Norwegian Classical Favourites
Grieg Halvorsen Sinding Svendsen
At the end of the nineteenth century almost all Norwegiancomposers had studied the German romantic style of composition in Leipzig.Some, like Christian Sinding, continued to compose within the German traditionwithout developing a personal, Norwegian style. Inspired, however, by the likesof Ole Bull, Halfdan Kjerulf, the collector of folk-music, Ludvig M. Lindeman,and the ever-enthusiastic Rikard Nordraak, many Norwegian composers began tolook for a specifically Norwegian style, a cultural reflection of the country'sindependence from Denmark, granted in 1814.
Edvard Grieg's Morgenstemning (Morning mood) was composed asthe introduction to Act IV Scene 5 of Ibsen's Peer Gynt. The scene is not theNorwegian countryside but dawn on the coast of Morocco, indicated by Grieg'suse of a pentatonic theme. In the theatre version of I Dovregubbens Hall (Inthe Hall of the Mountain King) the little trolls chase after Peer, threateningto plague him. In the incidental music for Peer Gynt there are several such burlesquepassages that suggest a barbarism that was to appear later in European musicwith figures such as Stravinsky and Bartok. The two suites give a more lyricaland romantic impression. Bj?©rnstjerne Bj?©rnson thought that the lyrical Griegshould keep his hands off the play. Bernard Shaw is not alone in having beenirritated by Grieg's 'romanticization' of Ibsen's text. Grieg himself was awareof the problem. He characterized Peer Gynt as 'the most unmusical of allsubjects'.
The first performance of Fr??hlingsrauschen (Rustle ofSpring) by the pianist Erika Nissen was not a great success. It is one of theSix Piano Pieces, Op.32, written by Christian Sinding in 1894-96. Ten yearslater it had become one of his most played piano pieces. It was particularlypopular in the United States, and was also performed at the NorwegianBroadcasting Corporation's first transmission in 1925, appearing too in severalfilms. Both Delius and Grieg were among Sinding's friends and advisors, thoughhe never chose to use Norwegian folk-music, being rooted in German romanticism.For a long time he was regarded as Grieg's heir, but his support for Nazismlost him this position in Norwegian musical life.
Agathe Backer Gr?©ndahl studied in Berlin and later with Hansvon B??low in Florence and with Franz Liszt in Weimar. Her music is muchinfluenced by the German tradition. She was a close friend of Grieg and meantmuch to him. She was interested in folk-music but to a lesser degree than manyother people at the time. She wrote only two smaller pieces for orchestra, butwas a central figure in many areas of Norwegian musical life. The piano pieceSommervise (Summer Song) is taken from her collection Fantasistykker, Op.45,and conveys the mood is of a bright summer's day.
The manuscript of Johann Svendsen's Bryllupet p?Ñ Dovre (TheWedding at Dovre), a piece long neglected, was deposited at Norway's NationalLibrary in 1939. The score indicates that it was not written before his time inLeipzig, nor later than 1890. In 1884 Svendsen took charge of the orchestra atthe Opera in Copenhagen. He was a friend of Richard Wagner, and spent longperiods in Germany and in Paris. Grieg reckoned him the finest conductor inEurope, and also admired him as a symphonist and orchestrator.
The final decades of the nineteenth century brought a senseof nationalist celebration, population increase and, not least, numerousmeetings between poets, composers and other artists. Svendsen had become amember of the Society of Artists and wrote the festive Norsk Kunstnerkarneval(Norwegian Artist's Carnival) for a carnival in 1874. The theme for the yearwas 'Prince Carnival's Betrothal to the Daughter of the Old Man of Dovre'.Pilgrims on their way north to the cathedral at Nidaros (Trondheim) had tocross the Dovre Mountain, a typically Norwegian symbol of the realm of trolls.Now the warm-blooded south was to meet the chilly north. The composition wasperformed accompanied by clowning. The climax unites the two principal motifs,a spring dance in 3/4 time and a popular Neapolitan song in 6/8 time. Theequally effective Fest-Polonaise (Festive Polonaise) was composed for a ballfor the leading citizens of Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1873, an event attended byKing Oscar II (of Norway and Sweden) some weeks after his coronation inTrondheim.
Johannes Hanssen was playing the tenor horn in the militaryband when his new march received its first performance at an open-air concertin 1904. It is claimed that only two people applauded, his best friends, butwhen he showed the piece to Ole Olsen the latter commented: 'This is ... damn me,the finest march that I have heard'. Later the Valdres-Marsch gained aninternational reputation, and was included by the Boston Symphony Orchestra ina 1964 recording, 'The Ten Best Marches in the World'. It starts with an oldfanfare of the Valdres Battalion, while other motifs in the march are fromHardanger fiddle-tunes. The march is generally performed as a 'slow and nobleNorwegian march'.
In 1893 Johan Halvorsen was offered a post as professor inthe Rumanian capital of Bucharest. His study of the country and its people ledhim to write a march about the Boyars, Bojarenes Indtogsmarsj (Entry of theBoyars). He turned down the position but in a single day he completed themarch, a work that greatly impressed Grieg, who arranged for its publication byWilhelm Hansen. Halvorsen's most performed work, it is mentioned by Strindbergin The Dance of Death, where the captain's wife speaks of it as that 'terribleentry of the Boyars'. In Norway it was, for many years, the signature tune fora radio classical request programme. Halvorsen, too, had studied in Leipzig andhe spent many years abroad before becoming music director of the NationalTheatre in Bergen for six years and then for thirty years at the NationalTheatre in the capital. His most important models were Grieg, Svendsen andNorwegian folk-music.
Ole Olsen wrote his S?©rgemarsch (Funeral March), Op.41, onthe death of his brother-in-law Olav Hals (1857-1883). It bore the inscription'May our final thanks, borne on the wings of song, accompany you on yourjourney to the new spring's life of joy'. Olsen composed several funeralmarches but Opus 41 has a special place in Norwegian affections, and was playedat the funerals of both King H?Ñkon VII and King Olav V. The melody from thetrio section was later used in Mads Berg's song-book for schools for a settingof a poem by Arne Garborg, 'Yes, let us fight and let us be steadfast'. Olsencame from Hammarfest in the extreme north of Norway and used jokingly to referto himself as the 'world's most northern composer'. After studying in Leipzigand elsewhere he lived mostly in Oslo, but felt that he belonged in northernNorway, making use of Sami yoik or chant in some of his compositions. Much ofhis work remains neglected.
At the end of his short life, Rikard Nordraak was working onmusic for his nephew Bj?©rnstjerne Bj?©rnson's play Mary Stuart in Scotland, thescore completed and published by his friend Grieg for a performance in 1867.The stately dance, Purpose, introduces a ball at the Palace of Holyrood inEdinburgh. Valse Caprice is a piano piece that later became theatre music,described by Bj?©rnson as 'one of Scandinavia's numerous offerings to Eros'.Nordraak, an important influence on Grieg, died of tuberculosis, alone inBerlin.
Det lysnet i skogen (Forest Clearing) by Sigurd Islandsmoenwas originally composed in 1902 as a s