and his assimilation ofessential features from this music, released certain aspects of his owncreativity that soon led to his music being, for many, identical withfolk-music. By some, he was considered more or less simply an arranger offolk-music, and that hurt him very deeply:
"In my Op. 17 and 66, I have arranged folk-songs for the piano, in Op.
30, I have freely rendered folk ballads for the male voice. In three or four ofmy remaining works, I have attempted to use Norwegian songs thematically. Aridsince I have published up to 70 works by now, I should be allowed to say thatnothing is more incorrect than the claim from certain German critics that myso-called originality is limited to my borrowing from folk-music. It is quiteanother thing if a nationalistic spirit, which has been expressed throughfolk-music since ancient times, hovers over my original creative works. (Letterto Henry T. Finck, 17.7. 1900)".
Much of the instrumental Norwegian folk music is built up of small melodicthemes, almost units, which are repeated with small variations in appoggiaturaand 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 to this music. This becomes especially clear to us through hispiano music. That is why it also became so difficult to distinguish between whatin Grieg's works came originally from folk-music, and what was his owncomposition. This must also have been especially difficult for foreign criticsand audiences.
In Grieg's music there are two features which particularly attract ourattention, rhythm and harmony. In many instances Grieg's rhythm in his pianocompositions, is often taken from the folk-dance, as well as from compositionswhich are not based upon folk-music. He placed great emphasis on the rhythmic,and considered it paramount in the presentation of his works which have dance asthe point of departure. He was of the opinion that in order to be able to playone of his compositions, one had to know, and feel, the dance rhythm.
Characteristic of the understanding of the rhythmic, is the story about themeeting between Grieg and Ravel in Paris in 1894 at the home of William Molard:
"While the bright-eyed company discussed music, Ravel quietly went overto Molard's piano and began to play one of the master's Norwegian Dances. Grieglistened with a smile, but then began to show signs of impatience, suddenlygetting up and saying sharply: "No, young man, not like that at all. Muchmore rhythm. It's a folk-dance, a peasant dance. You should see the peasant