EdvardGrieg (1843 -1907)
Edvard Grieg was born inBergen, on the west coast of Norway, in 1843. He showed astrong interest in music at a very early age, and after encouragement from theviolinist and composer Ole Bull (1810 -1880) was sent to the Conservatory in Leipzig at the age of fifteento receive his musical education. There he had fundamental and solid musicaltraining, and through the city's flourishing musical life, received impressionsand heard music which would come to leave its stamp on him for the rest of hislife - for better or for worse. Even though he severely criticized the LeipzigConservatory, especially towards the end of his life, in reality hisexceptional gifts were recognised, and one sees in his sketchbooks of the Leipzig period that he had thefreedom to experiment as well. He had no good reason to criticize theconservatory, nor his teachers, for poor teaching or a lack of understanding.
From Leipzig Griegtravelled to Copenhagen, bringing with him thesolid musical training he had acquired, and there soon became known as apromising young composer. It was not long before he carne under the influenceof Rikard Nordraak, whose glowing enthusiasm and unshakeable belief that thekey to a successful future for Norwegian music lay in nationalism, in theuniquely Norwegian, the music of the people - folk-songs - came to play adecisive role in Grieg's development as a composer. Nordraak's influence ismost obvious in the Humoresques for piano, Op. 6, which was considered aturning-point in Grieg's career as a composer.
In the autumn of 1866,Grieg settled in Christiania (Oslo).
In 1874 Norway's capital was thecentre for his activities. During this time he also wrote the majority of theworks which laid the foundation for his steadily increasing fame. In spite ofhis poor health -he had had a defective lung ever since childhood -he wasconstantly on concert-tour as a pianist or as a conductor, always with his ownworks on the programme. After his last concert-tour in 1907, he wrote to hisfriend Frants Beyer:
This Tour has beenstrange. The Audiences have been on my Side. In Germany I have received more acclaim for my ART than ever before. But the Critics both in Munich and in Berlin have let me know in nouncertain terms, that they think I am a dead Man. That is my punishment formy lack of Productivity in these last Years, which my wretched physicalcondition has caused. It is a hard and undeserved Punishment -but Icomfort myself with the thought that it is not the Critics, who govern theworld. (Letter to Frants Beyer, 5th March, 1907)
More clearly thananything else, this letter shows a trend which Grieg experienced in his lateryears in relation to his music. It was also a development which would continueinternationally 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 popular demandfrom 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 be blamed if mymusic is played in third-rate hotels and by school-girls. I could not havecreated my music any other way, even though I did not have my audience in mindat the time. I guess this popularity is all right, hut it is dearly bought. My reputationas a composer is suffering because of it, and the criticism is disparaging.'
From early on Grieg was labelleda composer of small forms. His indisputable lyrical ability and talent werenever doubted, but apart from some very few works such as the Piano Concertoin A minor, Op. 16, and the String Quartet in G minor,Op. 27, the Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 7, thethree 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's encounter withNorwegian folk-music, and his assimilation of essential features from thismusic, released certain aspects of his own creativity that soon led to hismusic being, for many, identified with folk-music. By some he was consideredmore or less simply an arranger of folk-music, and that hurt him very deeply:
In my Op. 17 and Op. 66, I havearranged folk-songs for the piano, in Op. 30, I have freely renderedfolk-ballads for the male voice. In three or four of my remaining works, I haveattempted to use Norwegian songs thematically. And since I have published up toseventy works by now, I should be allowed to say that nothing is more incorrectthan the claim from German critics that my so-called originality is limited tomy borrowing from folk-music. It is quite another thing if a nationalisticspirit, which has been expressed through folk-music since ancient times, hoversover my original creative works.'
Much instrumentalNorwegian folk-music is built from small melodic themes, units which arerepeated with small variations in appoggialuras and sometimes with rhythmicdisplacements. Sections are then joined together to form larger units. We seldomfind any true development as it is understood in traditional classical music.
It gradually became clear to Grieg that he felt the greatest affinity with thismusic. That is why it also became so difficult to distinguish between what inGrieg'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 thereare two features which particularly attract our attention, rhythm and harmony.
In many instances Grieg's rhythm in his piano compositions is taken from thefolk-dance, as well as from compositions which are not based upon folk-music.
He placed great emphasis on the rhythmic element, and considered it paramountin the presentation of his works which have dance as the point of departure. Hewas of the opinion that in order to be able to play one of his compositions, onehad to know