Edvard Grieg (1843 -1907)
Piano Music Vol. 11
SigurdJorsalfar, Op. 22
Peer Gynt, Suite No.1, Op. 46
Peer Gynt, Suite No.2, Op. 55
To stykker fra Olav Trygvason, Op. 50 (Two Pieces from Olag Trygvason)
Bergliot, Op. 42
Edvard Griegwas born in Bergen, on the westcoast of Norway, in 1843. Heshowed a strong interest in music at a very early age, and after encouragementfrom the violinist and composer Ole Bull (1810 -1880) was sent to theConservatory 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 thathe had the freedom to experiment as well. He had no good reason to criticizethe conservatory, nor his teachers, for poor teaching or a lack ofunderstanding.
From LeipzigGrieg travelled to Copenhagen, bringing with him the solid musical traininghe had acquired, and there soon became known as a promising young composer. Itwas not long before he carne under the influence of Rikard Nordraak, whoseglowing enthusiasm and unshakeable belief that the key to a successful futurefor Norwegian music lay in nationalism, in the uniquely Norwegian, the music ofthe people - folk-songs - came to play a decisive role in Grieg's developmentas a composer. Nordraak's influence is most obvious in the Humoresques forpiano, Op. 6, which was considered a turning-point in Grieg's career as acomposer.
In the autumnof 1866, Grieg settled in Christiania (Oslo). In 1874 Norway's capitalwas the centre for his activities. During this time he also wrote the majorityof the works which laid the foundation for his steadily increasing fame. Inspite of his poor health -he had had a defective lung ever since childhood -hewas constantly on concert-tour as a pianist or as a conductor, always with hisown works on the programme. After his last concert-tour in 1907, he wrote tohis friend Frants Beyer:
This Tour hasbeen strange. The Audiences have been on my Side. In Germany I havereceived more ac claim for my ART than ever before. But the Critics both in Munich and in Berlin have let meknow in no uncertain terms, that they think I am a dead Man. That is mypunishment for my lack of Productivity in these last Years, which my wretchedphysical condition has caused. It is a hard and undeserved Punishment-but I comfort myself with the thought that it is not the Critics, who governthe world. (Letter to Frants Beyer, 5th March, 1907)
More clearlythan anything else, this letter shows a trend which Grieg experienced in hislater years in relation to his music. It was also a development which wouldcontinue internationally until long after his death. Within the musical"establishment", there were increasing numbers of people who weregradually becoming more critical of Grieg's music and of his abilities andtalent as a composer. In the meantime his popularity among music-lovingaudiences increased in inverse proportion. Grieg enjoyed some of his greatestpopularity with the general public during the last years of his life, when, inspite of his greatly weakened health, he was continually on tour, in populardemand from concert-managers all over the world. The critics, however, were scepticaland condescending, and there is no doubt that Grieg felt hurt by theirattitude:
I cannot beblamed if my music is played in third-rate hotels and by school-girls. I couldnot have created my music any other way, even though I did not have my audiencein mind at the time. I guess this popularity is all right, hut it is dearlybought. My reputation as a composer is suffering because of it, and thecriticism is disparaging.'
From early onGrieg was labelled a composer of small forms. His indisputable lyrical abilityand talent were never doubted, but apart from some very few works such as the PianoConcerto in A minor, Op. 16, and the String Quartet in G
minor, Op. 27, the Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 7,the three Violin Sonatas, Op. 8 in F major, Op. 13 inG major and Op. 45 in C minor, and the CelloSonata in A minor, Op. 36, he was not able, in spite of his manydesperate attempts to do so, to feel completely at home with more extendedihUSicil:1 forms. He felt that this was a short-coming, and unfairly blamed hiseducation at the Leipzig Conservatory. Nevertheless, he also showed that hecould master these f6rMs when on rare occasions he found raw musical materialthat could be reworked and treated within the traditional structure ofsonata-form. The only problem was that the musical material to which he feltclosest and that most fascinated him, was of another quality and character.
Grieg'sencounter with Norwegian folk-music, and his assimilation of essential featuresfrom this music, released certain aspects of his own creativity that soon ledto his music being, for many, identified with folk-music. By some he wasconsidered more or less simply an arranger of folk-music, and that hurt himvery deeply:
In my Op. 17 andOp. 66, I have arranged folk-songs for the piano, in Op. 30, I have freelyrendered folk-ballads for the male voice. In three or four of my remainingworks, I have attempted to use Norwegian songs thematically. And since I havepublished up to seventy works by now, I should be allowed to say that nothing ismore incorrect than the claim from German critics that my so-called originalityis limited to my borrowing from folk-music. It is quite another thing if anationalistic spirit, which has been expressed through folk-music since ancienttimes, hovers over my original creative works.'
Muchinstrumental Norwegian folk-music is built from small melodic themes, unitswhich are repeated with small variations in appoggialuras and sometimes withrhythmic displacements. Sections are then joined together to form larger units.
We seldom find any true development as it is understood in traditionalclassical music. It gradually became clear to Grieg that he felt the greatestaffinity 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'smusic there are two features which particularly attract our attention, rhythmand harmony. In many instances Grieg's