GRIEG: Orchestral Music (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Bournemouth Sinfonietta/ Jerzy Maksymiuk/ Richard Studt) (Naxos: 8.554050)
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Peer Gynt Suites Nos.
1 & 2
Lyric Pieces, Op. 68,Nos. 4 & 5
Wedding Day atTroldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6
Holberg Suite, Op. 40
Three OrchestralPieces from Sigurd Jorsalfar, Op. 56
Edvard Grieg, thegreatest of Norwegian composers, was descended on his mother's side from aNorwegian provincial governor who had adopted the name of Hagerup from hisadoptive father, the Bishop of Trondheim. On his father's side he was ofScottish ancestry. His great-grandfather, Alexander Greig, had left Scotlandafter the battle of Culloden, when the cause of the Stuart claimants to thethrones of England and Scotland was finally destroyedby the English army under its royal Hanoverian general. In Norway the Greigsbecame Griegs and during the nineteenth century established themselvescomfortably in their new country, his father and grandfather both having servedas British consul in Bergen.
The Grieg householdprovided a musical background for a child. Musicians visited the family andthese visitors included the distinguished violinist Ole Bull, who persuaded theGriegs to send their son Edvard to Leipzig Conservatory, an institution heentered at the age of fifteen, there to benefit from the demands of atraditional German musical education.
In Leipzig noteverything was to Grieg's liking. He objected to the dryness of normal pianoinstruction, based on the work of Czerny and Clementi, and was able to changeto a teacher who was to instill in him a love of Schumann. He attended concertsby the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra that Mendelssohn had once directed and waspresent when Clara Schumann played her husband's piano concerto there and atperformances of Wagner's Tannhauser. At the same time he was able tomeet other musicians, including Arthur Sullivan, whose later fame, at least,was to depend on the music he wrote for the operettas of W.S. Gilbert inLondon.
After a short periodat home again in Norway, where he was unable to obtain a state pension, Griegmoved to Denmark. The capital, Copenhagen, was a cultural centre for bothcountries, and here he had considerable encouragement from Niels Gade. Theprincipal influence that was to change his life came from a meeting with RikardNordraak, a young Norwegian, who fired him with ambition to seek inspiration inthe folk-music of Norway.
Nordraak was to dietragically young, at the age of 24. Grieg, however, continued to preparehimself for employment in Norway, first of all taking a long holiday, which ledhim to Rome, where he met the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. It was aconcert arranged by Grieg in Christiania (Oslo) and given by him with hiscousin and future wife Nina Hagerup and the violinist Wilhelmine Norman-Nerudathat secured him a position in Norway and provided support for the projectedNorwegian Academy of Music, established in the following year, 1867.
The period thatfollowed saw Grieg's struggle, with the backing of Liszt and the support of hisfriend, the dramatist and theatre-director Bj?©rnson, to establish some sort ofnational musical movement in Norway. He divided his time between concertactivities, on tour as conductor and pianist, composition, and periods spent inenjoyment of the Norwegian countryside.
Grieg's ambitions forNorwegian music were very largely realised. At home he occupied a position ofhonour, and his collaboration with the writers Bj?©rnson and Ibsen furtheridentified him with the culture of his homeland. He died in 1907, as he wasabout to undertake one more concert tour. For years he had suffered from lungtrouble, the result of an illness in his student days. It was this that was tobring about his death at the age of 64.
Among the best knownmusic that Grieg wrote was his incidental music for Ibsen's remarkable play PeerGynt, first performed in Christiania in 1876. Suite No. 1 opens withthe famous Morning, music that seems based on the Norwegian fiddle, thehardanger, with its characteristic tuning. In the drama the piece serves as anintroduction to Act IV, set on the south-western coast of Morocco. The sceneimmediately follows the death of Peer's mother, Aase, with which Act III hadended. Anitra's Dance, in the fourth act, welcomes Peer Gynt, hailinghim as prophet and master, in his Arab robes. The final excerpt in the firstsuite is from Act II, set in the mountains of Norway, the land of Trolls andof the Old Man of the Dovre, whose daughter Peer Gynt courts and whosekingdom he covets.
Suite No. 2 opens with Ingrid's Lament, theintroduction to Act II, set on a high narrow mountain-track, where Peer Gynthas taken Ingrid, a bride that he has abducted from her wedding and now plansto betray. The Arabian Dance is taken from Act IV, where Peer has donnedhis Arab robes, and Peer's Homecoming from the introduction to Act V, asPeer Gynt returns as an old man to his own country. Solveig's Song, fromAct IV, offers a brief glimpse of the girl, now a middle-aged woman, who sitswaiting for Peer Gynt in the far North. She is there to accept him home againafter his wandering as the fifth and final act of the drama comes to an end.
After Voltaire"the first writer in Europe [of] his generation", the "Moli?¿reof the North", Ludwig Holberg (1684-1754) was born in Norway but spentmost of his life in Denmark. Apostle of the Scandinavian Enlightenment, hisFrench-influenced comedies and satires are considered especially significant.
Originally written for piano during the summer of 1884. Grieg's FromHolberg's Time: Suite in the Olden Style was commissioned to mark thebicentenary of his birth. An early example of pastiche, of romanticneo-classicism, its five movements, tonally all in G, consciously parody the clavecinistestyle and Bachian dance - suite forms of Holberg's century. Its composer'spersonality, nevertheless, remains immutable. As his biographer DavidMonrad-Johansen says (1934), assuming "the garments of the rococoperiod", he "simply placed himself in the same milieu in which thegreat satirist lived and worked. He looks at the present through the spectaclesof the past". The string arrangement - a repertory standard, idiomatic,richly focused and as brilliant for its massed glories as its testing solos(the closing Rigaudon, for instance, so-called "graveyard oforchestral leaders") - was made by Grieg in 1885.
During his life Griegwrote a large number of so-called Lyrische St??cke, Lyric Pieces, primarilyfor piano solo. He arranged two of the pieces of Opus 68, Evening in theMountains and Cradle Song for orchestra. The work was written in1898. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen is taken from an earlier set of LyricPieces, written in the previous year, and was arranged by the composer alsofor piano duet.
The incidental musicfor Bj?©rnson's play Sigurd Jorsalfar was completed in 1872 and used whenthe play was staged in Christiania in May of the same year. Bj?©rnson hassuffered by comparison with his great contemporary Ibsen. His fame has nottravelled so far and his relevance to the development of drama has seemed morelocal. The three orchestral pieces that Grieg extracted from the five of the originalscore open with a Prelude, continue with Borghild's Dream, originallythe first music of the score, and end with the Homage March.